Church House is the headquarters of
the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and is situated right in the heart of
Belfast. The gothic architecture and 40m high clock tower dominate the
busy junction of Fisherwick Place, Great Victoria Street, Howard Street
and Grosvenor Road.
Built in 1905 and opened by the Duke
of Argyll, the three story building is styled on the architecture of a
Scottish baronial castle while the crown on top of the tower is modelled
on that of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. The bell tower houses
Belfast's only peal of 12 bells.
The Scottish connection is
appropriate since the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is a daughter church
of the Church of Scotland. It traces its roots back to 1642 when the first
organised Presbyterianism in Ireland had its beginnings among Scottish
regiments stationed in Carrickfergus just 10 miles north of Belfast on the
Church House was extensively
renovated in 1992 to provide more appropriate accommodation. The ground
floor is now a shopping mall while the administrative offices of the
Church are on floors 1, 2 and 3. At the heart of the building is the 1,300
seater Assembly Hall, entered on the first floor with its all round
gallery and pipe organ
Today the Presbyterian Church in
Ireland is the largest protestant denomination in Northern Ireland with
around 300,000 members and 560 congregations. It is administered from
Church House where it holds its annual meeting or General Assembly in June
On entering Church House from the
Wellington street entrance visitors climb the stairs to the foyer outside
the Assembly Hall. Here they can view the Carrickfergus Window, a gift
donated by the Presbytery of Carrickfergus to commemorate the 350th
anniversary of the 'birth' of Presbyterianism in Ireland in 1642.
The window depicts a ship arriving
from Scotland to land at Carrickfergus which is represented by the Norman
Castle built there in the 11th century.
Rosemary Street Windows
On the second floor landing are
windows from the old Rosemary Street Congregation in Belfast.
It was one of the historic
Presbyterian Churches in Belfast sited at Rosemary Street, just off Royal
Avenue in front of the City Hall. The church building was destroyed in the
Blitz of 1942 and the the stain glass windows in the church were presented
to Church House. The Rosemary congregation moved to a new site in north
Belfast where it is today.
In 1840 the Presbyterian Church in
Ireland as we know it today came into being with the establishment of the
General Assembly. One of its first actions was to commission two people
for work overseas and ever since this has been an important aspect of the
witness of the church.
On the first floor is a memorial
chapel dedicated to the memory and work Presbyterian Missionaries who have
taken the good news of Jesus to may other countries including China, North
India, Nepal, Jamaica and Brazil.
Today the Presbyterian Church has
some 50 overseas staff working alongside 22 partner churches around the
Another notable feature within
Church House on the third floor landing is a Wall Hanging measuring some
5m x 2m. This was presented to Church House by the Young Women's Groups of
the Church in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of Presbyterianism in
Ireland. It is composed of 21 individual tapestries representing visually
the attributes of the 21 presbyteries (geographical areas) into which the
Presbyterian Church in Ireland is sub-divided.
Followings its refurbishment in 1992
Church House also functions as a commercial conference centre, The Spires.
The city centre location close to major hotels makes it an ideal
conference location. In recent years it has hosted such major events as
the International Housing Conference, Tom Peters Business Seminar and the
European Union Women's Conference, May 1998.
The Assembly Hall
The Assembly Hall is a large oval
shaped conference hall with an all round gallery and seats 1,300 people.
It is illuminated by a huge glass
skylight which is now illuminated artificially so that it can be
appreciated at anytime.
At either side of the organ loft at
the front of the auditorium are two stain glass windows. The one on the
left depicts four of Jesus Parables; The Prodigal Son, The Wise Virgins,
The Talents and the Good Samaritan. The window on the right tells the
story of Moses, from his being found in the bulrushes, meeting with God at
the burning bush, receiving the Ten Commandments and becoming the leader
of the children of Israel. The Burning Bush is the symbol used to
represent the Presbyterian Church.
It should be noted that these
windows were removed for safe keeping at the height of the terrorist
bombing of Belfast and were only replaced in 1992.
On the right at the front of the
Assembly hall is a plaque unveiled by Diana, Princess of Wales on the
occasion of her visit to Church House on June 29, 1992.