A CONGREGATION was in paradise today (May 18) as a parish church completed its rise from the ashes.

The celebratory eucharist service marked the culmination of a £3m restoration of St Brandon’s Church, in Brancepeth, near Durham, almost 16 years after it was almost gutted by fire.

A fitting final touch was the installation of a modern stained glass window in the east facing side of the medieval building.

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Known as the Paradise Window, it was dedicated by the Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, at today’s (May 18) service.

St Brandon’s, which is more than 900-years-old, had to be almost completely rebuilt after the devastating fire of September 16, 1998.

The window, a contemporary work representing hopes for the future and the life ever-after, was in set in place in March.

Priest-in-Charge, the Reverend Rick Simpson, said: “The design and installation of the new window is the last major project in the restoration of this beautiful and historic building in which we have the privilege of praying.”

Designed and constructed by Helen Whittaker, of York’s Barley Studios, the window portrays part of the story of St Brandon (or Brendan), a 6th Century navigator who is believed to have reached America almost 1,000 years before Portuguese adventurer Christopher Columbus.

The Rev Simpson said: “Our building is now both ancient, going back to some of its original simplicity, and genuinely modern."

The impressed bishop said: “This is my first visit inside. I’m very impressed with the look and feel of the building and the centre-piece, this new window.”

Today’s celebration was specifically staged as it is the nearest Sunday to St Brandon’s Day.