The stones cry out

Whether you look above you or around you, there are lots of things to discover about our faith in the walls of St Mary’s

Five days before his death, Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem. People lay their cloaks on the ground. They cry out ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ Some of the Pharisees call on Jesus to rebuke his disciples. “If these become silent,” he tells them, “the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:36ff)

Closer to home, and look closer still, and you’ll discover much in the stones of St Mary’s Church, things that often get missed or overlooked but which express what we believe.  They offer a colourful expression of our faith.  Even if we become silent, these stones will cry out!

As we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus through Lent and Holy Week, it’s a good opportunity to explore some of these local features.  In addition to the obvious symbolism of crosses and crucifixes and the Stations of the Cross, the Passion abounds in the stones of St Mary’s.

The reordering of the sanctuary at St Mary’s was completed in 1884.  Look closer, and you’ll see the embossed symbols of Jesus’ Passion at the High Altar, including the pillar and the stripes, a hammer and pincers, three nails and the crown of thorns, the hyssop soaked sponge and a spear, a ladder and the soldier’s dice as they  gambled for the garment worn by Jesus.

 But then look higher to the curved ceiling of the apse where a scene abounds in angels, five of which lovingly hold further symbols of Jesus’ suffering.

The central figure holds the cross, whilst the other four hold Veronica’s cloth, Jesus’ garment, a spear and the crown of thorns.  Even if we become silent, the stones will cry out!

 Below the angels are five tondos (circular paintings) in the spaces within the arches where formerly were windows giving a borrowed light from the east windows beyond.

In these medallions are pictures representing Old Testament scenes which are used to interpret and understand the Holy Eucharist. Three of these represent the sacrificial character of the Mass: Abel offering up a lamb, Melchizedek bringing forth bread and wine, and Abraham about to slay his son. There are two other scenes: the Manna in the desert and the Paschal Lamb.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross were painted by local artist Kenneth Smitham and placed in position from 1962. The fifteenth station of the Resurrection was added later, painted by Tony Goble (b1943), just before his death in 2007. the painting was carried in front of his coffin as it was processed into Llandaff Cathedral. Although it completes the whole series of Stations, it has an integrity of its own, and is characteristically identifiable as Goble’s work, some of which can be viewed at the National Museum of Wales.

This painting is perhaps more simple than many of his others, where you’ll find a Chagall like quality to much of his work. Religious symbolism was present in much of his work which was often autobiographical in some way, as he’d paint his own character onto his canvas. Here the theme of the painting is obviously straightforward: the Resurrection of Christ.

There are dark purples and tones of light , pink hues like the rising sun, the dawning brightness.  And then there’s that bird, perched, present, puzzling.

There is lots more to discover at St Mary’s, and many hidden gems which unfold the story of our faith, offering a solid witness to what we believe. Whilst we are open each day for Mass and other devotions, we are looking forward to the time when we’ll be able to welcome other visitors, and share the riches of our history, our heritage and our faith with others.

This article is featured in our Lenten Resource Box, for the journey. During Lent, we’d love to hear if the contents have proved useful in any way.

The Wood of the Cross

“On a bare | Hill a bare tree saddened | The sky.  Many people held out their thin arms | to it, as though waiting | for a vanished April | to return to its crossed | boughs.  The Son watched | Them.  Let me go there, he said.”   (RS Thomas, The Coming)

Photograph by Tree Brother

For several weeks on some days, the sounds of St Mary’s has whirred to the sound of steel and wood, as our trees are pollarded, a piece of work to make the site safe and to care for the trees.

Listening to the sounds from my desk, I hear the crack, the split and fall of wood, crashing through branches, grounded with a deep thud.  Through listening to the sounds and watching the work, I am reminded of the heaviness of wood.  The workers carry and hurl sawn logs, leave behind a stump of a tree, silhouetted against the grey sky, waiting for new growth. And there is the smell and scent of wood too, its sweetness a perfume for the senses.

In six weeks’ time it is wood that is venerated though not just any wood or any tree but the wood of the cross, a heavy burden placed upon the shoulders of Christ, so heavy and destructive that he needs help along his sorrowful way. But the burden was greater still, carries the crack and split, the crash and thud, the heaviness of human sin.

The Cross in Christian theology is not simply the physical thing, an instrument of torture, an item of pain but a means through which we talk about the death of Christ.  It is synonymous with salvation, a symbol of God’s saving love played out in metal piercing flesh and wood. The heaviness of sin crashes to the ground, the sweetness of his salvation a perfume for all.

St Paul says that for some, the cross is a “‘stumbling block’ and ‘foolishness’ but for us it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Where there seems to be failure, suffering and defeat, we see the power of God’s unending love although sometimes, perhaps, we can’t see the wood for the trees.

“This is the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world,” sings the priest three times on Good Friday.  The people respond, “Come let us adore.” The Liturgy of Good Friday is more silent, more stark than any other.  The church has been stripped of ornaments and colour, there is no musical accompaniment, the bells are silenced.

“Come let us adore,” they say or sing.  And adore they do, moved by him who has moved the world with his love.  They approach the unveiled cross, the Tree of Life, offer a gesture of love, of sorrow, of gratefulness, as they draw close to kiss or touch the wood of the cross, bringing to him their need of him. “Nothing in my hands I bring | Simply to Thy cross I cling| Naked, come to Thee for dress | Helpless, look to Thee for grace: | Foul, I to the fountain fly, |Wash me, Saviour, or I die.” (Rock of Ages)

The trees at St Mary’s will sprout again, growing upwards and outwards, extending their branches into the sky, a home for nesting birds, a thing of beauty, breath for the earth.  During Lent, we draw near and nearer to the Cross of Christ, praying that the power of his Love will flourish in our lives during Lent – the Springtime of the Church.

For many people, Easter is the time when it is hoped that life will emerge from lockdown, as they grapple with what their “new normal” has been or could be. It’s not a phrase I like to say or hear, banned as it is from my vocabulary! And yet, perhaps, Easter is and always has been the new normal, the power of God’s love to defeat darkness, hurl down death, deal with sin, open up new possibilities of life with God. Whatever Easter means to you, though, perhaps all of us in different ways are “waiting for a vanished April to return.”

And yet Christians, whether in or our of Lent, are always an Easter people who glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14). April has returned, the Tree of Life is alive with leaf, it is fruitful with God’s love, brings hope to the world.

Croeso Butetown

The Day of the Soup – a community engagement event for Croeso Butetown, where different community groups made and shared soup, sharing something of their culture through the food they make.

Ahhh, how the soup simmered. September 2019 – when Lockdown was a word unmentioned, and the future couldn’t have been predicted! And so, on a sunny Autumn afternoon, we gathered for soup which different groups had made, sharing something of who they are through a bowl full of goodness, no distance between us!

The event was organised by Croeso Butetown, a group of people from St Mary’s Church, Tabernacl Chapel and the South Wales Islamic Centre who were working together as part of the Community Sponsorship of Syrian Refugees with Citizens UK.

It’s been a few years since we started the process, and the long year of Lockdown and the temporary freeze of the Resettlement programme has caused the project to linger a little. But we’re still here and still planning, particularly since the resettlement programme has restarted.

We now hope that we’ll be able to follow a slightly different route, taking a fresh approach which makes the application process far simpler. If this works out we’ll be able to submit a new application to a process which is more slim-lined and easier to prepare to welcome and support a refugee family.

Curry and Quiz Night back in September 2018 – a great fundraiser towards the £9000 we needed to raise!

We’re grateful to the patient group of people who have continued on the journey, and welcome those who have more recently joined the ship!

Although we’ve already raised in excess of £9,000, an amount required to accompany the application to the Home Office, we’ve set ourselves a new target of £12,000.

We’re regularly scanning the housing market to see what kind of houses are becoming available for rent, so if you’re a landlord with properties in the Butetown and Bay area, and would like to explore the possibilities of renting a house to a family fleeing danger then we’d love to hear from you!

Maybe, when lockdown becomes a thing of the past, we’ll gather for another bowl of soup together!

For the journey

We’re unwrapping the goodies in our box of resources for the journey of Lent! Whether you are able to participate in the public celebrations or have to remain at home, we hope these resources will help you to be be drawn deeper into the Mystery of Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection, as we journey together, travelling companions along the way – for Lent, for Life!

For Life, for Lent

A witness in the window

Witness to the world that Lent and Easter are important to you, with our A3 window posters!

Ash Wednesday

As many of us will gather for Mass on the evening of Ash Wednesday, we know that others will be unable to join us but you can still begin Lent in a penitent spirit with our prayer sheet.

The Way of the Cross

With images of the Stations of the Cross at St Mary’s accompanied by a bible verse and brief words by Fr Dean, this little A6 booklet is a colourful and reflective companion as we make the Stations of the Cross – wherever we are!

During Lent, the Stations of the Cross devotions take place at St Mary’s every Tuesday evening at 6.30pm.

On the frontline

Our Lenten Charity this year is Christian Aid, supporting women like Faith who are fighting Climate change in their own communities. People living in poverty are on the frontline of the climate crisis and so we stand together with them to fight for justice. You’ll find a Christian Aid Charity Envelope in our pack, and our Lenten offerings will be presented at the altar on Maundy Thursday when we recall the Mandatum of Jesus to serve and love one another. What are you giving up this Lent? And how can your fast be a feast for the poor?

Prayer companion

A selection of lovely prayers and images from St Mary’s Church in a pocket sized A6 booklet. A lovely companion for Lent!

Daily Mass, daily prayer

We celebrate Mass each day at St Mary’s – it’s food for the journey. During Lent we offer each Mass for a particular local intention, bringing our parish in prayer to God at the altar. Whether or not you are able to attend Mass during the week, perhaps each daily intention offered at St Mary’s can be offered by you, too – wherever you are!

Sunday Word

A small booklet which provides the readings for Mass each Sunday during Lent. If you’re unable to attend Mass, perhaps you can use these readings when making a Spiritual Communion at home.


The Gospel according to St Mark has been described as ‘a Passion narrative with an introduction’ so it’s an ideal companion for Lent! Our Bible Book-Mark provides suggestions for bible readings each day so that we can book-Mark’s gospel from start to finish during the 40 days of Lent.

Palm Cross and ‘Sul y Blodau’ prayers

Palm Crosses are distributed and blessed on Palm Sunday but we’re also including a Palm Cross in our box of resources, along with prayers for visiting a cemetery and the graves of loved ones on Palm Sunday, also known as ‘Sul y Blodau’, Sunday of the Flowers.

Anthems to the Blessed Virgin Mary

A lovely little leaflet with traditional prayers and anthem to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and featuring Marian images from St Mary’s Church. The Angelus Bells ring out here three times a day. Perhaps this beautiful litany can become part of your daily pattern of prayer, too?

The Passion at St Mary’s

The walls of St Mary’s are rich with images of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. This leaflet explores some of those images, and also publishes the details of our Holy Week and Easter celebrations.

This is the Night

Holy Week and Easter is at the heart of our life together. This little companion uses the words of the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) sung at the Easter Vigil celebrations to reflect on Palm Sunday and the great three days (Triduum) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and includes photographs and images of previous Holy Week celebrations at St Mary’s.

Meditations on the Mass

For each of the forty days of Lent, we’re posting a Meditation on the Mass, a reflection on the Eucharist, and exploring why it’s the most important act of Christian worship. Our resource box for the journey includes a taster with the first reflection to be published on Ash Wednesday. The reflections can be read each day at The link will be shared each day on Twitter and Facebook! We also provide a daily prayer post which features a reading from the daily Mass.

Rosary | ‘On this Mountain’

The rosary is hands on prayer! Our resource box contains a small rosary along with a booklet of reflections on the Mysteries of the Rosary. ‘On this Mountain’ was printed some years ago now, and takes inspiration from the Shrine of Our Lady of Penrhys in the Rhondda.

Standing in the Wings

Another blast from the past, a copy of Standing in the Wings with meditations on the Stations of the Cross.

Colour me in!

Why should children have all the fun?! Colouring can help us to relax – and so we’ve included a few Christian colouring sheets for adults, which have been made freely available online. Enjoy! Relax! Get colouring!

Such love

The boxes will be distributed on Sunday 14th February (a loving gift on Valentine’s day!) and also delivered to members of our congregations who have been unable to gather with us.

Whether alone or together we are united in Christ’s love. During Lent, we’d love your feedback on the contents of our resource box. Meanwhile, we continue with our daily pattern on prayer and worship here at St Mary’s, and we’ll continue to enrich our online presence with daily posts!

The Eucharist is so small

In a few weeks’ time, we begin our Lenten journey.  During the 40 days of Lent, we’ll be sharing 40 meditations on the Mass at our other prayer website As we begin to look forward to the possible emergence from lockdown in the weeks or months to come, Fr Dean reflects on the Eucharistic life experienced during the past ‘Lockdown’ year.

It is silent here.

No cracks or creaks from central heating pipes. No sound from outdoors. Few cars, little noise except the sound of birds whose tweets become a new mantra of love.  There is no chatter as people arrive, no doors opening and closing, no breeze, no scuffle of feet. I am alone, and will remain alone here.

The doors are closed to everyone except me, the altar untouched by anyone but me.  This is a lonely place. Except that, in the corner, there is a soft glow of a candle.  It’s not a candle lit by someone at morning Mass burning long after they have gone but the light at the Tabernacle, reminding me that, though unpeopled, this place is not empty, and one is never alone.

And yet, the lack of people creates a void as though this place has been abandoned. But it is not abandoned.  People are prevented from coming here.  They are at home, a hoard of people, frustrated perhaps, and yearning to return, keeping themselves and other safe.

In time, they will return.  Although not all. It’s a slow process. The end of Lockdown and pandemic restrictions will take longer than any introduction which was severe and sudden, although indications of what was to come had come from other countries who already were juggling with pandemic pains.

There is no response from the unpeopled church, no ‘Amen,’ no one to own the prayer.  It’s not normal to celebrate the Eucharist alone and many priests, depending on their situation and tradition, their personal beliefs and differing theology, cannot bring themselves to celebrate the Eucharist by themselves. It makes no sense to them.  The Eucharist is something shared, a gathering at the altar, with a common cup, and the breaking of bread – intended only so that it can be shared with others.  And yet the Eucharist is also so much more.

“Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again,” said St Paul (1 Corinthians 11:26) in the earliest written piece about the Eucharist.

“The Eucharist is connected with the Passion,” said St Teresa of Calcutta.  She continues in her characteristically simple and striking way:  “ If Jesus had not established the Eucharist we would have forgotten the crucifixion.  It would have faded into the past and we would have forgotten that Jesus loved us. To make sure that we do not forget, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of his love.”

It’s in the cross of Christ that we trust, and through the cross of Christ that our sins are forgiven. The Eucharist is the perpetual memorial of Christ’s precious death until his coming again and, through the Eucharist, we receive all the benefits of that saving death.

If Jesus had not established the Eucharist we would have forgotten the crucifixion.  It would have faded into the past and we would have forgotten that Jesus loved us. To make sure that we do not forget, Jesus gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of his love.”


“Remember that we have not a single hope but in the merits of Christ’s death,” wrote a former parish priest of St Mary’s, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones.  “The way in which we now plead the sacrifice of Christ in the presence of the Father is the celebration of Holy Communion.”

Over the months, I move from altar to altar, trying to find a comfortable place, a less lonely place, a place where my voice does not appear too small, too lost in the echoes and acoustics.  Some days, I find it a struggle.

Loaded with the privilege and the possibility of doing what others cannot, I still find the solitariness something to suffer, and I wade through the Mass as though I am asked to do something difficult and daring, as though speaking the words and making the moves is a job of hard labour, of sweat and sorrow.  It’s a purely pathetic response of mine but then the pandemic situation plays its particular part in many different ways on lots of people.  I’m grateful that mine is so mild.

Meanwhile, I’m mindful of the harshness and pain experienced by many people on the frontline, the home-workers who work so hard, as well as those who feel, for a while, that they’re on the back-burner, their lives frozen, locked in, locked down.

Since then, months on, we’ve managed to move back to the daily momentum of Mass, always alert to how fragile our position is within ‘Lockdown’ restrictions.  I’m grateful to the people whose ‘Amen’ owns the prayer we make.  The peopled church is alive with prayer, as candles burn long after the morning Mass.  But a gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.

A gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.

We still wait for others of our number to return, those who are still isolated, still at home and where they feel safe, as they make their own Spiritual Communion, united as we are by the Holy Spirit, and turning to the cross of Christ for comfort and consolation.

The peopled church is alive with prayer, as candles burn long after the morning Mass.  But a gentleness is needed now, and we don’t need to ask more of people, only the little things that mean so much.

There have been so many amazing ways in which so many have responded to people’s needs during the last year, and there is still much left to do whilst we wait for the final effects of the past year, and what poverty and hardship, struggles and struggling mental health will emerge.  For some, perhaps, the offering of the Eucharist is a small, very insignificant and perhaps unimportant gesture to make, not worth the effort, not effecting much, too small when so much is asked of us.

And yet, during the last year, we have learned to love the little things, the things we often overlook or take for granted.  Those things that become so important when all else has been stripped away.  During Lockdown and since, I’ve learned to love the Eucharist in a new and different way, however small it is.

“We must be faithful to that smallness of the Eucharist,” said St Teresa of Calcutta, “that simple piece of bread which even a small child can take in.  We have so much that we don’t care about the small things.  If we do not care, we will lose our grip on the Eucharist – on our lives.  The Eucharist is so small.”

From Ash Wednesday, February 17 2021, each day for the 40 days of Lent we’ll be sharing a Meditation on the Mass, a reflection on the Eucharist, at our prayer website

A response to recent sadness

following the sad death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan, and all that has happened since.

At St Mary’s we have a ministry of daily prayer.  It’s a subtle, often unseen, maybe overlooked ministry – but quietly, day by day, we pray.

We pray for the world and the local community, for those who are sick and in need, the poor and underprivileged, and for the powerful too.  For leaders and politicians, for families and individuals.  Some are prayed for by name.  Others are unknown to us, but we pray for them all the same.

Within these prayers are those who have died, and in praying for them, we pray too for their family and loved ones, for all who feel the pain of grief.  Each life and death has an affect on others, like ripples in a pond, and this pain can affect so many people.

Some deaths have a wider effect, especially deaths that are sudden or unexpected, violent or suspicious, confusing or unexplained, or those who are young.

The death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan is one such death that has caused ripples throughout the community and beyond. The ripples though do not just come from his sad death. The ripples emerge too from the past, from wounds that lie open, from concerns which are raised not just here in Cardiff but across the world, as we seek just and loving ways of living together rather than with inequality and injustice. With any death there are always questions: How? Why? Mohamud’s death has raised these questions in very obvious ways.

With death will come anger.  This is a natural emotion.  We can be angry for so many reasons when someone dies.  Many people are angry.

Mohamud is in our prayers, each day, and so are his family and friends who are so filled with grief.  But prayer does not come with instant, magical results.  Our prayer is always patient.  Whilst anger and frustration and sadness and confusion can and do often fill our prayer to God, so too must love, and patience, trust and hope.  Sometimes, we are just silent – as strong and eloquent a prayer as any.

We are committed, though, not just to prayer but to action too.  The community of which we are a part is a vibrant community, characterised by differences in which we rejoice.  We find no problem living alongside people of other faiths and cultures, colour and history.  In fact, these differences are a blessing to us.  It is something we boast about, and want to share with the wider world, how it’s possible to live together.  Different but much the same.

We are committed to building friendships, to strengthening community life, drawing close to one another in respect and love, and working with organisations, leaders, authorities, groups and institutions, churches and mosques and other communities of faith.

We want the best for our community, our city, our world, and for all people to be treated as equal, for all to have equal opportunities and valued lives. We want a community that is strong yet peaceful, confident yet calm. The circumstances of Mohamud’s death have moved some people to the streets, to express their grief and anger, to ask questions, to demand answers. This is understandable. It can be difficult to be patient under such circumstances. It can be almost impossible to be calm.

On Tuesday, I watched from a distance, as people gathered, and then passed St Mary’s Church.  I wanted to see, to feel, the anger and emotions, perhaps to let some know that I was alongside them but not able to take to the streets with them at this time.  I am moved when people seek justice.  It is a basic human right.

In the search for justice and truth, an independent investigation has begun.  Within that process we trust that the community will receive an open ear.  This has been a promise of the IOPC. At this stage we can only trust in the process, and look forward to the IOPC referring to those whose lives are affected by everything that has happened, as we seek peaceful ways in which hurt and anger can be expressed, and questions asked.

Within the anger and open wounds, we pray for peace and calm so that, in time, all of us, no matter our position or standing within the community, will be able to learn lessons, move forward, make change, and together, make our bit of the world a bit better through strong relationships, firm friendships, and growth in love.

Our ministry of prayer at St Mary’s may be subtle, often unseen, maybe overlooked – but quietly, day by day, we pray.  For Mohamud, his family, his friends, all involved and affected by his sad death, and for you.

Fr Dean Atkins