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A test of faith for Little Italy

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The Procession of the Madonna

The Procession of the Madonna De La Rosario, an annual parade by Manchester's Italian community and a demonstration of faith and devotion.

protest outside St Michael's

But over the years, this proud community has had its faith tested by World War II, Manchester's programme of slum clearance and ultimately by the Catholic church itself.

The Italians' association with the area of Ancoats just outside the city centre dates back to the Industrial Revolution.

About 150 years ago, large groups of immigrants from Southern Europe came to Manchester looking for work in the city's cotton mills. So many, in fact, that the area became known as 'Little Italy.'

The Italians settled in their thousands, making their living in specialised areas like terrazzo tiling, barrel organs and of course, ice cream.

Campaign

Today, however, the once thriving area of Ancoats stands largely empty, its Italian population dispersed following the slum clearances of the 1960s.

Despite this, Manchester's Italians returned year on year to attend mass at their beloved parish church, St Michaels.

Stella Newton
Everything that happened in Ancoats started and finished at St Michaels
Stella Newton, campaigner

But then, in 2004, the Bishop of Salford closed the church prompting a huge outcry.

"Everything that happened in Ancoats started and finished at St Michaels," said Stella Newton, who lived in the area for many years.

"It was the heart of the community and that is how we feel. Everyone went to St Michaels, their lives started there they were baptised there they got married there. It's steeped in history."

Since then, the church has lain empty. Its former congregation continues to campaign for it to be reopened, and still gathers on its steps every Sunday, come rain or shine.

Their campaign has even attracted the support of former Manchester United footballer Paddy Crerand.

"A lot of friends of mine are of Italian descent and this is their church and they're very unhappy about it closing down.

"They're having a protest they've been doing it for some time now but I'm not so sure it's going to work out but it's a shame."

The heart may have been ripped out of Little Italy.

But once a year, Manchester Italians parade a statue of the Madonna De La Rosario through the city's streets and say a prayer for those bygone days when Ancoats really was a corner of Rome or Milan in an industrial city in northern England.

The story of Little Italy was shown on BBC Inside Out North West, Monday 30 December.




SEE ALSO
65m boost for 'Little Italy'
18 Sep 03 |  Manchester
Italians revolt over church closure
29 Nov 03 |  Manchester

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