A SPIRITUAL leader has shocked a community by warning the future of its iconic 800-year- old parish church is in jeopardy.

Saddleworth’s unique “cathedral in the hills” may have to close its doors within 10 years unless the local community can raise £1 million.

Reverend Canon Sharon Jones, team rector of Saddleworth is urging villagers to attend a crisis meeting to discuss how to save the historic building of St Chad’s, Uppermill.

She said: “St Chad’s is at the very heart of the community with a distinguished heritage spanning 800 years. Thousands of families have been linked to it throughout their lives.

“The parish of Uppermill and the wider Saddleworth community now genuinely have an opportunity to work together to find ways for St Chad’s to be restored for future generations.”

The imposing grade two listed church receives no statutory funding and is entirely dependent on donations and legacies.

A recent application for Heritage Lottery funding was unsuccessful and applications to other grant-funding bodies are ongoing.

An architects report three years ago highlighted major issues with the church roof and windows.

There is also a desire to reorder the internals of the building to create a more flexible space for concerts, conferences, exhibitions, heritage crafts, educational and civic events as well as for the continuing worshipping Christian presence which lies at its heart.

“Anecdotally, we hear from the community of Saddleworth how precious they feel St Chad’s is, and how significant it remains in the life and heritage of this area,” said Canon Jones.

“Generations of Saddleworth families have been baptised, married and buried up at St Chad’s.

“There has been a church on the site for 800 years. It’s presence is woven into the history of the community.

“But the stark reality is unless individuals, businesses and other supporters donate substantial sums, the building is unsustainable and sadly nearing the end of its life.”

Canon Jones added: “We believe St Chads’s has a future. We are hopeful the community feels the same and can help,” she added.

There has been a place of Christian worship on the Parish Church site since 1215 AD, when the first Saddleworth Church was established as a chapel of ease as part of the Rochdale Parish.

The current grade two listed re-build is late Georgian and stands in its own conservation area. The interior includes the original gallery and the stained glass tells the tale of the wildness of the weather in this area and the church does possess a fine Capronier depiction of the Visit of the Magi.

There will be a public consultation for anyone interested in the future of St Chad’s at the church itself on Tuesday, March 26 at 7.30pm.

People are invited to follow the links on the webpage cofeinsaddleworth.co.uk St Chad Seeing is Believing project to donate.