Imogen Dawson returns with her fabulously chic column for EILE Magazine, where she sees the aisle in her local church as a catwalk. (She also sees Gareth Russell as her own personal biographer, just like Lady Di…)
Saint Bride’s church sits along the Malone Road in Belfast, next to a tennis club (obvs) and slap-bang in the heartlands of BT9 (or BT-Fine, as I like to think of it), Belfast’s golden mile of property prices. It’s a sleek, modern church, a million miles removed from the Westminster Abbey-inspired splendour of Saint Malachy’s, or the brooding gothic strength of Saint John the Evangelist, where the Malone Road Anglicans (the who’s who and what’s left of the Protestant Ascendancy, you say?) troop on Sundays.
Saint Bride’s produces a very special kind of rah Catholic girl and it’s all to do with its lighting, and its central aisle. Saint Bride’s is almost an open-plan church, with long pews and a high ceiling, meaning that it’s possible to see everything and be seen by everyone. As the Methody, Victoria, Rathmore and Our Lady and Saint Patrick’s girls are herded in to Saint Bride’s on Sunday morning by their parents, this lighting arrangement creates a high-pressure, snooping gold mine, in which you will be able to see who had a rough night the night before, who got fat, who should sue their hairdresser, who’s recently changed their hairdresser, who’s opting out of taking Communion this week (what’s she done?), and, of course, the favourite thought of all – wondering how said brazen hussy, three rows in front of you, has the nerve to show her face after what she did!
But it’s Saint Bride’s central aisle that really does the best work of all. Saint Bride’s possesses literally the longest aisle I’ve ever seen in a church that’s not a cathedral, and when you step out from your pew, trust me, you are stepping on to the most high pressure catwalk outside of fashion week. All rah eyes are upon you, as you make the excruciatingly long walk to the communion rail. What you wear, how you walk, who you’re walking up with, how your hair is sitting, how good your tan is, have you embraced the new Lily-Cole-meets-Kate-Middleton inspired pale chic look sans tan, is all being ruthlessly scrutinised. Trust me, I know – I’m one of the ones scrutinising. And we are not a kind jury.
That aisle, I’ve often thought, is a fantastic metaphor for being rah. It’s the perfect mixture of the sincere and the shallow. Stepping out into the aisle teaches us how to cope with life, I think. (Thanks, Catholicism – got ma’ back. Big love.) You can either slouch down, mingling with the crowds, hoping that no-one pays too much attention to you, lest they secretly judge and criticise. Or you can let that Louboutin (Christian faith, Christian Louboutin – seemed like the right choice of shoe) click on down the aisle as you step out and say, “Look at me. I am fabulous!” And strut towards the communion rail, with all the fabulousness of Saint Mary Magdalene and the luminously good complexion of Bernadette Soubirous.
Gareth Russell is the author of the ‘Popular’ series, and Imogen Dawson gives him constant inspiration and exasperation