Stations from the Street

Walking the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem in 2011

Some years ago, I was privileged to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The first six days were spent at Galilee, in a lovely hotel with tranquil grounds on the shores of the lake. The second part of pilgrimage took us to the heights of Jerusalem, a city bustling with life.

We visited so many holy places, churches and basilicas, gathered at dawn in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the quietest time of the day, and so very different from just a few hours later when crowds gathered and queued, pushing their way to the places made sacred by Jesus.

When we made the Stations of the Cross, though, we were outdoors, walking the Via Dolorosa, a street which winds through the city and outside of the old city walls. We squeezed by busy shops, passed other pilgrim groups who projected their prayers above the noise of the crowds. We watched our steps on the cobbled paving, every now and then made wrong turns as we sought out the next Station stop, looked out for pickpockets, dealt with street traders who tried to place their wares in our hands. “If you touch, you buy,” we had been warned by the pilgrimage guide!

It’s a very different experience from the Stations of the Cross experienced in the silence and serenity of our churches, void of hustle and bustle.

The Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross are fourteen or fifteen stops along a journey, each stop focussing on an incident that happened on the Via Dolorosa, from the moment Jesus is condemned to death in Pilate’s palace to the moment his body is laid in a borrowed grave.

Many churches, our own included, have various images – carvings, paintings, or sometimes a simple cross, which mark out for us the stops along the way. Some Stations have a 15th Station of the Resurrection. It completes the journey.

Most of the Stations are taken directly from the Bible, so that the Stations of the Cross are a meditation on Scripture.  Through our devotions we grow closer to Jesus , enter into a deeper understanding of his sacrifice on the cross. 

Last year, in Lockdown and closed churches, I made the Stations on the Cross alone through the streets of the community, and left behind a palm cross at each.

A personal way of the Cross

Many years ago, a parishioner of mine at the time was talking about her time on a holiday cruise when the group stopped off at Jerusalem, and her tourist trail turned into a pilgrimage one. She spoke of how moving it was to walk the Via Dolorosa, to walk those sorrowful steps of Jesus. Moments later, she was talking about her husband’s ill-health, and asked why God let it happen. “He’s a good man,” she said. “Why him?” Although she couldn’t see it, she and her husband were walking the Way of the Cross on her own life.

To make the devotional Stations of the Cross is not an activity separate from our lives. The devotion is rooted in our lives and living, in our struggles and suffering, in our sacrifice and service.

Within the peacefulness of our church buildings we make the journey in spirit, and through the journey, are able to see how The Stations of the Cross is something we often experience in our own lives.  Sometimes, certain stations speak most clearly to us: perhaps because, through our own circumstances, we can relate to the particular experience of Jesus and those who feature with him on this difficult journey.

A mother of a sick or dying child may be drawn deeper into the sorrow of Mary. Someone who has a burden thrust upon them may associate with Simon of Cyrene. Someone who has lost a job, their home, their family may be drawn close to the Station when Jesus is stripped of his clothing.

We may be a far cry from the busy streets of Jerusalem but in our own hustle and bustle or when life has slowed down, we can be drawn deeper into the saving love of Christ, bring our sorrows to his sorrows, our pain to his pain, our love to his love.

Throughout Lent, we make the Stations of the Cross at St Mary’s on Tuesdays at 6.30pm. However, the Stations can be made anywhere, and we’ve produced a number of resources to help you do this.

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross – one of the Stations of the Cross at St Mary’s Church, Butetown

Beavers’ Tails and Butter Towers

Pulling a fast one: How about a beaver’s tail as a Lenten fare?!

Giving up meat during Lent has been a long held Lenten tradition because it meant giving up a luxury item.  Perhaps, with cheap meat and factory farming, we have rather lost the sense that meat is a luxury.  And yet it is still a good tradition to have, particularly considering the environmental impact of consuming too much meat!

In Medieval Times there were all kinds of strange ways in which some people tried to ‘pull a fast one’ on the Lenten Fast. 

Gerald of Wales, in the 12th century, reported that in Germany and the Arctic regions ‘great and religious persons’ eat the tails of beavers because of its superficial resemblance to fish.

A similar thing occurred among some catholics at the time when they discovered puffins – believing they were ‘half fish!’

Some people also sought to pay a dispensation to eat such things as eggs, butter and dairy products which were forbidden during Lent.

Many churches have been built from these funds, perhaps the most famous being the ‘Butter Tower’ of Rouen Cathedral.

Rouen Cathedral

Activities like fasting and eating frugally through Lent and on Fridays may have receded somewhat in years gone by but they are now beginning to be adopted again by the faithful. 

Such ‘external markers’ and ‘expressions’ of our faith are important.  They subtly distinguish us from others and can even serve as discreet witness in the workplace or among friends and family, and provide a good talking point!

Today, of course, we aren’t encouraged to ‘pull a fast one’ when it comes to fasting, and  neither do we need to  pay a dispensation to build our own Butter Towers!  However, our Lenten Fast can make a difference to other people’s lives.

The fasts of the rich are the feast of the poor

St Anselm

If we are making sacrifices during Lent, the money we would have spent can be given to others in need.  This year, our Lenten Charity is Christian Aid who are working with those who feel the impact of the Climate Crisis and experiencing drought which impacts their ability to grow food, people like Faith and her husband Steven who live in Kenya.

“But now Faith grows crops that are lush and green thanks to a nearby dam,” says the Christian Aid website. “Her local community got together to build the sand dam with the support of Christian Aid’s partner ADSE. The dam gives Faith’s community resilience in times of drought. A water source like this gives people like Faith a chance to not just survive, but thrive.”

“While the rains remain irregular, a dam means that when the rain does fall the community can collect every last drop. Because there is now water in Faith’s community, there is life. Faith’s hard work and determination has transformed this resource into a future for her family.” You can find out more here

Our Lenten offerings are presented at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.  During that celebration we receive the command by Jesus to love one another as he has loved us, a command he illustrated by washing his disciples’ feet.  And so it’s appropriate, on that night, to bring our offerings for the poor and needy. 

Whatever you’re giving up for Lent, or however you’ll be sharing charity, just imagine what figurative ‘butter towers’ will be built from the sacrifices you make, as we seek through the likes of Christian Aid and others to rebuild lives and whole communities, supporting others in their need, and enabling them to stand tall!

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!