St. Leonard’s or Middleton Parish Church on its hill above the town is by far the oldest building in the area and arguably the oldest in Greater Manchester. It is also the last great unrestored medieval church in the Manchester area, having been carefully and sensitively preserved for over 100 years.
The church was first established in Saxon times and was a safe haven for the Holy Island monks carrying Lindisfarne Gospels and the coffin of Saint Cuthbert escaping from the marauding Vikings around 880 A.D. It was then dedicated to St. Cuthbert. The church was rebuilt in Norman times and re-dedicated to St. Leonard. In 1412 it was largely rebuilt by Middleton’s Thomas Langley, who rose to be Prince Bishop of Durham and Chancellor to Kings Henry IV, V and VI. He was also proposed as a Cardinal, but never quite became one. In a very early act of conservation, Bishop Langley retained some of the Norman detailing, notably in the unique tower arch. In 1524, Richard Assheton, lord of the manor, remodelled the church and adding a clerestory and possibly, the unusually ornamented porch… all in celebration of his role in the Battle of Flodden 11 years before.
The Reformation shortly afterwards destroyed much of the interior but several medival features survived, including Langley’s rood and parclose screens, misericords, brasses and the famous medieval ‘Flodden Window’. After the turmoil of the 1600s, the Geogians added a series of classical monuments in the 1700s but their balconies were all taken out by the romantic Victorian, George Shaw, who undertook sensitive alterations and added a rather special pulpit and lectern.
In the twentieth century, Edgar Wood restored the roof, added a boiler house and set the church on a route of sensitive change which involved installing beautiful stained glass windows by leading artists, including Christopher Whall, and a choir practice room designed by the Arts & Crafts modernist designer, George Pace. St. Leonard’s Church is listed Outstanding Grade I by Historic England.
The church is also open for worship on Sundays and other days, CLICK HERE for details.