Articles of Faith 5: Mural of St Margaret

The Fabric of the Church

The murals of St Margaret and St Winifred, two female saints, are part of the fabric of St Mary’s Church, a constant mark in the masonry, and a continued reminder of the work of certain women in the parish: the Sisters of the Society of St Margaret who came to Cardiff from East Grinstead and, in turn, left their own mark.

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The Mural on south side of the chancel arch depicting St Margaret of Antioch

They have laboured

“I am thankful to say I am gradually getting better,” wrote Fr Jones in 1890. He had been spending some time with his old college friend, Evan Lewis, the Dean of Bangor, recuperating from an accident, a collision with a cyclist. This, combined with the death of his sister and the stress of personal attacks upon him, had weakened the 63 year old priest.

“To those who were close to him he never seemed again so active and energetic or strong in health as he had been before,” reads his biography.

“You were all startled, I have no doubt, to hear that Sister Ruth and Sister Rose were leaving us,” he continued in his letter “They have now gone. Sister Ruth’s loss of sight was the cause of her asking the Mother Superior to relieve her and send another Sister in her place.”

“I frankly acknowledge the great work done by them and the other Sisters of East Grinstead in this place. The people amongst whom they have laboured have always found in them sympathizing hearts and a desire for their good.”

As he recuperated in Bangor, many of his parishioners were of the same mind. Meeting together they resolved to have two female saints painted on the chancel arch in memory of the work of the Sisters of Charity in the parish. They chose St Winifred, Virgin and Martyr, of Holywell in North Wales and, most significantly, St Margaret, the Patron Saint of the Sisters of East Grinstead.

The Sisters of St Margaret

The Society of St Margaret was founded in 1855 by Dr John Mason Neale at Rotherfield, England. He was a priest of the Church of England and, whilst a student at Cambridge, had become influenced by the Oxford Movement.  As the numbers increased, the Sisters moved into their first convent, Saint Margaret’s in East Grinstead, Sussex.

The society had a difficult start. Growing naturally from within the Oxford Movement’s catholic revival, it was met with resistance by those suspicious of anything suggesting Roman Catholicism. Dr Neale himself had received personal attacks and threats, and had been manhandled at the funeral of one of the sisters.

John Mason Neale, founder of the Society of St Margaret

Arrival at St Mary’s

 In 1873, the Reverend Mother Superior agreed to send three sisters to St Mary’s, and they arrived later in the Autumn. Their number included Sister Ruth and Sister Rose mentioned in his letter.

They lived at first in an upper story of a house in Bute Street and, soon after, moved to “a poor little house in Maria Street” before settling more permanently at 1, North Church Street where they remained until 1937.

When the first sisters arrived in 1873 the church looked very different from what we see here.  The two murals each side of the chancel arch were added to remember their work some time after 1880

A precarious ride

The opposition and personal attacks experienced by Neale in establishing the Society was replicated in the lives of so many people influenced by the Oxford Movement, and Fr Jones was no different.

Amongst the Deanery clergy was general approval for the Sisters.  They admired their work but one or two were not in favour of their “distinctive dress” which they thought would cause offence and hinder their work. For Fr Jones, this reservation was no obstacle. “We will have Sisters before long, distinctive dress and all,” he said to himself at the time.

Rumours abounded, and some of the more absurd stories which were circulated in the parish did, at time, cause the clergy to smile. For instance, it was stated that an empty coffin was taken into the church on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week, and that the Sisters of Mercy spent the night there worshipping it.

It was also said that the church was kept darkened all day on Good Friday and that “Mr. Sankey and the curate” carried the Vicar round the church on their shoulders. “Now, as Mr. Sankey is very tall and I am very short,” said the Curate, “the Vicar must have had a very uncomfortable and precarious ride!”

The ride indeed was often precarious. The Marquess of Bute, who had recently converted to Roman Catholicism, still took an interest in life at St Mary’s and contributed to its funds, and the story went that the Vicar was in the pay of the Roman Church, and went to the Castle every morning for his orders.

“The Vicar was not one to lose heart easily, but he could scarcely fail to feel the strain of the uphill fight, and the frequent opposition must have told upon him,” reads his biography.

Some believed the Sister’s presence an insult to the Protestants of the Parish. “Really the Vicar had no idea of insulting any, Protestant or otherwise,” said his Curate, “but had they said that the Vicar wished these ladies to help him in making Catholics of the Protestants, and doing them good in body and soul, they would have been about right.”

‘I’ll chuck you over the bannister!’

 At first there were only three Sisters but their numbers gradually increased so that, in 1888, there were six at work, and as it was reported at the time, “we could easily find work for double that number.”   Despite some initial opposition, with “their simple goodness, gentleness and tact they soon made their way in spite of it.”

As soon as the Sisters got settled they set to work, took part in the Sunday Schools, held Bible Classes on weeknights, prepared candidates for confirmation, sought out the unbaptized and brought them to the font.  In one year over six hundred were baptized.  They visited the sick and poor in an area and time where there was significant hardship and squalor, poor housing and social inequality.

They showed great determination and patience.  One day, Sister Ruth, on hearing that a local man was ill with a terrible disease, called at his house to visit him. His wife was having none of it.  She called from the top of the stairs, “If you do not go down, I’ll chuck you over the banister!” The Sister quietly went away then, but then somehow got in afterwards and visited the man till he died.

The Sisters held Mothers’ Meetings at four places in the parish, which were attended by about one hundred and thirty mothers. Through this contact, the Sisters were able to help them in many different ways.

A very good work

In February, 1875, the Sisters began Day School work at Bute Lane Mission School, for girls and infants. This school was always full, and many more would have attended if the building allowed it.

Soon after this school was opened, an official of the School Board called one morning to see the school, and part of his description of it was that he saw “a large crucifix at one end of the room and a Nun at the other.” I need not say the crucifix still remains there, and the Nun is doing a very good work, such as the School Board never can do,” said Fr Jones.

The following year, they began work at Bute Terrace Girls’ School, and Sister Ruth started the Guild of S. Michael and All Angels. With a membership of up to ninety girls, it was the most successful Guild in the parish, and intended to help girls from Confirmation age until marriage, “and as a rule they seem to marry fairly well.”

In addition to the schools under the care of the sisters, there were seven other National Schools in the parish under the management of the Vicar and a Committee. Each School received the ministry of the Sisters and the parish clergy.

They established a Guild House for girls in Canal Parade, described as “a kind of recreation room, partly for work and partly for amusement, where the girls may assemble … and be kept from rambling about the streets; in a word, to keep them from mischief!” It was at this house that they established a middle class school called St Gwendoline’s which closed at Easter 1899.

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This statue of the Sacred Heart which is now in place at St Mary’s came from the Sister’s House in North Church Street when they left the parish in 1937.  They had first arrived in 1873 labouring here for over 6 decades.

Legacy of Love

In 1937, the sisters were recalled to the Mother House and their ministry in the parish came to an end. When they left the parish after more than six decades they had played an essential part in the mission and ministry of the parish, leaving a legacy of love with transformed lives and strengthened faith.

Although no longer present in the parish, there are still Sisters of the Society in the UK and in the US and Asia, including the Priory of Our Lady in Walsingham in Norfolk founded in 1955

The murals of St Margaret and St Winifred, two female saints, are part of the fabric of St Mary’s Church and continue as a constant reminder of the work of those women from East Grinstead who came to Cardiff and, in turn, left their own mark.

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Detail of the Mural of St Winifride on the North side of the chancel arch

Articles of Faith 4: A Letter of 1882

Between the Lines

The fourth item is a simple letter, written in scribbled handwriting, sent to the Vicar at the time, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, from the Revd J.W. Doran. Together, they were working on a Gregorian Psalter in Welsh, indicated from the outset by the way the letter is dated: “Feast of the dear Patron S. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor and Doctor, transferred from yesterday, 1882.

“My dear Jones,” he says in his greeting, “After the above elaborate dating, (not a usual style with me, but suggested by the labours that we have in hand,) let me begin.

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The letter sent by Revd J.W. Doran to Fr Griffith Arthur Jones in 1882 as they worked together on a Gregorian Psalter in the Welsh Language.  Fr Jones had already published a Welsh Psalter in 1854

Little Ireland

In 1891, 15% of Butetown’s population could speak Welsh, significantly higher than the Cardiff average. Some parts had a particularly high percentage, like Loudon Square and James Street. Serving this community were three Welsh-language chapels: Bethania Calvinistic Methodist (1853) in Loudon Square, and Siloam Baptist (1860) and Mount Stuart Congregationalist Church (1858) both in Mount Stuart Square.

Also opened in 1856 was a Welsh-speaking Anglican church on Tyndall Street in an area of the parish called Newtown.  All Saints’ Church or, more appropriately, Eglwys yr Holl Sant, was built thanks to the Marquess of Bute and his wife who between them provided the capital for the land and its building.

However, by 1870, Welsh-language services had been squeezed out by the largely Irish population of Newtown.  For Fr Jones, a Welsh speaker himself and the recipient of the letter, there was an important task ahead.

All Saints 2
All Saints’ Church, Tyndall Street which once stood in the area of the parish known as Tyndall Street.  Initially built to cater for Welsh speaking Anglicans it had ceased to offer Welsh Services by 1870

A scandal to have lost

He arrived as Vicar in 1872, and some time after, in a copy of the Parish Magazine, we read: “It now remains for the Welsh Churchmen of Cardiff to aid the Vicar in his endeavours to restore, what it is a scandal to Cardiff to have lost, Welsh Services for the Church of the most important town in Wales.”

Fr Jones had already written a number of Welsh publications by the time he arrived at St Mary’s. In 1854, he had been busy translating a Welsh Psalter with Rev. C. W. Heaton (his successor at St Mary’s) and the Rev. Lewis Gilbertson, entitled Y Psallwyr neu Psalmau Dafydd wedi eu nodi au haddasu i’s Tonau Cyntefig.

Other publications and pamphlets were also generated including a Manual on Confirmation and a Handbook of Teaching, Devotion and Christian Practice, Y Primer Bach (1870) as well as a booklet on the Athanasian Creed.

Shortly after he arrived at St Mary’s, he set about a Welsh Mission which realised a significant amount of success. “It is hoped Welsh Services will soon be permanently held in S. Mary’s Parish as a result of the Welsh Mission,” continued the magazine article. A Welsh Sunday School was established at Bute Terrace Schools in the afternoon, and the Vicar began to celebrate Holy Communion in Welsh on the first Sunday in the month, “there having been quite a sufficient number of Communicants at the Welsh Celebration during the Mission to make such a service most desirable.”

It was this Welsh Service to which Doran refers in his letter. “I was very glad to hear of the success of the Welsh Service,” he writes. “ I hope it has been favourably reported in the papers,” and he shared his hope that it would increase the welcome of the Welsh Psalter.

Such was his work that, by the late 1880s, the impetus to re-establish a Welsh-speaking church had been revived, and a new church hall, Capel Dewi Sant, was opened in Howard Gardens in 1889.

A few years later, in 1891, a new Eglwys Dewi Sant was opened next door, the land for the hall and church given by Lord Tredegar.  The church was bombed in 1941 and services were transferred to the Church Hall. It wasn’t until 1954 that the redundant, modified and reopened St Andrew’s Church became the new (and present day) Eglwys Dewi Sant.

Not another word

“I am not a teacher of languages, but a priest of God’s Church,” said Fr Jones to his friend Fr Charles Lowder, the founder of the Society of the Holy Cross. Lowder had visited Fr Jones when he was Vicar of Llanegryn before he had moved from there at the foot of Snowdonia to the docks at St Mary’s.  During his stay, Lowder attended a Welsh language service with his friend.

Afterwards he took the Welsh priest to task, suggesting he taught people English rather than hold Welsh services to which Fr Jones gave his curt response. “My duty is to teach the people religion in the language they understand,” retorted Fr Jones. “I could teach them the faith in their own language far easier than I could teach them a new language.”

“I need not say,” he later wrote, “I never heard another word about teaching English to my parishioners.” It was to this kind of attitude that he consistently responded.

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Fr Jones was a member of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) founded by his friend Fr Charles Lowder in 1855 as you can see in this photograph from the distinctive cross which brothers of the society wear.

As bright a service as can be

Fr Jones refused to believe, from his own experience and observation, that Welsh was a dying language. “In my belief there are more people speaking Welsh now than ever spoke Welsh at any previous period of our history,” he said in 1887 as he addressed the Llandaff Diocesan Conference. “The Welsh language … seems as unlikely to die as ever, and it is our duty to try and meet the difficulty we have to deal with: the providing services in both Welsh and English in many of our parishes.” He even called on a special fund to be established for providing additional clergymen to address the issue.

His concern too was that, where services were offered in both languages, more care and attention were generally given to the English ones. “As bright a service as can be provided is given,” he said.

“Let proper care and attention be paid to the Welsh services, and an honest teaching of the doctrines of the Church of Christ, and let the Welsh services be rendered with reverent care and earnestness.” His concern was that Welsh speakers were being short changed, given times of service which were inconvenient and not provided with the sacraments which, he said, “alone can meet the needs of fallen man, be he Welshman or of any other nationality. Other systems may amuse, and attract for a time, but then there is no going to the root of the matter in these modern systems.”

“You flatter the people, and get crowded congregations at harvest home services, but you do not strike the root of the evil with which we have to contend.”

“Up to the present we have been going on wrong lines; we have been giving our Welsh people services as like what they get in chapel as we can, and the result has been disappointing. Catholic teaching and practice as yet have not been tried amongst the Welsh.”

For Fr Jones, providing services and teaching in the Welsh language in such a dedicated and meticulous fashion was about providing the riches of the catholic church to all, in equal measure. The publication of the Welsh Gregorian Psalter, the subject of the letter in hand, was fed by this desire.

How St Mary’s appeared when Fr Jones arrived in 1872.  The large three decker pulpit in the centre of the church was soon reduced in size and moved to the side to make it fit for catholic worship which also included Gregorian Chant.

It won’t be given up!

The Gregorian Psalter in Welsh was being undertaken with Doran and a layman, Spenser Nottingham, who had served as Precentor of St Matthias, Church, Stoke Newington and honorary choirmaster at St Mary’s, Chiswick. Doran had served as a Missionary in India with the Church Mission Society, and by the time of correspondence with Fr Jones had already jointly published a Directory of Plainsong.

Fr Jones had a great love of music and a passion for plainsong which he gradually introduced to St Mary’s, despite great opposition.

Once, when he attended an elaborate service at some other church where the music was described as being “a florid kind” he said, “There was no music to do a fellow good; no plainsong.”

But the use of plainchant was not simply a personal preference.  For him it was a matter of principle, as most solemn and suitable to its purpose, and therefore to be continued and upheld even though it was not appreciated. “It won’t be given up while I am vicar!” he said.

He encountered many difficulties and obstacles in doing this but he faithfully continued and persistently laboured until St Mary’s Church was transformed from what had once been called “a preaching house” to a place where the beauty of catholic worship could be celebrated.


POSTSCRIPT: Below is the full text and photographs of the letter.  Please note that one or two words are indecipherable to me – indicated by “…..”

43 Carisbrooke Road, St Leonard on Sea

Feast of the dear Patron s. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor and Doctor transferred from yesterday, 1882

My dear Jones,

After the above elaborate dating, (not a usual style with me, but suggested by the labours that we have in hand,) let me begin.

There is no real inconsistency between iad iaith in 63:6 and gwyl iaith in 199.148, the former being one ending, the latter a mediation. In the same way you may have observed in the English testimonies as a mediation testimonies in the ending.

In Cantate 7 I prefer sÿdd ynddo.

Let me hear about the other ……. cases as soon as you can.

You and Lewis seem agreed to render? Intimation by dechreuad of ending by/try terfyniad. L. objects to your canoliad for mediation, it being a word unknown to him of which he fails to find in the dictionary.

I was very glad to hear of the success of the Welsh Service. I hope it has been favourably reported in the papers, and may t…d yours an increasedly wide welcome for the Psalter

N…… s are certainly sometimes very tiresome to deal with. I should advise you in any future transaction that they may be troublesome to communicate with my colleague who, I doubt not, would gladly give these directions for you. His address is 30 Eastcheap E.C.

I expect Palmer here on Wednesday. I will discuss again with him how IV.4 S.R should be, and notify to you the result. S….. vary somewhat in different uses. What in one is indissoluble in ……. may not be.

I have sent L. a setting of Venite to a proper Venite Melody. If you and he approve it may be inserted in the Canticles. It might be perhaps with advantage set also to Pasclia nostrum.

I should indeed like to insert all the proper Venite melodies, which are indeed quite distinct from the ordinary Psalm-tones, but it would be a voluminous addition. We might perhaps hope to add them in a future edition, as I hope to do in the English Canticles.

I began this letter jocosely. I have occasion to end it solemnly and sadly. We have been some days very anxious about my mother in law, Mrs Goldin who has been very ill. Hitherto there have been helpful symptoms, but I have just heard that she is apparently succumbing, and it is not improbable that when this reaches you she will have passed away! I know you will remember her and your family in this trial.

Yours very sincerely

J.W. Doran



Articles of Faith 3: Brass Lectern

My ships have passed away

To uncover the story of this brass lectern, with its grand eagle bearing the weight of the word, wings outstretched ready for flight, we need to turn back a hundred years and more, back to 1905 and a turning point in Cardiff’s history, and the story of a life-long friendship.


It is the centenary of the death of Admiral Lord Nelson on 21st October 1905, and the latest edition of Punch magazine features a cartoon of the British flag officer.

 He stands proud, confident, dressed in full regalia on a rocky shoreline, his head turned to the right as he glances across the water to the present day British warships which have long replaced the sailing ships of his fame. The fleet disappears into the distance, smoke streams from the horizon. Beneath, the words: ‘My ships have passed away, but the spirit of my men remains.” On the same day, a letter leaves Whitehall from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, bound for Cardiff.

Ringing the changes

Much has changed in a hundred years, and with the death of Queen Victoria less than four years ago, a new era has begun with the accession to the throne of Edward VII. Cardiff’s population stands now at 164,333.

The heavy industry of the docks has built a town, shaped and reshaped it. Roads have been carved and rail lines laid, crisscrossing their way through the docks. Buildings have risen and long been replaced reflecting the town’s growing reputation, and its confidence too, as it flexes its muscles on the back of coal and steam.

It is a cold, dry October evening two days after the Whitehall despatch, as a flurry of councillors, officials and other guests make their way into the large assembly room of the Town Hall which stands on the western side of St Mary Street. It’s the second to be built after the Medieval Guild Hall which once stood in the centre of High Street facing the Castle, and which is soon to be replaced by the new hall, north of the town in Cathays Park.

There are excited handshakes, wide eyes, bright faces. The Fourth Marquess of Bute who, at the age of twenty-five succeeded his father just four years earlier, takes his seat alongside the Principal of the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce. There also representatives of the railway companies who arrive alongside ship owners and brokers, and who have moored alongside building contractors and coal exporters. The guest list tells the story of the growing town.

There, among them, is Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the former Vicar of St Mary’s who, at 78 years of age, had retired just two years before. His health had been failing and he was tired, although he continued to attend St Mary’s each Sunday, taking the journey from Longcross Street in Adamsdown where he lived in a house he named Lluesty Mair, St Mary’s Rest.

The town mayor, Alderman Robert Hughes, brings the meeting to order.

He is a proud, portly man, 45 years of age, with grey hair and a full yet elegant moustache. Fr Jones watches him remove an envelope from his case, as he stands to address the room. They wait to hear the words from Whitehall.

From boy to man

Fr Jones has known Hughes since he was a boy, watched him grow up, witnessed how his life had changed, and had played a hand in it too, since he first arrived in Llanegryn in 1857 the year that Hughes was born.

A quiet parish at the foot of the Snowdonia mountain range with a solitary hilltop church dedicated to St Mary and St Egryn, it was there, in Llanegryn, that Fr Jones set about planting the marks of his ministry by introducing the riches of catholic teaching and worship. “It became,” so his friend, Titus Lewis, Vicar of Towyn said, “quite the leading parish church in the diocese.”

Llanegryn choir screen
The choir screen at the church in Llanegryn..  This print went with Fr Jones to the Clergy House in Loudoun Square, Butetown, and was later, after his death, was left to Alderman Robert Hughes.

As well as being vicar, Fr Jones was also Head Master of the endowed school in the parish, which Hughes attended, leaving before his 16th birthday. The children were, in the main, educated free although the farmers were supposed to pay a small fee, and attendance at school wasn’t compulsory but even those who did not attend were often sent by their parents to school for punishment if they misbehaved. Fr Jones’ sense of justice was trusted by both churchmen and nonconformists. He administered punishment with a stern face in school but during the play-hour would make a playful gesture to the child concerned which softened any anger. He had a special gift of being able to win the confidence of the young.

As a boy, Hughes had experienced the adept skills of Fr Jones as a sportsman, particularly fishing and shooting, accompanying him on some of these activities. “I used to carry his rabbits,’ he reminisced, and he was a member of the choir that Fr Jones founded soon after his arrival, the first surplice choir in the diocese.

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Fr Griffith Arthur Jones

From Beer to Politics

When he left the parish to become Vicar of St Mary’s in Cardiff, his successor, the Revd Griffith Roberts (who was later to become the Dean of Bangor) had taken the boy under his wing. Correspondence must have flowed between him and Fr Jones who used his influence to gain him a job as a clerk to Nell’s Brewery which stood at the north-west corner of St John’s Church.

“He was not ashamed to admit that he came to the town a poor boy, with only eighteenpence in his pocket,” wrote the Evening Express many years later in 1905, reporting on a complimentary banquet in his honour.

He worked his way through the ranks until he became one of the directors, leaving later to work for Worthington’s Brewery. The promise of Hughes was beginning to take shape. In 1892, he won his seat as councillor by just 14 seats in but was returned unopposed on four occasions, before beating off a challenge from a certain Robert Scott. He also stood for Parliament although without success and was President of the Cymmrodorion and Chairman of the Conservative Working Men’s Association.

Hughes made his home in Cardiff, and his spiritual home was St Mary’s becoming a member of the choir, a devoted Sunday School and a sponsor for many children being confirmed. Robert Hughes took his responsibilities seriously, seeking out and returning any boys who neglected their Communion. When asked about the situation by the clergy, Hughes replied with “I did tell him.” These words were later teasingly applied to anyone who had to be encouraged back to Confession and Communion: ‘I did tell him.’ They became life-long friends, and Hughes was an ardent supporter of the priest despite the hardened opposition he received on first arriving in Cardiff.

The Language of Heaven

Together, they were also at the forefront of the Welsh Church movement in Cardiff.  Not long before Fr Jones’ arrival in Cardiff, Welsh language services had been squeezed out of the Newtown area of the Parish but things were soon to change.  In the Parish Magazine at the time we read:

“It is hoped Welsh Services will soon be permanently held in St. Mary’s Parish as a result of the Welsh Mission. A Welsh Sunday School has been started at Bute Terrace Schools in the afternoon . . . and the Vicar has arranged to celebrate the Holy Communion in Welsh on the first Sunday in the month, there having been quite a sufficient number of Communicants at the Welsh Celebration during the Mission to make such a service most desirable; and it now remains for the Welsh Churchmen of Cardiff to aid the Vicar in his endeavours to restore, what it is a scandal to Cardiff to have lost, Welsh Services for the Church of the most important town in Wales.”

In 1889, a new church hall, Capel Dewi Sant, was opened in Howard Gardens and, three years later, a church was built on neighbouring land offering a new home for a Welsh speaking congregation.

The Letter in Hand

Alderman Robert Hughes stands before the hushed gathering. The letter in his hand is dated 21st October, 1905. He reads it aloud.

“I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that it is His Majesty’s pleasure that the Borough of Cardiff be constituted a City, and that the Chief Magistrate thereof be styled Lord Mayor. Instructions are about to be given for the issue of Letters Patent under the Great Seal carrying His Majesty’s pleasure into effect.”

There are repeated cheers. Each, in turn, rises to offer a resolution, passed with great enthusiasm, expressing the great satisfaction of the Corporation and the citizens. And congratulations are offered to Alderman Robert Hughes on becoming the First Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff.

Accompanied by members of the Corporation and other gentlemen, the Mayor makes his way to the balcony of the Town Hall. Beneath them, in St Mary Street, a crowd of people gathers, attracted by the echoed cheers heard from within the assembly room. The Mayor proclaims His Majesty’s gracious pleasure a second time, and the street is filled with cheering.

Williams, Margaret Lindsay, 1888-1960; Sir Robert Hughes
Alderman Robert Hughes, First Lord Mayor of Cardiff – a portrait from the collection at City Hall Cardiff

St Mary’s Rest

After much celebration, the balcony begins to empty, as the dignitaries step back into the hall. The new Lord Mayor has another engagement to keep. He is due at St Mary’s Church for a service to commemorate the centenary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s death. Lifted by the enthusiasm and joy, and wanting to show due honour to the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff, a candlelit procession is quickly planned to accompany him to the church and back.

From among the crowd, a woman turns to her companion and asks, “Who’s that?” She points to the old clergyman on the balcony, as he smiles gently at the cheering crowd below, before he shifts slowly back into the assembly room. “Oh, that’s Father Jones,” says the other in reply. “Everybody loves him, and he’s so fond of the children.”

One of those children, in whom he had invested so much time and love, kindness and guidance and who himself acknowledged his influence upon his life is now the first Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff. Within a few weeks of being elected Lord Mayor of the newly formed city, he donates the brass lectern in thanksgiving for his friend’s 32 year ministry, an item which tells both a personal tale and the turning point in Cardiff’s own story.


Note: although this particular post is much written in narrative form, the events reported are gleaned from various sources including Fr Jones’ biography and newspaper reports of the time

Articles of Faith 2: Silver Chalice

In Search of Treasure at Sea!

In the search for old treasures you may have Indiana Jones in mind, struggling with baddies, crawling through caves, seeking out the Holy Grail. Well, our second article is no Holy Grail although it is a chalice used at the Eucharist!

chalice 2

It’s not the most decorated chalice amongst the collection here. It has little embellishment other than a simple crucifixion scene at its foot and, six small, decorative faces at the neck but it has a story to tell.

chalice 1

The chalice came from the Mission to Seafarers Centre, The Flying Angel, which closed in Cardiff Docks a decade ago. At its closure, various items from the chapel ended up at St Mary’s, including this chalice which was given for safe keeping to Fr Francis, the parish priest and honorary chaplain. Later, it was chosen by him as the chalice to be placed upon his coffin during his Funeral Mass.

So this simple chalice has links to the sea and begins to pour out a history of the seafaring past and present of Cardiff.

Pushed out to sea

In the nineteenth century, Cardiff began to boom. In 1820, approximately 85,000 tons of coal were shipped from the shores of Cardiff. Twenty years later, as the docks expanded, the figure had risen to 211,000 tons exported in 2,500 vessels. This peak came in 1913 with 10.7 million tons of coal pushed out to sea, and in 1920 there were 122 shipping companies.

As well as exports, there were imports too, and accompanying the many products from afar were sailors who came and went but many stayed, feeling quite at home in Cardiff.

With both a shifting, transitory population and a new, more stable community being created there was much work to do and many pressing needs. There was poverty, hardship uncertainty of work and many other social and personal problems.

Mean Streets and Black Eyes

A colourful glimpse of life at the time and some of the challenges involved is given in the biography of a former parish priest, Fr Jones of Cardiff (1906) where the authors, who served as his curates, write:

“If you turn aside to the right you find a network of mean streets, or, turning to the left and passing through a desert of railways to a fringe of houses upon the edge of the docks, you find yourself in the midst of a scene of squalor hardly to be matched in the East-end of London.”

 “Innumerable children, unkempt and dirty, are playing in the filthy roadway, from which the sun causes a fetid smell to rise; groups of slatternly women, one in three bearing a black eye, loaf upon the pavement; now and then a loud-voiced harridan darts from one of the dirty entries to pour forth a volley of abusive threats against some person or persons unknown.

 And the listless men, some of them obviously mere hangers-on of a port and sodden with drink; while others, as the stains about their feet show, are dock labourers, or “hobblers,” who cannot find a job, are a sight, if possible, more depressing than the women.

 The whole of the maritime community and of that society which lives upon it supplies a field in which missionaries of every Church and every sect may labour and do labour continuously without fear that their work can come to an end.”


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Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, parish priest 1872-1903

All Aboard

With such an endless amount of work to do, three ships were mustered to minister to the seafaring population. Stranded near the Docks was the Hamadryad used as a hospital for sailors. The Havannah was used as an industrial ship for boys who attended the service on Sundays at St. Mary’s, and many of them were Confirmed after receiving instruction by one of the priests who held classes on board. The Thisbe, afloat in the Bute Dock, was used from 1863 as a Seamen’s Chapel and Institute with a resident chaplain. Regular church services were held as well as magic lantern shows and concerts. A more permanent Church and Institute was built in 1892 in the West Dock.

The Chaplains of the Missions to Seamen’s Society held a curate’s licence under the Vicar of S. Mary’s, all of whom looked after the spiritual and social welfare of the sailors. The Rev. R. J. Phillips who was Chaplain from 1880 to 1885 wrote of his working relationship with the vicar, Fr Jones:

“One of the first visitors we received on board of the old mission ship (H.M.S. Thisbe) was the Vicar … how cheered and encouraged I was by his sympathy and kindness.

I remember going up the side of the East Dock one day and seeing the Vicar on his hands and knees in the coal dust helping a poor sailor replace his clothes, etc., which had been flung out and emptied on to the quay by a Board of Trade man who fancied that Jack had some cigars and plugs of tobacco which had not paid duty.

The Vicar’s kindness and good nature I feel sure prevented the officer from being roughly handled, as great indignation was expressed at the time by some seamen who witnessed the scene.”

This bell now at St Mary’s and rung to indicate the beginning of Mass each day was initially the bell on The Havannah Ship!
Havvanah Bell

A newspaper clipping from 1985 when the bell from the Napoeolonic war ship was transferred to St Mary’s

Arctic Conditions

There are other remnants of life at sea here are at St Mary’s including a stained glass window in memory of those Merchant Seafarers who lost their lives during the Russian Convoys of World War II, along with the Standard of the Cardiff Branch Russian Convoy Club which was placed ere when the club closed in 2008.

Each year, in Cardiff Bay, there are two Memorial Services in Cardiff organised by the Merchant Navy Association, and a framed list of the names of Merchant Seafarers who died during war can be seen at the Butetown Community Centre (see below).

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Memorial Service at the Senedd organised by the Merchant Navy Association

Anchored in the Sea

In more recent times, a rood cross was carved in the shape of an Anchor, hung high above the nave altar with the figures of Jesus, Mary and the Beloved Disciple taken from the chancel screen from the redundant St St Dyfrig’s Church which once stood near Central Railway Station. The cross is often something to which tourists and visitors are attracted and begins a discussion of St Mary’s seafaring past.

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St Mary’s Church, showing the anchor shaped crucifix above the nave altar

Raise a Glass

Although the Flying Angel Centre has now gone, Cardiff still has a working docks albeit a shadow of its former days. It’s here that often unseen visitors from afar touch the edge of Cardiff. They continue to receive the ministry of a Mission to Seafarers Chaplain.

Today, The Mission to Seafarers is one of the largest port-based welfare operators in the world, present in around 200 ports across 50 countries, and providing help and support to the 1.5 million men and women who face danger every day to keep our global economy afloat.

So, let’s raise a glass to them!

Articles of Faith 1: Stone Corbel Head

One of a series of posts allowing individual articles here at St Mary’s to unfold a story!

Better Days

This first object has seen better days. And I say ‘seen’ better days because this object has a face with a nose and a mouth . . . and eyes!

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It’s a simple, stone corbel head measuring about 10 inches tall and 5 inches wide, fixed into the interior wall of the church. It’s above a door that leads into a disused porch on the south side the steps of which are sometimes scattered with discarded needles.

Just before being placed here, it seems to have been fixed into the wall of the church gardens.  A photograph of a former Vicar, Fr Oman, who was here in the late 1950s, shows him staring curiously at the stony face.

Corbal head
Fr Oman was Vicar at St Mary’s from 1955

The head now is rather weathered but you can see the feint features of a face, and a crown upon his head. In the photograph, which shows clearer, un-weathered contours, the face is solemn and regal disinterested in the world around him, used to being stared at and admired, like a proud cat purring his way through the world.

But this weathered face has seen far more than simply two centuries of history associated with this present church building in Butetown. This corbel head came from the original and long disappeared Priory Church of St Mary which stood near the present day Cardiff Central Railway Station, its site marked in stone on the side of a Wetherspoons Pub.

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The Prince of Wales pub which stands on the site of the former Priory Church

Norman Conquest

The Priory Church was built after the land was conquered by William of 1066 fame. Robert Fitzhamon was the first Norman Lord of Cardiff and the church he built stood on the banks of the River Taff which was later diverted in the nineteenth century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

At one time, the Taff would have flowed the course of Westgate Street which straddles the Principality Stadium, kissing the edge of the Priory graveyard, before it turned towards the present run of the river a few hundred yards away. The area now is dominated by the Stadium and the new BBC Studios which, along with other high rise office blocks forms the new Capital Square with its building site reserved for a new transport hub. The city, like the river, never stands still.

Robert Fitzhammon, the first Norman Lord of Cardiff, represented holding Tewkesbury Abbey

Prior Warnings

The font is filled with Easter water, waiting for a few baptisms after a very secluded Holy Week and Easter Day. Next to the font, pinned to one of the large pillars, is a framed list entitled ‘The Twelfth Century Parish of St Mary the Virgin: List of Incumbents.’

The first Prior was simply named ‘Robert’ who arrived in Wales with his Norman Lord namesake.

In 1180, the Priory Church was taken under the wings of the Benedictine Abbey of Tewksbury who stocked it with monks and a prior. As well as a Priory Church it served as a Parish Church for the community of Cardiff and other areas which extended as far as Roath and Lisvane, Llanishen, Llanedeyrn and Llandough.

But forty years later, the monks were taken back to Tewkesbury leaving just a solitary Prior.  A century later (in 1318) this situation was forbidden by the Pope and Simon, the last known Prior, was quickly shuffled back to the Mother House. St Mary’s was left to the care of a Vicar who was in receipt of the stipend of four monks.

Cardiff was changing and, closer to the castle, the population had been rising and the need for a new church emerged in the late 12th century when the Church of St John the Baptist opened its doors. By 1242, its standing was such that the Archdeacon of Llandaff attempted to prise it from St Mary’s to create a separate parish.

The Prior, Richard de Derby, was having none of it. He successfully appealed to the Pope, and so St John’s continued as a dependant chapel of St Mary’s right through to the Reformation when it became a separate benefice sharing a single vicar right up until 1843.

Floods and Fire

Standing as it did at the turning of the Taff, St Mary’s was prone to flooding and, in 1607, it was severely damaged by the large flood which swept across South Wales and South West England.

There had been prior warnings and earlier floods but the money meant for the upkeep of the weirs and walls, the bridges and quays had been diverted elsewhere.

The 17th century map of Cardiff by John Speed showing St Mary’s (bottom right) and its proximity to the River Taff

Three decades later and there is war, the English Civil War to be precise, which played its destructive part: St Mary’s was caught up in the crossfire of Royalists and Parliamentarians seeking control of the castle.

It was to the Parliamentarians that William Erbery flocked when he lost his living as Vicar of St Mary’s. He’d refused to read from the pulpit the King’s Book of Sports which outlined what games were allowed to be played on Sundays. Denounced as preaching ‘schismatically and dangerously to the people’ he became an itinerant preacher before being recruited as a chaplain to the New Model Army which he regarded as ‘the Army of God.’

Erbery died six years before the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 by which time burials and baptisms were continuing at St Mary’s but other services had ceased. By 1678, the Church was a roofless shell, and the great central tower collapsed. What remained of the church was in danger of being swept away for ever.

By the middle of the 18th century, with no habitable church of their own the parishioners of St Mary’s worshipped at St John’s. They retained their distinct identity, appointed their own churchwardens, kept their own accounts and even had a gallery built to accommodate their numbers. But, soon, more than just a gallery would be needed as Cardiff experienced a rapid growth built on the back of coal clawed from the valleys of South Wales.

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The Church of St John the Baptist in the city centre

That in its beauty Cardiff may rejoice

 At the gardens on the east side of the church is Bute Street which runs its stretch from the city centre to the Bay. It’s usually a busy street with cars and passers-by, school children, locals and tourists stopping to take a snap of the life size crucifix which stands as a War Memorial.  But with ‘Lockdown’ things are quieter, and the birds take precedence with their song.

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The gardens at St Mary’s facing onto Bute Street and the railway line

On the other side of the street is a tall stone wall which runs its whole length with a train line taking tourists and workers from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay. Beyond this is Lloyd George Avenue which used to be West Bute Dock, and so from here, a hundred years ago,  we’d have seen the tops of ships, and heard the creaking sound of trains and shunters, wagons weighed down with coal cut from the valleys, lost in the sweat and steam of the Industrial Revolution.

West Bute Dock was built by the Second Marquess of Bute in 1839 not long after he’d sliced through marshland creating Bute Street and a direct line to the docks.

A vibrant, thriving, multicultural community emerged with over fifty different languages.  In just under four decades the population of Cardiff soared from 1,870 to over 10,000.  Many of these lived in St Mary’s Parish. A new church was needed.

With a gift of land and one thousand pounds from the Marquess, the remainder of the money was raised locally, and included the sale of a poem written by Sir William Wordsworth who referred to the former flooding and the need for a new St Mary’s to rise, “That in its beauty Cardiff may rejoice!” he wrote.

The church was opened in 1843 and it was, indeed, greeted with much rejoicing.

Facing the future

Now confined indoors, if the stone corbel head could talk it would unfold a thousand years of history, from Norman Conquest to the Reformation, from Civil War to the Industrial Revolution, as Cardiff grew from a small town on the river to a thriving, vibrant capital city on the sea.

The stone corbel head is not just a nodding gesture to the past and how places grow and develop, are shaped and reshaped but is a witness to how faith has played – and continues to play – its part in the life of communities and the growth of a city just like Cardiff.

This is one of a series of items, Articles of Faith, which explores the history and mystery of St Mary’s by looking, one by one, at some of the many articles or objects here and allowing their stories to unfold.  Each blog post aims to be a simple, ten minute read.  They had originally been conceived as a podcast but the author didn’t like hearing his own voice!

Article of Faith 2:

From that place of death

High in the apse at St Mary’s Church, awash with angels who hold symbols of the passion of Christ

It was an episode of Silent Witness I think, the BBC drama series which investigates crimes using the science of forensics. There is discovered the remains of a dead body, incarcerated in a prison beneath the concrete floors of a discarded factory. The body was naked, his torn clothes next to him. The psychological diagnosis was that he had stripped himself of his clothing as a desire and need to be free from that place of death.

The place of death before Mary of Magdala and two of the apostles who run to investigate, seems to be a tidy affair. There is no corpse but an empty tomb. There are no ripped clothes but a rolled up cloth in a place by itself. Jesus has left behind the death shroud, the garments for burial, as he emerges from the tomb’s prison, risen from the dead. In all the encounters with Jesus which follows during the next forty day (and portrayed by the four gospel writers in different ways) there is the recognition that he is both the same Jesus but now somehow also different. At first, his followers don’t always recognise him. Mary only recognises Jesus when he says her name. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus only recognise Jesus later in the day when he breaks bread. When Jesus appears to them in the upper room, and says ‘Peace be with you,’ they think they are seeing a ghost and so he asks for something to eat. When he calls from the shore of Galilee to those who returned fishing they only recognise him after they pull in the great haul of fish, found at his direction. Things have not returned to how they were. There is no going back – only a moving forward. He tells his disciples that they must head to Galilee when he will see them there, for Jesus will continue moving on, moving up, as he ascends to the Father and, according to his promise, the Spirit is poured out upon them, the fulfilment and climax of the Resurrection of Christ who has been freed from that place of death.

Those who encounter the risen Lord are no silent witnesses. Mary of Magadala cannot keep silent. The disciples who see Jesus at Emmaus make the return journey to tell the others. When Jesus appears to the disciples and Thomas is absent, they can’t wait to tell him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ There are times in our own lives when our encounter with Jesus is strong and vivid, and other times when we fail to recognise him. For Peter and John it is enough for them to see the empty tomb and the discarded death clothes, the desire and need for Jesus to rise from the dead, to be free from death, and so liberate us all from its clutches. Our witness must never be silent, although words may not always be used, as we live out our faith alive in Christ Jesus our Lord who has raised us up in the light of life through his desire and need to be free from that place of death.

Exultant with paschal gladness, O Lord, we offer the sacrifice by which your Church is wondrously reborn and nourished. (Prayer over the Offering at Mass, Easter Sunday)

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed, therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia, alleluia!

Bad Days and Happy Sailing

[A 3 minute read for Holy Saturday]

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I’d had a bad day, needed some cheering up. So someone who cared said, ‘Come on, let’s go to the cinema, that will make you feel happier.’   Three hours later, I emerged from seeing the movie Titanic, and jokingly thanked my friend for cheering me up by showing me a movie whose climax was hundreds of people plunging to their death, with the tragic love story of Rose and Jack intertwined. Actually, the climax of the tale is rather richer. As the centenarian Rose looks back over her life and of her falling in love which ended in death, she says of her dead love, “You see, he saved me in every way possible that a person can be saved.”

And so to the great water adventure of the Exodus which colours and interprets so much of what we celebrate on this holy night. As the Israelites are led through safety and freedom through the waters of the Red Sea, those who pursue them plunge into the waters and are drowned. This Exodus forms the heart of the Jewish Passover, and gives meaning to our Easter celebrations and our life with Christ. On this night, the liturgical celebrations draw us to fire and water. These are such human inclinations – to gather around the warmth of a flame or to be drawn to the water’s edge. Tonight, around the fire, we tell stories, the story of our Salvation, beginning at the creation of the world when God hovers over the waters of chaos bringing life and order. Then there is the great flood of Noah’s time when he and his family are saved, and the Exodus story at the heart of proceedings. The invitation in Isaiah to ‘Come to the water all who are thirsty,” and the staggering words from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which declares that “when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’  Tonight, we celebrate the power of God’s love and his desire to save us. We return to the waters of baptism to reaffirm the promises made at our own baptism when we were buried with Christ so that we may walk with him in newness of life.

Throughout time, God has called a people to himself and, in so many and different ways, reached out to them, continued to call them back to him, to save them. Finally, he has sent his Son whose death has torn the curtain which divides us. Having been raised from the dead, Christ will never die again. Pope John Paul II once addressed a large group of young people in Manilla for World Youth Day. Faced by so many young people with all their plans and dreams and ambitions for the future, he said, “Remember you have been made to live with God for ever.” This is our hope. This is our destiny. This is what we celebrate on this holy night. Perhaps of Jesus, then, we can most perfectly say, “You see, he saved us in every way possible that a person can be saved.” Happy Sailing!

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“May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” An image from Easter 2019 as the priest blesses the Easter fire, marks and lights the Easter candle.



This is the wood of the Cross…

The Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion is stark and sombre yet full of rich beauty in all its simplicity, made starker today maybe by our inability to gather together.  Since lockdown, the liturgical celebrations have occurred in solitary fashion in the smaller Lady Chapel.  However, today it seemed apt to return to the nave altar.  Perhaps the following words and images will enable you to be drawn in some small way into the celebrations of these days.

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“Remember your mercies, O Lord, and with your eternal protection sanctify your servants, for whom Christ your Son, by the shedding of his Blood, established the Paschal Mystery.”

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“Almighty, ever-living God, comfort of mourners, strength to all who toil, may the prayers of those who cry out in any tribulation come before you, that all may rejoice, because in their hour of need your mercy was at hand.”

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 “This is the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.  Come let us adore.”

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“I gave you saving water from the rock to drink, and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar”

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“I fed you with manna in the desert, and one me your rained blows and lashes.”

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“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed”

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“We adore your cross, O lord, we praise and glorify your holy Resurrection, for behold, because of the wood of a tree joy has come to the whole world.”

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“My people, what have I done to you? Or how have I grieved you? Answer me!”


Fruitful with his love

[A 3 minute read for Good Friday]

Two years ago, when snow hit the ground, I found myself attempting to climb a rather tall and thick evergreen tree in my garden to rescue a stray cat I was trying to care for. It turned out to be impossible, with its tightly growing branches there was no way up, and as I tried to squeeze past the sharp branches and pointed twigs which scratched my face and arms, I watched the cat climb higher. I gave up for the time being and gave the cat chance to find a solution to his own predicament. A few hours later, after leaving the cat to his own devices, he sprightly appeared at my door for his afternoon feed. A few months later, he moved in.

Trees feature strongly in the story of our salvation. The first is that tree rooted in Eden’s Paradise, the tree which lured Adam and Eve to the fruits of its branches, an easy tree to climb. ‘The serpent said to the woman, “You will not die;  for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5). And so, in reaching high, Adam and Eve experience a great fall. They fail to live according to God’s plan, reach for a perfection beyond them, try to make themselves equal to God, their lives now fruitless.

Whilst other trees make an appearance in Scripture, it is the tree of the Cross which stands tall and changes things, that tree so difficult and painful to climb, and yet Jesus ‘accepts death, death on a cross.’ On Good Friday, in more usual times, people draw close to ‘The wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.’ They make a gesture of veneration, lean forward to touch or kiss the cross, the deep expression of God’s love for us. One traditional Good Friday hymn for the Veneration is ‘Faithful Cross the saints rely on, noble tree beyond compare.’ One of the verses goes: Lofty timber, smooth your roughness, Flex your boughs for blossoming; Let your fibres lose their toughness, Gently let your tendril cling. Lay aside your native gruffness, Clasp the body of your king. Sweet the timber, sweet the iron, Sweet the burden that they bear.”

And so Jesus is raised high on the scaffold of the cross. The branches bear his body, its boughs are soaked in blood. And yet the cross for us is the tree which blossoms with love and flowers with forgiveness making it possible for us to live with God for ever. Through his death, Christ has uprooted the power of death, he has driven a wedge between us and our sins. He has restored us to God so that we may reach for the perfection once beyond us, our lives fruitful with his love.