Author spends decade visiting churches

Author spends decade visiting churches

8 January 2020

A CO Down artist has written about a personal spiritual journey which took her to every church in Belfast.

Bronagh Lawson spent ten years visiting hundreds of churches throughout the city, as well as some closer to home. The result is Belfast: City of Light, a new book in which she shares her experiences and asks some pertinent questions on matters of faith and beliefs.

Bronagh began her journey as a non-churchgoer. Now, she says she is a different person.

 “I did not set out to go on this journey or write this book, but simply started to follow an artistic thread like many artists over the centuries before me,” she remarked. “The thread became so compelling and extraordinary that I eventually felt destined to write it down.”

Born in Newtownards in 1966 to Frances and Paddy Lawson, who had returned to Belfast to oversee the design and building of the Ulster Museum, Bronagh spent her first two years on the Upper Newtownards Road in Belfast with her three older sisters, before moving to Portaferry in 1968 and later to Strangford.

Educated at Down High School, in 1986 she attended art college in Bristol and then gained a first class degree in textiles fashion at Winchester School of Art, Hampshire. Moving to London on graduation, she won a Fulbright scholarship and attended Parsons School of Design in New York.

Bronagh sometimes visited Northern Ireland and despaired. Prior to the end of the Troubles she spent time as a participant on various cross-community development programmes before deciding to use her creativity in a different way.

For 13 years she set up and ran cross-border, cross-community development programmes mostly within the enterprise sector in interface 

areas of Belfast. At the same time she explored her own upbringing during the Troubles and heard many stories from people in Belfast of experience she only saw on TV growing up and often switched off in horror.

She spent three years based in North Belfast, between the republican New Lodge and loyalist Tigers Bay areas. Walking into work one day she collapsed. She had become incapable of processing the traumas that people living in some of most deprived areas of Europe were enduring on a daily basis.

She found herself coming back to her original training as an artist and started a journey towards her own healing by going to church.

Bronagh says she asked herself a lot of questions as she attended Protestant and Catholic services in Belfast and beyond.

She says: “What if instead of listening to the continuous repeated stories of Protestant vs Catholic in Belfast, an individual had first-hand experience of visiting every church in the city for a service, simply looking and listening when going to each one? 

“What would they see and hear? As a non-church goer starting out on this journey, how would you feel ten years later? What is going on in churches in contemporary Belfast? How might this open-minded curiosity inform the continuous shifting conversation about the city that I call home?

Belfast: City of Light costs £15 and is available online at It is also available locally at Kevin Og’s shop in Strangford.