St Mary’s Wild Side: our Christmas Charity Appeal

During this last year, the world has experienced such a challenging time.  We want to reach out, particularly to those who are lonely and isolated, those who find life difficult, whether through poor mental health or other issues and concerns which can affect our health and well being.

As a city centre church, we are also concerned about the natural environment and the two can and do go hand in hand! We know that spending time in green space, close to nature, can benefit our mental and physical wellbeing. It can:

  • improve our mood
  • reduce feelings of stress or anger
  • help people take time out and feel more relaxed
  • improve physical health
  • improve confidence and self-esteem
  • help us be more active
  • help us make new connections
  • provide peer support.

Each Christmas, we choose a charity to support with donations made at the Christmas Crib, our Christmas Greetings Board or simply by direct donations. This year, St Mary’s Christmas Charity Appeal is our home grown “Wild Side.”  After beginning to shape and create a space in our gardens over the last few months, we are now in a place to further develop them to benefit the wider community.

Donations will not only go towards physical resources but will be used to deliver sessions in our pilot project in the new year. We’re hoping to work with all ages from all backgrounds, and we already have a small amount of money ringfenced for activities involving those who are homeless.

This is an exciting yet simple project to:

  • strengthen community life
  • cherish our natural world
  • provide a safe and nurturing environment for  people experiencing  difficult and trying times.

Donations can be made through the Christmas Greetings Board, at the Christmas Crib or simply directly to St Mary’s

We’ve begun to transform the gardens to make them more accessible to people and more friendly to nature!

Get in touch

If you’re interested in partnering with us on any aspects of our garden project by volunteering, taking part in activities, commending people to us to engage in organised activities or you just want to find out more then please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

Chocolate coins and Advent light

Whilst Ava waits in the wings with the anticipation of lighting the rose candle next Sunday, Seb was more than happy to take his turn at this Sunday’s lighting of the Advent wreath.

Beneath the evergreen ring, sits a bowl of incense, a symbol of our prayers rising through the gateway between heaven and earth, as we raise our eyes to heaven and the coming of Christ.

Eternal God, as the days shorten and the evenings draw swiftly in we light a candle to enlighten our minds and stir our hearts so that he of whom the prophets spoke may find us watching and waiting to welcome him, the Light of the world, for he is Lord forever and ever.  Amen.


The joyful simplicity of our Advent worship is enriched by the wreath, and the daily delights of adding a symbol to the Jesse Tree which, on Christmas Eve, adorned with the symbols of our salvation story, is illuminated and crowned with a star. But that’s all to come! Advent is about waiting and anticipation after all.

The Jesse Tree transformed into the Christmas Tree – but we have a few weeks before it looks anything like this!

Santa Claus

Meanwhile, with St Nicholas being subdued today by the Second Sunday of Advent, we gave thanks for his life and ministry at the end of Mass, and blessed and distributed small bags of gold chocolate coins for the children – although some adults managed to get their hands on a coin or two, too!

St Nicholas is, of course, the provenance of Santa Claus, and an important Advent saint. One story associated with his life involved a poor man with three daughters.  Unable to provide a dowry for his daughters meant they were unable to get married and so destined to be sold into slavery.

On three occasions a bag of gold appeared in their household: tossed through the window and landing in stockings or shoes left at the fireside to dry.  This led to the tradition of children leaving stockings for St Nicholas to fill with gifts.  A symbol of three gold balls, coins, money bags or sometimes oranges or apples are used to represent St Nicholas.

God our Father, the light of Christmas is breaking upon the horizon, the night time gives way to the coming of your Son into the world. Bless us and all who receive these coins. May they remind us of the generosity and kindness of St Nicholas and the help he eagerly gave to those who were in trouble or need. Help us to use our gifts to create a world of peace and love. May we be signs of hope in a world of despair, shining beacons of light where darkness overshadows. We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.


The mystery of who you are…

Her story was utterly moving and utterly captivating. As a child, she is on a school residential trip away, enjoying time with her friends. Having fun. Being a teenager. Being young. They are camping out together in a large sports hall echoed with laughter. Their lives filled with hope for the future.

Then there is an explosion.

Noise. Chaos. Dust. Death.


After too much silence she crawls out from under the bodies of her dead friends.

It is 1992 and the beginnings of the Bosnian conflict. For days she goes on the run. Through woods and quiet places. Surviving. Somehow. Removing a wallet from a dead man. Hoping he won’t mind.

Years later, as an adult, finding herself finally in the UK after moving through several European countries, the flashbacks and fear fester away. Her mental health is imploding. Her childhood experiences weigh heavily and her response to everyday noises and incidents completely disproportionate.

After seeking help and falling often through care nets, she emerges as a woman who wants to understand what has been happening to her and she begins to study psychology. She is a mystery to herself and she wants to understand her mind, her life. She needs to enter the mystery of who and why she is. Her life is very different now.

We are indeed a mystery to ourselves. Rarely do many of us want to face up to who we are or get to grips with the meaning of our lives, with the mystery of our mind or the workings our heart. Perhaps it is too much to contemplate, too much to take even without the extreme experiences of that impressive woman.

As Christians, we are presented with a great mystery. The mystery of God and the mystery of who we are. Believing and belonging doesn’t always settle our minds. We’re human after all, and none of us is perfect.

And yet there is still that yearning to be settled and whole. To have an understanding or at least some insight into who we are and why we are.

“The mystery of who you are,” said St Augustine, “is laid upon the altar.”

He means that we find meaning in the Mass. The Eucharist is the means through which Christ’s saving love is made manifest. “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again,” said St Paul.

We cannot get away from the death of Jesus. In the Eucharist, it is his death that we proclaim. A death which brings life. A life which brings love. A love which brings healing and wholeness and which understand the fragility of who we are and the difficulties we experience.

“We are what we eat,” so the well know health slogan goes. In the Eucharist we are fed with Christ’s body. And we become, we are, what we eat. We are Christ’s body in the world.

The mystery of the Eucharist not only tells us who we are but what we shall become. “God became human so that humans can become divine,” said St Augustine.

On the first Thursday of the month we gather in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, the body of Christ. And in gazing upon him we discover not only how much he loves us, a love which is expressed and proclaimed by his death on the cross but we also gaze upon the mystery of ourselves, who we are and what we shall become.

“We are God’s children now,” said St John, “and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

The mystery is deep and cannot be grasped with sound bites or harboured by headlines. Sometimes we simply need to look and wait and wonder. To spend some moments in silence and grateful contemplation.

There is nothing too clever about this. No gimmicks, no stage directions, little drama. Just watching and waiting and knowing or wanting to know.

Why not join us on Thursday 3rd December at 6pm as we spend some time in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and be drawn into the mystery of God who comes to dwell with us.

Whatever the weather

A Palm Sunday procession from St Paul’s Methodist Church through Butetown to St Mary’s Church

Two years ago, we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the opening of the present day St Mary’s Church, deep in December in the heart of winter.  Our celebratory dinner planned for the following month was postponed thanks to the “Beast from the East!”

Having opened in 1873, it was two years later on November 6th, 1875 that St Mary’s Church was actually consecrated, a sign of eagerness, perhaps, to open as soon as possible!

Before this, for over a hundred years, the Parish of St Mary’s had been without its own church building, the former Priory Church having fallen into disrepair, damaged (amongst other things) by flood, the whims of the weather.  Parish life continued.

The congregation continued to worship at St John’s Church but retained its own wardens, financial accounts and identity.  Since Medieval times, when St John’s Church was built, the town’s attention and population had shifted towards the Castle but, in the nineteenth century, with the expanse of the docks and the rapid rise in population in the parish of St Mary’s, a new church building was needed.

The first Vicar of the new church retained the dual Incumbency with St John’s but when the second Vicar was appointed St Mary’s continued its separate identity, with a fresh calling.

Planting in the Parish

The population continued to rise.  How did the church respond and grow in the parish? One way was to open satellite places of worship, with clergy and others given responsibility for the mission and ministry of that part of the parish.  After time, these ‘rented rooms’ were replaced by consecrated church buildings, and separate parishes were eventually carved out, often pastored by the priests who planted them.  ‘Church planting’ is nothing new.

St Mary’s Church, looking very different today from when it was first opened in 1873 and consecrated in 1875

The Patterns of Life

Today, the city continues to change shape and years, after the development of Cardiff Bay, the city centre is moving slowly but surely towards the sea, linking the two identifiable areas of Cardiff, and nudging St Mary’s along the way.  Meanwhile, in between, the Butetown community retains its separate identity, stubborn to shift, despite decades of external forces which threatened its life, overlooked its values and tried to bury its hidden treasures now being brought out into the shining sun.

Over the last ten years, since the census of 2011, the population of the parish has grown by 40% and is predicted to press on further. More apartments and planning for homes continue at a rapid pace.  We’ve seen this before.

Parish Life has served the city, which was simply a town when St Mary’s was built.  It kept pace with the patterns of life, lived through change, effected change, and enabled growth. Still does.

Some of those churches born of St Mary’s in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have now closed, a result  of the changing shape of a city, merciless in its development.  Others, however, have continued their role, retained a presence, picked up the presenting needs, continued to minister to all.

Years ago, St Stephen’s Church, a chapel of ease from St Mary’s at Mount Stuart Square, was closed down, sold off.  Perhaps, if decision makers had known how the Docks would be redeveloped and rebranded as ‘The Bay’ and how Cardiff would redefine itself,  there may have been some stubbornness to retain it, standing as it does in an area prime for Mission.

Over the last ten years, since the last census, the population of the parish has grown by 40% and is et to grow further with new housing developments and plans

Dry but cloudy

Today, St Mary’s Church continues to be a solid presence in a changing city.  There is nothing new under the sun, and whilst we must attend to the present moment with an eye and ear on future opportunities and changes, we can also learn from the past and how parish life can serve the needs of even the quickest growing city in Europe, with its diverse and fascinating communities.

In a newspaper report of the Consecration ceremony much was made of the weather which “during the early period of the forenoon was dry, but cloudy; and continued so until about twelve o’ clock, when it commenced raining.”  However, it didn’t prevent a large gathering of people who processed “to the building to be consecrated.”

At many times in its history, the Parish of St Mary’s has looked at the whole picture and, whilst scanning the scene, has looked ‘small’ at times.  It picked out those pockets of population which showed such potential, which presented needs, and which needed priests, and a place for people to gather. By doing this, it enabled the parish to grow in number, to grow in faith, to grow outwards.

It played to the strengths of Parish Life which means, 175 years after its consecration and 177 years since it was first opened, St Mary’s Church on Bute Street remains both a home to a vibrant congregation, and a sign and symbol to the wider community that we are here for them, whatever the weather.

Dry but cloudy: from a report of the Consecration Service in the The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette, 8th November 1875

The Colour of Black

Coinciding with Black History Wales’ activities launched at the beginning of October, we look at one of the few representations of black people in the holy art at St Mary’s, and the place played by a North African family in the growth of Christianity in the first few decades.

Three black people stand next to and under and near the cross of Jesus.  This is a painting at St Mary’s Church by local artist Kenneth Smitham of the fifth Station of the Cross.  It’s a glimpse from the gospel which sets Simon of Cyrene on the stage, compelled as he is to carry the cross of Jesus.

We know, too, the names of the two younger people who colour the canvas.  They are Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon, and named as such by Mark in his gospel account.  It’s an important mention, for it means that, at the time the gospel was written, Simon and his family were known to the wider church.

These are not three passing encounters.  They aren’t people who just walked on and off the stage never to be seen or known again.  This chance encounter between Jesus and a (possibly) Jewish pilgrim from North Africa (present day eastern Libya) had deeper repercussions – for Simon and his family become believers.

There is no indication that Simon, at first, is moved by pity or compelled by compassion.  Rather the Roman soldiers force him from the crowd and place the crossbeam on his shoulders.  And yet, in a word, Mark reminds us that Simon carries the cross behind Jesus, calling to mind the words of Jesus that “Whoever wants to be a disciple of mine must take up his cross and follow me.” Simon, in a very particular and precious way, has been drawn into the passion (the suffering) of Jesus, and his life is changed for ever.

We may assume that Simon was a Jew, since he had come to Jerusalem at Passover time – and Cyrene, at the time, was a centre for dispersed Jews, 100,000 of whom had been forced to settle there during the reign of Ptolemy Soter, 300 years before the birth of Christ.

Fly forward, fifty days or so from Simon’s maiden appearance, and it’s Pentecost Sunday.  The festival has drawn pilgrims from across the known world, and the Apostles are about to hit the streets after receiving the gift of the Hoy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles (2:9) delivers a cacophony of countries from where these travellers hailed, to create a bubbling mix of cultures and traditions: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” All of these, so the Acts of the Apostles tell us, can hear, in their own language, the teaching of the apostles. We are told that, from among these widely drawn pilgrims, 3,000 believe in Peter’s message, and are baptized.  Perhaps Simon and his family were amongst these. (Acts 2:41)

Likewise, too, later in the Acts of the Apostles (11:19-20) we read of people from Cyrene who preached to the Greeks.  “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.”  We can only conjecture that Simon may have been among these!

And the mention, again in Acts, that in the church at Antioch, “there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” can only again lead us to conjecture and what tradition tells us: Lucius became the first Bishop of Cyrene but there is no actual proof that “Simeon (Simon) who was called Niger” can be identified with Simon of Cyrene.  But perhaps we can be forgiven some fanciful thinking which places him there in Antioch!

And yet this isn’t the last we hear of Simon’s family.  It is thought by some scholars that one of his sons is the Rufus mentioned by St Paul in his letter to the Romans, along with his mother who, says St Paul, has been like a mother to him too.  “ Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” (Romans 16:13)

The gospel of Mark, which initially names Rufus, was written to the church of Rome, perhaps some time after Peter’s death, around AD 64-6.  Perhaps, then, there is some credence to identifying Mark’s ‘Rufus’ to the one who settled in Rome with his mother!

Although there is no proof of the colour of their skin, tradition and art more often than not portrays them as black skinned, and in so many churches where there are Stations of the Cross, their representation may be the only artistic and architectural portrayal of a black person.

As Black History Month continues, Simon and his family continue to stand tall in the part they play in the history of Christianity from its very beginning. Perhaps we need a little more black representation in our holy art here at St Mary’s.  But, for now, Simon and his boys sit quite happily here, guiding us through the Stations of the Cross, shedding light on what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and how being drawn into the passion and death of Jesus transforms us.

For more information about Black History Wales visit:

Who would live in a house like this?

Tent of Meeting

It was a memorable moment, this week, to see the Shrine Church in Walsingham able to open its doors for private prayer, and the smiles of the Priest Administrator as he turned the key says it all.  I know that many people have loved to take part in the live streaming of Shrine Prayers at 6pm every day, although this year we shall miss out on our annual pilgrimage from South Wales.  At the heart of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is the Holy House of Nazareth, a replica of that home where Mary lived, and in which she was greeted by the angel as highly favoured, and shown to be a loving servant of God as she embraced his plans for her and the world.

Shrine OLW reopening
Fr Kevin Smith, the Priest Administrator, opens the doors of the shrine church in Walsingham  Photograph: Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham – Facebook page

Many of us have enjoyed being able to open up our church buildings over the last few weeks, and throughout the months of lockdown there has been much discussion about the purpose of church buildings – after all, you don’t need to go to a church building to pray, do you?  Of course, you don’t!

I’m often uncomfortable by the term ‘going to church’ (although I have used and do use it myself) and the fact that the word ‘church’ has been used and confused for both the people and a stone structure doesn’t help.  Perhaps, we need to think more of our buildings as being ‘the house of the church’, a place where the church gathers, a shared space, a meeting point with one another and with God – as together we celebrate the Eucharist and other celebrations, physically present to one another.

St Mary’s Church with its temporary layout  for private prayer to maintain social distancing and safety.

Who would live in a house live this?

Like any house or home, the building is almost an extension of who dwells there, and so when we peruse particular church buildings it can tell us so much about the community which gathers there, and that’s no different for St Mary’s.  Wander through St Mary’s Church and you’ll find the clues of what kind of people live in a house like this.

At the heart of many a ‘house of the church’ is the Tabernacle, where the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament dwells.  Just as the Shrine Church at Walsingham is home to another house, the Holy House of Nazareth, so too our church buildings are home to another house – the Tabernacle – in which is placed the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Since we have been allowed to open for private prayer, here at St Mary’s we have opened not just the doors of the church but the doors of the tabernacle.  Even though we cannot share in the Eucharist of the Lord we are drawn into his Eucharistic presence, and the ‘house of the church’ becomes, once again, a meeting point with the Divine.

The Lady Chapel at St Mary’s in which is found both the Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament and imagery of Mary, including the image of Our Lady of Walsingham to the right of the altar

The Tent of  Meeting

 I love the litanies of the church, and the litanies of Mary are particularly beautiful as we move to the gentle rhythm of their beating prayer.  One of Mary’s titles, tripped off the tongue in these litanies, is ‘Tabernacle of the Lord.’  Her own body becomes a Shrine for Jesus, a dwelling place of the Lord, a tent of meeting, a tabernacle.

We can only delve into the depths of what ‘Tabernacle’ means through our Jewish heritage and the life of the Old Testament.  As the liberated People of Israel dawdled in the desert for four decades, they stopped along the way to pitch camp and erect their tents.  At the heart of their camp and the most important tent was the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, in which was placed the Ark of the Covenant, the assurance of God’s presence, the place where he dwelt among them within the Holy of Holies. (Exodus 25–31 and 35–40)

Perhaps it’s no accident that the chapels in our churches known as the Lady Chapel often, too, serve as our Blessed Sacrament Chapels.  In fact, on the front of the Tabernacle here at St Mary’s is a beautiful painting of the Annunciation, that moment of Mary’s Yes, the moment of the Incarnation, when Jesus takes flesh of the Virgin Mary, becomes present within her, creating a Tabernacle of the Lord.

The Tabernacle at St Mary’s Church illustrating the scene of the Annunciation

And so, during these times of restrictions, the doors of ‘the house of the church’ and the doors of the Tabernacle are opened wide.  We are drawn into the presence of God and one another, discovering that God is before and above us, around and within us, praying that we too may be a worthy dwelling place for the Lord, a Tent of Meeting, a Tabernacle,  that place of encounter with Jesus who has come to live among us.

Each day, the Tabernacle Door is opened and the Blessed Sacrament is placed upon the nave altar

At the moment, we are open each day: Sunday at 11am, Monday to Friday at 6pm, Saturday at 11am for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Within the walls and windows

St Mary’s has a rich past and present.  Home to a vibrant community of faith, we also have stories to tell and share, and we want to offer more and more of our resources to local schools and others.  So, here’s the first of many resources to come which we hope may be of benefit in teaching and learning!

A PDF version of the document is available so do get in touch if you would like a copy!




Rejoicing as a Pilgrim People

Whilst we may feel a little like we’re standing still at the moment, it may be difficult to get to grips with being a Pilgrim People! Pilgrimage, though, is as much about stopping as it is about moving on – after all, most long journeys require at least a refreshment stop!  So, whilst some things have stopped or taken on a different form, here’s time to look back on what happened last year with our Annual Report for 2019!


Financial Report for the year ending December 2019