Down the hill from the men in white cloaks
FTFR A GHASTLY journey from Euston courtesy of Virgin Rail it was a relief to find myself in the leafiest of leafy Manchester suburbs: Alderley Edge.
The Edge, a rocky, wooded outcrop in the lush Cheshire countryside, is an ancient pagan site surrounded in mythology. It is actually the site of an old copper mine, but that seems not to bother the men in white cloaks who hold it in high esteem, along with locals who enjoy exercising their dogs along its paths.
"I don't think there is much pagan worshipping going on there these days," says Canon John Burgon, parish priest of St Pius X, Alderley Edge. "I don't think there's a lot of historical support for it. It's all a bit of a fable."
Unlike the local Catholic community. In 1946, the burgeoning Catholic population of Alderley Edge was judged to merit its own parish, having been served by the Sacred Heart and St Teresa in neighbouring Wilmslow. A kindergarten was purchased and converted into a chapel and in 1968 Fr Benedict Fenlon now retired to the Wirral and local contractor Peter Jones built St Pius X.
A high proportion of this parish of 500 souls attends Mass, usually some 300 to 400 over the Saturday vigil and two Sunday Masses.
The church is, as Canon Burgon puts it, "very Vatican II". He describes it as a family church.
"It is a very pleasant building," he says. "One of its most important features is its square shape. There is no long aisle or transept, so no one is more than 20 yards from the altar. This personalises the liturgy and promotes an informality and a family feel."
The epithet invariably attached to Alderley Edge is affluent. But not everyone in this desirable corner of the Manchester commuter belt drives a new BMW and has a fountain on their front lawn.
"There is a fair amount of affluence and wealth in Alderley Edge," says Canon Burgon. "In a wonderous way it doesn't seem to matter. Everyone is happy and friendly and the community reflects a very wide spectrum of talents, backgrounds and professions."
At the last count, the parish was involved with 19 different charities and good causes, and on my visit a local representative of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was busy asking the congregation to devote a little of their time each week.
Next door to the church is the David Lewis Centre, a residential home that cares for epileptics, and whose 45 residents come "under the spiritual wing" of Canon Burgon. A number of residents attend Mass.
The church is also closely associated with the nearby independent primary and secondary schools for girls run by the Sisters of St Joseph.
Canon Burgon, 69, was born in Stockport and begun his preparation for the priesthood aged 11, when he entered Ushaw College, Durham. He was ordained in 1952, and among his many posts was responsible for establishing the parish of St Peter's, Birkenhead.
He has been at Alderley Edge for four years, during which time he has encouraged "a strong ecumenical dimension" to the parish. There is a united service once a month with one neighbouring Methodist and two neighbouring Anglican churches. There are other services sprinkled throughout the calendar and an annual sponsored walk."We share so much together," says Canon Burgon. "It's a good, healthy approach to the modern Church."
It is a healthy community, indeed, and one I would like to visit again, but perhaps not by train. I still haven't had a reply from my angry letter to Virgin Rail.