The Mystery of the Stone Head

As we look forward to the time when St Mary’s Church can be opened to welcome schools and many other visitors including the many tourists to Cardiff, we’ve been doing a little work in the background! Here’s a little resource, the first of many we hope, to help children explore the history and mystery of St Mary’s!

Called The Mystery of the Stone Head it guides children around the church to discover some of the treasures of the past and present!

You can download the pdf document here:

Lloyd George Avenue

Picture Cardiff Council

As you may know, there is an LA consultation in place regarding the proposals to create 92 pay and display parking spaces along the length of Lloyd George Avenue in Butetown for visitors to the city centre and the Bay. You can view the details of this here

Whilst the following does not represent the views of the Parochial Church Council or congregation of St Mary’s, this is my personal response sent to the LA:

Butetown – Lloyd George Avenue Pay and Display Consultation 

Thank you for giving residents and others the opportunity to comment on the proposed plans for Lloyd George Avenue.

I accept that the stretch of road is often quiet and not used as much as anticipated when it was built.  However, from the outset, I view the plans as a disappointingly uncreative and a simplistic reimagining of the space available.  The plans will effectively create a long stretch of car parking throughout the length of Butetown for visitors to the City Centre and the Bay. 

Whilst it may achieve the purposes of calming traffic, particularly those who may be prone to speeding and driving in a dangerous and antisocial way, there is the potential that, in providing 92 car parking spaces more cars will be attracted to the area and actually increase traffic in Butetown whilst having little positive impact on its residents or community life.  There are, of course, other ways in which traffic calming can be achieved. 

I note that the green space along the stretch of Lloyd George Avenue will not be affected.  However, in reviewing what the LA does with this stretch of road, perhaps this is an opportunity to extend the green space into the area currently used by south-bound traffic (which your proposed plan will utilise for two-way traffic). 

More trees could be planted and the natural environment further enriched which will benefit both local residents and visitors to the city, and also increasing the bio-diversity of our city.  It will provide an enhanced walking experience for visitors to the Bay and a stimulating environment for residents. 

I’m also concerned that the community of Butetown is being utilised simply for the benefit of those who do not live here, and I hope that the LA will be sensitive to this present and growing concern which exists within the community and hope that, in the future, there can be an increased integration between the needs of a growing City and its local communities.

Many thanks, 

Fr Dean Atkins 

Necessary Sin?

In a few days time, we will light the Paschal Candle, and hear the beautiful words of the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation. We use some of the words from that beautiful proclamation to explore some of the days of Holy Week


Have you seen those ‘video trials’ where children are left in a room with a bowl of sweets, and told not to eat one until the parent returns?  The next few minutes are filled with angst and temptation, as the child considers whether or not to have a sweet or two.  Surely, no one would notice.  Sometimes, one sweet leads to another which leads to another, and an empty bowl!  Such videos are often quite humorous  but they also share something of what it means to be human!

Perhaps it was inevitable that Adam, the figurative first man, would go astray.    Given the freedom to make decisions for himself, the liberty to live as he pleased, it’s not surprising that some of what he did fulfilled a need for selfish gain, to try to make him greater than he was, rather than living according to God’s plan.

God doesn’t operate us like robots, does not control us or pull our strings.  We are not puppets for his pleasure.  He does not make us love him or live for him.  After all, who can be made to love anyone? And so God gives us complete freedom to do as we please and yet all the time calls us closer to him, wanting us to be drawn into a loving relationship.

In Holy Scripture, Jesus is called ‘The Second Adam’ and at the Easter Vigil, the Exsultet proclaims, ‘O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!’

It may seem a strange way to describe ‘sin’ as ‘necessary’  But here is meant perhaps the sense that Adam’s sin was bound to happen, considering the freedom he has been given.  It’s into the mess of humanity, the grit and grime of sin, that Christ takes flesh.  He becomes human in every way except sin, says St Paul.

His saving love takes him to the pain of the cross.  Usually on Good Friday, the faithful are invited to offer a physical gesture of veneration by approaching the unveiled cross to bow, to touch, to kiss.  We draw close to Christ, to kiss salvation, to embrace Love who has embraced us.  He is our glorious Redeemer.

This article featured in our Holy Week booklet, “This is the Night: at home with Holy Week’ distributed in our Lenten resource boxes

Go Wild

Spring has sprung, the sun is shining, the birds are tweeting, it’s time to get outdoors!


With the most recent changes to COVID restrictions announced by Welsh Government we’re excited that we can now begin outdoor activities for children (only) in our Wild Side and gardens at St Mary’s.

So, Go Wild on Tuesday April 6th for an exciting session of activity, fun, discovery and learning!

There are lots of things to do from bug hunting, planting bulbs and other flowers and shrubs, sowing seeds, or creating a potted herb garden for a Community Larder. Help bring more colour to our butterfly and bee garden, or get your brooms ready for a sweeping clean!

It’ also all hands on deck at our Bird Feeding Stations. We have some very busy, hungry flying friends!

Or why not be a Wildlife Detective for the day, and help us spot as many different species as possible?!

As ever, we’ll be organising the event according to strict COVID regulations and Risk Assessments. Parents will be required to register their child as a participant with us, and complete a Permission and Information form. Parents are also expected to drop off and collect their children at the stated times. Children should wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the activities involved. More details will be sent upon registration.

To enquire or register, please email: admin@stmaryscf10.com or call or text 07368 176300

Triumph and Trumpet Blasts

During the coming days of Holy Week, we use the words of the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) sung at the Easter Vigil to explore the meaning of the days which precede. (You can find the words to the Exsulet below). First up, is Palm Sunday.


Positions of celebrity and fame can be fragile.  Certain newspapers and magazines are all too quick to catch someone out.  The paparazzi swoop in, invading people’s privacy, claiming their story is in the pubic interest.  Their claims are clarified by those who dip into their pockets to pay for a copy of the latest headlines, revelling in the downfall of a pop star or politician or who ever it may be.  How quickly a situation can change.

And so too for Jesus.  Yes, he has made his enemies, and there are many who have already plotted his downfall, planned his death.  But for now, on that first Palm Sunday, Jesus is hailed as a King.  The crowd sings ‘Hosanna!’ 

A deadly downfall

They strip trees of branches and remove the cloaks off their back to create a royal road for Jesus.  A few days later, and the cheering of the crowds has turned deathly, as they cry, Crucify him! Crucify him!”   This is his downfall.

Or so they think.  Whilst Jesus enters Jerusalem, he is also entering the reality of his suffering and death.  The difficulty of embracing his call, the cost of love, will be played out in Gethsemane, as he prays that the cup of suffering may pass from him, and yet still he seeks the Father’s will.

A song of victory

The Easter Proclamation of the Vigil is a victorious song of Christ’s powerful love.  “Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven, exult, let Angel ministers of God         exult,  let the trumpet of  salvation  sound aloud our mighty King’s triumph!”  Yes, the Church rejoices, joining the song of heaven.  Christ was hailed as King on Palm Sunday, and yet on Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, we celebrate what it means for Christ to be our triumphant King.

The dead will rise

It’s a popular tradition on Palm Sunday to visit the graves of loved ones, to clean and clear the gravestones, and decorate them with flowers (there are some resources below). It is a sign and symbol of anticipating the glory of resurrection.  As St Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 4:18) “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”


This article features in our Holy Week booklet “This is the Night: at home with Holy Week” which was distributed with our Lenten resource box, ‘for the journey.’



Sul y blodau

‘Sunday of the Flowers’

The Palm Sunday Procession has, through the centuries, taken different forms in different countries. In Medieval times, the procession came to a halt at the Church door. While the clergy sang hymns and antiphons, the congregation dispersed among the tombs, each family kneeling at the grave of relatives. The celebrant sprinkled holy water over the graveyard, and then the procession formed again and entered the church.

In France and the UK, the custom of decorating graves and visiting the cemeteries on Palm Sunday is still retained, in preparation for Easter. Graves are often cleaned and weeded and decked with flowers and garlands: rosemary, rue, crocuses, daffodils and primroses.

It is a custom in some countries to bless not only Palm branches but also various flowers of the season, hence the name “Flower Sunday” in many countries — ‘Flowering Sunday’ or ‘Blossom Sunday” in England, ‘Blumensonntag’ in Germany, ‘Pâsques Fleuris’ in France, ‘Pascua Florida’ in Spain, ‘Virágvasárnap’ in Hungary, ‘Cvetna’ among the Slavic nations, ‘Zaghkasart’ in Armenia, and ‘Sul y Blodau’ (‘Sunday of the Flowers’) in many parts of Wales.

The custom is a strong symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the dead.

Prayers at the Graveside

These prayers are offered for people to say at the graveside when visiting on Palm Sunday

Praise be to God our Father, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.  Blessed be God for ever.

A reading from the first letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians       (4:13-18)

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  Thus we shall always be with the Lord.  Therefore, console one another with these words.

The Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray as Jesus taught us: Our Father…

Loving Father, we rejoice in this springtime of your love, when Jesus the Lord submitted humbly to death, even death on a cross. His rest in the grave has hallowed the graves of all who have believe in you. His resurrection from the dead has brightened our hearts with the hope of everlasting life. As we bring colour to the graves of our departed loved ones with flowers (and palm leaves) may our faith flourish, and our hearts grow in your love so that we come at last to the glory of heaven, the new and eternal Jerusalem, where there is no sorrow or sighing only life everlasting. Amen.

May God in his infinite love and mercy bring the whole Church, living and departed in the Lord Jesus, to a joyful resurrection and the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom; Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Almighty Saviour, those who have died in faith have eternal joy in your presence. For us who remain, be with us in our sadness and turn our eyes to you.  By your death once and for all upon the cross, raise us to new life, give us victory over death and confidence to look forward to your coming, for you are alive reign for ever and ever.  Amen.

Eternal rest, grant unto him/her, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him/her. May his/her soul and the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God,  rest in peace.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

She feels a weight like water

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, here’s a poem written some years ago now that reflects on the moment of Mary’s encounter with the angel, and her solemn ‘yes’ to God.



Somewhere in the world
	there is village.
	
And somewhere in the village
		there is a well.

The well is deep and dark and friendly,
	and at the bottom of the well,
		there is water, 
			cool and fresh.
	
The water is so cool and so lovely
that the villagers say that to taste a drop of water from the well
	is like tasting heaven.

Every day, everyone from the village that's somewhere in the world
	thanks God for the well and for the water
		and for giving them a taste of heaven.





At the well, there is a girl.
The girl's name is Mary.
Everyday she, like every other girl in the village, draws water from the well.
Sometimes, the girls stop and talk to one another
and the words flow as freely as the water.

And at other times, like today, she is alone.

She lowers a bucket into the darkness below.
	The bucket seems to drop for ever.
		There seems to be no end to the darkness.

	Then there is a splash.

The noise echoes,
	jumping from the stones,
		leaping to the sun.

She pulls the rope,
	once, twice, three times.

The water sparkles in the daylight,
	splashing over her hands and feet,
		overflowing.
	It is cold and lovely to touch.
	
	Mary smiles.





She carries the bucket to her home in the heart of the village.

Her home is carved into the earth,
	burrowed into rock.
		It is cool inside.
She loves to be alone inside the earth.
	She plays a game.
She imagines she is the only person alive in the world,
waiting for someone to come and save her from her loneliness.
		 


Mary pours the water into a large, stone jug.
	She loves the noise the water makes,
		like secret words,
			like whispers.
She imagines it is a lost language,
	telling her tales,
		ancient stories from ancient people.

She listens to the water speaking.

It says her name.

	'Mary.'

She smiles.

The water trickles out her name again.
	
'Mary.'
	
Her name splashes into the jug.



She wonders if others can hear the water
as it splashes words into the world.
	She wonders if only she can hear the streaming secrets.
	
She peers into the jug
	and waits for more whispers, more words,
	 flowing,
		splashing.


She imagines a world of flowing water,
	like a fountain,
		where children play
			and laugh and splash,
and old people stop to talk and drink and soak their aching bones,
	and young lovers make promises that last for ever.

She imagines angels cooling their wings
    and breathing over the water.
		



And then she hears the water splash a word she has never heard before.
She listens again.
	She waits.
		There is silence.
		
The word is like a promise,
	like the oldest word in the world.
		
Like the first word that ever was.
	The last word that shall ever be.


She tries to speak the word
	but it is like water,
		running away from her,
	too wet,
	     too flowing,
		too quick,
		   too deep.

She wonders what it means.
and if there is a wise man or woman in the village or the world
		who can tell her what it means.

	



She listens again.

The water tells her tales of long ago,
	of old things and new things,
		the beginning and the end,
			of unbroken promises
				of promises fulfilled.
	
She feels the breath or the breeze of an angel's wings,
	as cool as water.
	
Mary shivers.

	


The angel has a message.
	Mary closes her eyes.
	She imagines the angel is beautiful,
		that his face is lovely to touch and lovely to see.
	She imagines there is so much light,
		so much brightness,
			that his eyes are like deep pools of water.
	His voice is like a stream,
		like a river,
		like ripples of love.
		
The message is clear,
	like water.
	
	The angel breathes again.
	
	His wings cover her.
	
		He tells her she is loved.
	
Heaven, for a while, holds its breath.
	There is no movement.
		No ripples.
			
	All is still.

She feels a weight, like water.




The water is still.

	And silent.

There are no more words.

		She is alone.

She plays a game.
	She imagines she is the only person alive in the world,
waiting for someone to come and save her from her loneliness.
	




She feels life growing inside her,
	like water welling up,
		like a deep well,
		speaking words that only she can hear.
		
	She listens.
	
She can hear the word speaking inside her,
	like a well,
		an echo,
		jumping from stones,
			leaping to the sun.





She feels God is close.
	Closer than he has ever been to anyone before.
		Like water, like life,
			welling up inside her.

No longer does she imagine she is the only person in the world.
	There is no loneliness, no waiting.
		Her Saviour has come.

Moving on: St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens

The second of a series of articles outlining our plans for the future before we begin seeking over a quarter of a million pounds to bring our dreams to fruition!

We’ve begun developing the gardens on Bute Street

St Mary’s Church stands at the meeting point of Cardiff City Centre and Cardiff Bay, engaging with the immediate residential and ethnically diverse community of Butetown as well as visitors and tourists to the city.  We are surrounded by extensive and rapidly appearing new developments which are transforming the neighbourhood.

In the midst of this new emerging built environment we have begun to create a wildlife and pollinator friendly habitat, which forms part of a wider development of our site, and will provide a rich and varied outdoor area which is sensitive to nature and helps to improve the quality of life of those who live and visit here.

There are two spaces to our Wild Side: a small ‘woodland’ area to the south of the church and a large, more open area to the East on Bute Street, the main thoroughfare between the city centre and the Bay.

Work has already established the habitat to the south, and we are currently beginning to cultivate the area to the east of the building with a butterfly garden and space for growing.  Recent plans by our architect will reorder the boundary wall by moving the two side gates to form a new, large central gateway.

A central gateway will be created from the two side gates presently in place
The date of this line drawing of St Mary’s is unknown but illustrates the original central gateway

Bats and Bees

Pollinators are vitally important to landscapes and people but are in serious decline, and urban areas provide enormous opportunities for habitat creation.  Our gardens will provide a home for nature, particularly encouraging more bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects, as well as other wildlife.

The gardens currently attracts over a dozen species of birds, as well as a colony of pipistrelle bats in the Church Tower. The site will also help to improve habitat connectivity, making pollinators more resilient to changes such as development, climate change and pollution, allowing their movement across a city.

Work has already taken off in our gardens

Building around Butetown

Butetown is an amazing community with a distinct and significant history and heritage. We are also a neighbour to Cardiff Bay and the city centre which, through vast development, has emerged shoulder to shoulder with Butetown and St Mary’s Church.

At the north and north west, Central Square and the new Brains Brewery development along with Callaghan Square and Tyndall Street an array of offices, student accommodation, hotels, retail units and restaurants is beginning to emerge, as well as plans for Dumballs Road, and a large Arena in Cardiff Bay. Bute Street also welcomes a significant number of tourists who walk between the city centre and the bay.  Poverty and social deprivation stand alongside affluence and business.

Whilst we await the outcomes of the recent census, looking back to the last Census Butetown 1 Ward reveals an ethnically diverse community with a a large Muslim population of 42%.

A third of residents have no qualifications, and the unemployment rate is higher than the Cardiff average and stands at 8.4%.  7.6% of households have adults in no employment with dependent children.

St Mary’s Church in Wales Primary School which neighbours the church has a fascinating make up of religions, making it a unique school in Wales, with a pupil population of 82.2% Muslim, 6.4% Christian, 4/2%  Hindu 4, whilst 5% declared no religion.

There are also three homeless hostels close by, and the impact of homelessness, the rise in rough sleeping and the often associated drug use and anti-social behaviour has impacted greatly upon Butetown in recent years.

Alongside St Mary’s Church in North Church Street is a housing project developed by Cadwyn Housing Association and Cardiff Council which consists of 13 Shipping Container Homes.  Originally designed as short term accommodation for families in danger of being made homeless, it is temporarily being used to provide a home to rough sleepers during the COVID pandemic.


Community Cohesion

We hope that the gardens will provide inclusive opportunities for volunteering which will strengthen community cohesion, confidence and self-esteem, build relationships between people of different cultures and backgrounds, encourage physical activity which will improve physical and mental well-being, and provide a means for learning new skills and gaining new knowledge. In short, through St Mary’s Wild Side and Gardens we aim to:

  • increase levels of community ownership and engagement
  • provide benefits for local biodiversity and improve the local environment by providing a home for nature
  • deliver activities to help more people engage with nature, and help them learn new skills, and acquire new knowledge through activities, workshops and training, and by exchanging resources and ideas
  • empower more young people and families to take independent and local action for nature
  • increase physical and mental well-being by encouraging people to spend more time outdoors with nature alongside others in their community, and provide opportunities for volunteering
  • strengthen community cohesion, resilience and confidence by enabling people to develop new relationships by working together for a common purpose
  • Reduce social isolation and loneliness especially amongst older people
  • provide an open and inclusive environment, and nurture Global Responsibility

The enclosed space provides a safe environment for activities which will involve children and groups of vulnerable people of all ages. As well as being accessible to the general public, we aim to work with children, young people and families, older people, local residents, – particularly those experiencing poverty, low income or social inequality – residents of Social Housing, Refugees, those not in employment, and those experiencing social exclusion, such as homelessness. 

We’ve recently created a QR Code Trail through the gardens and wildlife habitat for learning and enrichment, providing information and opportunities to learn about and encourage care for the natural world.

The project is and will be a visible and working example of how to care for the natural world in the midst of an extensive and rapidly growing built environment, whilst caring for people and responding to many presenting needs. We’re buzzing about it!

In our next article, we’ll be moving inside the church, and sharing some more of our plans!

Moving on: A window on the world

St Mary’s has ambitious plans as we make the most of our resources to create a sustainable Church that makes a difference to the wider community. This week, we received the final document and drawings from our Architect for some interior and exterior reordering. As we prepare to begin the process of seeking grants, our series of articles ‘Moving On’ shares some aspects of our plans.

Bute Street is a busy street with many people coming and going between the city centre and the Bay

Bute Street is a well-trodden path.  Visitors and tourists use it as a means to get from the city centre to the Bay.  Cardiff has been called a ten minute city and yet, on one particular Tourist Map widely available across Cardiff, between the city centre and the Bay is a rather undetailed part of the map, a ten minute walk, which doesn’t highlight any point of interest.  We know this area as Butetown but we don’t know it as an area of no interest!

Part of our development work is about celebrating the community of Butetown, its past and present, its history and culture, its life and loves!  We believe that Butetown has much to share with the world, so let’s share it!

Until now

The façade of St Mary’s Church on Bute Street is fairly misleading to modern eyes.  At times, it may look as if the church is closed and closed down.  No lights are seen through the windows, the doors are locked.  In fact, the central doors are not doors at all – they never have been – they back on to an internal apse, as do the tall windows.  Meanwhile, the two side doors, long ago used as one of many entranceways now lead nowhere. Until now.

Our work to the East end of St Mary’s, and to the boundary wall and entranceway, as well as the gardens will provide a colourful interaction with all who pass by, making the church building and gardens more accessible and inviting.  Amongst many other things!

The two central doors are not doors at all – they back onto an internal apse, as do the windows above which allows no light to shine from the inside out!

Wild Side

Our gardens are beginning to emerge with a sense of creativity and colour, carving out areas for nature to flourish, and provide opportunities for us to get close and closer to the natural environment, caring for the world and for our own health and well-being.  There will be volunteering opportunities, a chance to share and learn new skills, to be active and work alongside others, as we seek to strengthen community life and build friendships.  As well as being a place where people can work and explore, the gardens will also be a place where people can sit and relax.

Our plans will also serve as an inviting welcome to those who step into Butetown and, perhaps, will entice them to stay a bit longer, and not hurry through to the leisure and pleasure of Cardiff Bay, as we share and celebrate all that our community has to offer.

Our gardens are beginning to flourish, giving way to nature and providing a stimulating and relaxing environment for people!

Simple and Natural

For decades, surrounded by a growing city with developments scattered around us, Butetown has not always reaped the benefits of investment.  It has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the city, and yet we are just a stone’s throw from the vast investments of Cardiff Bay, the political power house of the Senedd, and of County Hall.  As the city centre and the Bay squeezes in, we want to ensure that Butetown stands tall and strong.

Croeso

Perhaps we take so much for granted here – but what is simple and natural to us is not so easily achieved by many other parts of the country and even the world.  We know how people of different faiths, religions, creeds, cultures and colour can live alongside one another as friends and neighbours, working together to build and strengthen community life.  We want to share this with the wider world.

At St Mary’s, we will create a large central gateway in front of the War Memorial crucifix inviting people to enjoy the gardens and church.  The doors on the right of the church will give way to a new glazed entranceway, leading to a Display Area, telling the story of St Mary’s and, through our history and experiences, the story of Cardiff, and rejoicing in the diverse and multicultural community of which we are a part.  This area will support a hub of activity celebrating our history, heritage and identity.

Gathered for Remembrance Sunday at St Mary’s with some of our Muslim friends

Identity and Being

On the left of the building, another glazed door will reveal our Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which will share something of our own identity as Christians, and offer a window on the world, physically linking what we do inside the building with the world outside and the community and people we are called to serve.

Living with difference and diversity means having a strong identity, feeling confident to share that with others, being able to enter into dialogue, willing to learn about each other with openness and interest.

Yes, we want to put St Mary’s and the wider community of Butetown on the tourist trail and in the public mind, whilst always being faithful and committed to the people who live here, responding to their need, raising aspirations, building confidence, increasing opportunity, caring for people’s health and well-being, and building on all that is good about the place where we live, and the people we live alongside.

We’re excited to be moving on.

This is the first of several articles sharing our future plans.  Our next article explores the work that we are aiming to achieve with our gardens, and what other future opportunities there may be.