A £40,000 restoration during lockdown will help one Banff church emerge from the pandemic looking brighter and more welcoming than ever.
The revamp of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church came just in time for the ancient church’s 150th anniversary.
Parish priest Piotr Rytel, who took up his post in October 2019, believes it has been a positive 12 months for the Sandyhill Road church, despite worship being stopped in its tracks by the pandemic.
He said: “On the one hand everyone was sad we couldn’t go to the church and pray during that time, but on the other hand it was good for us because all the work could be done without the additional costs of hiring other space for worship.
“We secured all our fragile spaces and work began in early May.”
Local firms carried out the £40,000 works, paid for by the church and thought to be the first internal maintenance carried out in around 50 years.
They involved the repainting of the walls and ceiling in the main body of the church and sacristy, new chandeliers and wall lighting and a new sound system now covering the entire building.
“It feels so much lighter and brighter,” Father Rytel said.
“It’s really beautiful and more welcoming.
“Every part of the church is now covered by the sound system, giving us more space to spread out the congregation.
“Our congregation all say it’s fresher and they appreciate what has been done.
“When I arrived and realised the 150th anniversary was approaching I felt it would be a good opportunity to mark this with the church renovation.
“Bishop John MacDonald took the first mass in the church in December 1870.”
Another important date will be celebrated in April, on the 700th anniversary of the arrival of the Carmelite order in the area.
The church takes its name from the Carmelite Monastery founded in the town by King Robert in 1321.
Father Rytel said: “It’s a special part of the history of this part of Scotland.
“So many places in Banff have connections with Carmelite – for example Carmelite Street is named after the order.
“It’s a chance to bring closer the history of Banff, but from a different angle and one of the reasons this was such a good time to carry out the renovations.”
Father Rytel moved to Scotland from Poland in August 2013.
He first spent six years in Inverness as Polish chaplain at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and was appointed a priest under the authority of the Aberdeen Diocese.
He leads his Sunday vigil mass in two parts, one in English to a congregation of about 40 and again in his native Polish to around 120 worshippers.
Members returned to the church once restrictions eased in August.
Chairman of the Parish Pastoral Council, town councillor Glen Reynolds, said the work is “not just a testament to wonderful craftsmanship that was sensitive to the very unique demands of the church, but in very difficult circumstances, is symbolic of the pandemic times in which we live”.
“We had to ensure that safety guidelines were fully complied with, effectively involving the work being carried out alone and behind closed doors,” he added.
“When the completed work was able to be unveiled, it was a stunning revelation.
“It is a makeover and a new normal for not just the building, but for the parish community.”
An video illustrating the work can be viewed on the church’s Facebook page.