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. There are things that often get missed or overlooked but which express what we believe. They offer a colourful expression of our faith. Even if we are silent, these stones cry out!
This pilgrimage takes you on a journey through St Mary’s Church, stopping along the way to allow certain features to speak to us and provide a moment for reflection.
This building has been shaped by and shaped the community of faith which has worshipped here in each generation, including ourselves. So may this little pilgrimage provide a means of spiritual growth, praying that our faith will be strengthened and revived. Bon voyage!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A reading from the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians (5:6-10)
So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we. walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.
God our Father, as we set off on this little pilgrimage may it draw our hearts and minds closer to you. As we make our way through this holy place, may our whole lives resound with praise of you, proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
[Safety: If you are making the actual physical journey in St Mary’s Church, please be mindful that, because of the age of the building, some of the paving is uneven in parts.]
To live is to change
“What we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. When Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 JOHN 3:2)
Standing at the west end of the church today, near the main entranceway, gives a very different view from when this church was built in 1843.
The building has been shaped and reshaped to recognize the changing lives of those who inhabit it, and give expression to our faith. Some things, of course, have not changed.
When Fr Griffith Arthur Jones was appointed as Vicar in 1872, he inherited what was described as “a preaching house” with a large central three decker pulpit, a small altar hidden from view, and little space and freedom to celebrate the dignity and beauty of catholic worship.
One of the great leaders of the nineteenth century catholic revival which inspired him was St John Henry Newman who said, “To live is to change to be perfect is to have changed often.’
As you look at the building today, and consider how it has changed over the years, think about the church community whose home this is, the changes it has experienced and the changes to come.
And what about you? How have you changed? How has your faith changed? Has it waxed and waned at times? Has it felt strong and been strengthened in times of joy and adversity. None of us is perfect—and yet perfection is our hope and our destiny. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” said Jesus (Matthew 5:48). We are called keep our eyes set on Christ and on our heavenly homeland. “What we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed. When Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 JOHN 3:2).
Prayer of St John Henry Newman
O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.
Moving on: We move right now, towards the font.
Come to the water
“We have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (ROMANS 6:4)
How many people, do you imagine, have been baptised in this font since this church building opened in 1843?
If that’s too difficult to estimate, then just imagine how many people have been baptised in every font throughout the world, and in other places, too, whether in hospital wards, nursing homes, on the battlefield, in rivers and lakes, or at the hands of missionaries in far off lands.
As you entered through the doors of this church, you may have seen the water stoop, into which we dip our fingers and make the sign of the cross upon ourselves as a reminder that we are baptised.
Our baptism may be a past event, a once for all event, never to be repeated, but the grace of baptism remains with us. In baptism we are made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven.
Near to the font (outside of the Easter season) is the Paschal Candle, which was blessed and lit at Easter, a visible reminder of Christ’s risen presence among us. St Paul said that when we are baptized we die with Christ and rise with him to walk in newness of life.
Nearby are the holy oils, used in the church’s sacramental ministry of initiation and healing. Like any watering hole, this is a place teeming with life, giving life!
As you pause at the font, give thanks to God for your own baptism. Consider what it means for you to be a baptized Christian. What is your calling? How does being baptized change who you are?
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be they name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Moving on: We move onwards, down the side aisle towards the Lectern
The Living Word
“The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any two edged sword.” (HEBREWS 4:12)
This brass lectern, like so many objects and items within the church building, has a story to tell.
If you look at the inscription, you’ll see it was donated by Robert Hughes. He was the first Mayor of Cardiff when it received city status by Royal Proclamation. He was also a Sunday School teacher here, and a sponsor to many young people being baptised and confirmed..
He came to Cardiff himself as a boy, at the age of 15 from his home village of Llanegryn to work in a brewery. He worked through the ranks, entered politic, and even stood as a candidate for MP.
The imagery of the lectern is a familiar one: an eagle with outstretched wings, upon which is rested the Word of God, revealed in Holy Scripture.
It is from here that the Word is proclaimed at Mass. We listen to the Old Testament and respond with God given words in a Psalm.
The New Testament reading is followed by the Gospel for which we stand. We sing ‘Alleluia’ as the Book of the Gospels is processed accompanied by lights and incense, as we give due dignity to the Holy Scriptures.
St Jerome said, ‘Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. ‘ If we want to draw near to Christ, to know him and love him more then we should seek him in the Scriptures both in our public worship and private lives.
Robert Hughes, quite apart from his civic role as councillor and Mayor, taught children the faith as a Sunday School Teacher here. He may have helped to shape the city of Cardiff but, most importantly, he took part in the formation of many young people in the faith.
Do we love the Scriptures? Does it form part of our daily life? Are we ready for it form us? And how do we help nurture and strengthen others in the faith?
Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning. May we hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. By patience and with the comfort of your holy Word, may we embrace and hold fast to the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Moving on: We move onwards, down the side aisle towards the Lady Chapel
The Living Bread
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (JOHN 6: 51)
At the end of the south aisle is a small side chapel in which is found the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The painting on the doors of the tabernacle is a beautiful portrayal of the Annunciation, the moment Gabriel greeted Mary with the news that she had been chosen to the Mother of God. From then, she begins to feel the growing presence of Jesus within her.
Many years before, God told Moses, “Make a tabernacle that I may dwell with my people.” The Tabernacle was a tent, a place of dwelling. God’s presence appeared as a pillar of cloud over the tabernacle by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Mary, who was overshadowed by God’s Spirit, became the place where God came to dwell. Her body became a tabernacle for the Lord.
Within the Tabernacle of this chapel is the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s body. It’s reserved for Communion to the sick and housebound. A light constantly burns in its presence.
Stay awhile and spend some time in prayer before Jesus, praying that you will experience a new awareness of his presence in the Eucharist, for the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Christians.
Henri Nouwen said, “The Eucharist is the most ordinary and divine gesture imaginable.” In one sense, it is simply a meal, as we share bread and wine but it’s more than this. In the holy exchange of gifts between God and his people we discover the divine presence, we are given the gift of Christ’s body and blood.
How can we have a deeper sense of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist? Do we receive Holy Communion with a sense of awe and wonder, our hearts filled with joy?
How holy is this feast in which Christ is our food, His passion is recalled, grace fills our hearts and we receive a pledge of the glory to come. Amen. (St Thomas Aquinas)
Moving on: we remain at the entranceway to the Lady Chapel.
A nodding gesture
“We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 CORINTHIANS 4:7)
Before we move on, we need to consider another feature of St Mary’s Church, easily missed. Above the doorway to the south porch, and just before the entranceway to the Lady Chapel, is a stone corbel head, now well weathered.
It is all that remains of the early 12th century priory church of St Mary the Virgin which stood at what is now the corner of St Mary Street and Wood Street and where the River Taff once turned as it flowed down the course of Westgate Street.
This stone, corbel head is a reminder of the past, when the Normans arrived in Wales and started building in stone.
But it also reminds us of how fragile life is. Churches built with pride can so easily be washed away or left to crumble. Shrines can be razed to the ground, roofs can leak, foundations can shudder, stones can topple.
There is, of course, something quite human to want to be rooted in a physical place, to give physical expression to our life and faith, and to settle into a house or home.
Around us in the city, we see buildings come and go. The Cardiff skyline is lined with cranes and new buildings of steel and glass reach high, and higher still.
It calls us back to the People of Israel who wandered in the desert for forty years, setting up camp, staying awhile, before moving on—a nomadic people on the go, seeking a home, but making home wherever they went.
There are times when the church today is called to be a nomadic people, moving on, making our mark, stopping awhile rather than hastily making our way through the world.
We know that life is fragile, that we are fragile, that nothing lasts for ever. St Paul said ‘Our citizenship is in heaven.’ Do we live our lives with our hearts set on heaven, or are we too rooted to the things of this earth?! How do we cope with change?
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
(‘Abide with me’ by Henry Francis Lyte)
Moving on: We move across the other side of the church, towards the pulpit
A pair of pulpits
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (ROMANS 12:1)
There are two pulpits in St Mary’s although only one is used. The original pulpit was originally three storeys high, standing in the centre of the nave, but was eventually reduced in size.
After his first failed attempt to alter the pulpit, the priest at the time, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, was met on Bute Street by someone who took great delight in his failure. In a characteristically cheerful manner, Fr Jones retorted, “Never mind, the pulpit will serve very well from which to preach the Catholic faith.”
The Oxford Movement of the nineteenth century began in the pulpits of the Oxford Colleges but it soon began to move out into the parishes, and to affect the way that people worshipped.
On his arrival at St Mary’s, the text of his first sermon from that dominating pulpit was ‘God is Love.’ This truth was at the heart of his whole ministry.
Do sermons send you to sleep? Or are you eager for the Word of God to be expounded, unravelled, applied to everyday life and present day circumstances? Do you pray for the preacher, that he or she may truly speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?
And what of creating room in your own life for reading and reflection, for the study of Scripture, for applying what you have heard and read and allowing it to inform your decisions and behaviour, and being able to share it with others? Why not stop here further and reflect on the place of God’s Word in your life? How your life be a living sermon, an eloquent expression of faith? Like the words attributed to St Francis of Assisi, “Go and preach the gospel and sometimes use words.”
My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour. He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed (Magnificat, Luke 1:46ff)
Moving on: We move to the window to the right of the old pulpit
All at sea
“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters;
they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.” (PSALM 107:23-24)
The window in the North aisle is the only deeply coloured stained glass window in St Mary’s Church, added to commemorate those who died in the Russian Convoys of the Second World War.
St Mary’s Church and this part of Cardiff has had a long standing connection to the sea and seafarers, built up as it was on the exports of coal, and welcoming many people from different countries and cultures to create a vibrant and colourful community.
Each year, there are two Merchant Seafarers’ Memorial Services on the steps of the Senedd, close to the Memorial for Merchant Seafarers. To the right of the window is another memorial from another century, remembering the Master Mariner of the Port who died in a storm at Milford Haven.
The Port of Cardiff is still active today though not on the scale of a hundred years ago. However, Cardiff still provides a short lived home to sailors who often go unseen, unnoticed, and yet who have spent many months, sometimes years, away from their families and friends.
So stop awhile, and consider those who work on the seas and those who risk their lives in our service. What other unseen workers are in our midst—those whom we take for granted?
How, too, do we welcome the stranger or those who are different from us? This community was built upon the coming and going of people from many different countries and cultures and religions. Do we rejoice in a common humanity? How do we value and love and live with diversity?
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the God who saves us. Let us come before him, giving thanks, with songs let us hail the Lord.
A mighty God is the Lord, a great king above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his. To him belongs the sea, for he made it and the dry land shaped by his hands. (Psalm 94 (95))
Moving on: move back to the centre of the church, in the space between the nave altar and the high altar, and face the apse
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
As you cross between the nave altar and the choir stalls, stop to look at the apse, distinctive with its life size statues of the twelve Apostles.
Eleven of them are depicted in traditional style holding the item of their martyrdom. The other is St John. Tradition holds that he is the only one who died a natural death in old age.
Huddled within each recess of the apse, the figures are a reminder that we worship with the saints, “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who, from their place in heaven, guide us still.
In the first generation of the church, people gathered to listen to the Apostles teaching. As the first Apostles died and disappeared, their witness was written, recorded and gathered to become what we know as the New Testament. Today, then, we attend to their message—’their word goes out through all the earth.’
The number of apostles chosen by Jesus was significant. It represented the number of the tribes of Israel which made up the People of God. When Judas kills himself after his betrayal of Jesus, Matthias is elected to replace him.
However, the office of apostle continued beyond this number after Pentecost. St Paul was known as an Apostle, as was Barnabas, Timothy, and Silas. We are an apostolic church, built on the apostles and sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Today, the bishops, as successors of the Apostles continues in some way the role of an Apostle, and are called to be true to the Apostolic faith. And yet all of us are sent out. We have a message for all creation.
Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your apostles peace, I leave with you, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever. Amen.
Moving on: move closer to the High Altar
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (LUKE 2:16-18)
As the shepherds are drawn to the child Jesus so we too, in the Eucharist, are drawn to him. As they kneel to adore Christ, so do we. And yet, surrounding this scene of the birth of Jesus, are symbols of suffering.
Above you, on the ceiling of the apse, the angels hold instruments of Jesus’ suffering and death, and around the altar are more symbols of his passion.
In the Eucharist, we receive the presence of Jesus in his sacred humanity, born for us in Bethlehem, and present to us in the Eucharist. But in the Eucharist we also proclaim the death of Christ, and receive all the benefits of Chris’s sacrifice.
Upon the walls of this apse, painted within the five rotunda, are Old Testament images which help us get to grips with the meaning of the Eucharist. Some of them are stories of sacrifice, and remind us that the Eucharist is a memorial of Jesus’s sacrifice, his suffering and death.
You’ll also find a few ‘uglier’ characters in the shape of grotesques—not gargoyles (which are ornamental water spouts). These kinds of features which have been part of art and architecture since Roman times.
In church buildings, they often symbolise the battle between good and evil. Perhaps these figures are feeling the power of the sanctity of the apostles which dominate this space, or perhaps the image of Jesus being adored by poor shepherds is too much for evil to take which has been dealt with by Jesus on the cross.
Above the image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and those adoring shepherds, the angels light and song brighten the sky. ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth” is a song taken to the lips of Christians since the fourth century, and is sung on Sundays and feast days in Mass today.
Yes, within this apse are scenes of joy and glory, pain and sacrifice, love and awe, wonder and delight, the promise of peace, the love of God poured out in sending Jesus into the world, and the ongoing promise of his peace and presence given in the Eucharist and in so many other ways.
So pause, here, and thank God for all the blessings you have received.
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen. (Prayer of St Richard of Chichester)
Move: at the Sanctuary step, turn left to the image of St Winifred painted on the wall
The common good
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (ACTS 2:42)
As you take the steps up behind the choir stall into the sanctuary area, you will see a fresco off St Winifred high above you on the left, partnered by St Margaret of Antioch on the other side of the apse.
They were painted in commemoration of the sisters of the Society of St Margaret of East Grinstead who lived and worked in this parish until the mid twentieth.
The Religious Life still remains a feature throughout the Anglican Communion, even if not in the numbers once known. In some places throughout the country and the world, various different models of the Religious Life are taking shape.
So, as you stop here, give thanks for the Sisters who did so much for the growth of the church in this place and for their witness to the catholic faith, and pray for an increase in vocations to the Religious Life.
But also consider what we, as members of the church, hold in common with one another? What can we do to devote ourselves to living as a community of Christ?
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are given an image of a church which held all things in common. They devoted themselves to the breaking of the bread, to the prayer, to the Apostles teaching and to the common life.
How can we strengthen the community of faith and the wider community? What needs are presented to us by those who are weak and vulnerable, scared or struggling? St Winifred is the co-patron of Wales.
Together, how can we create a community, a country, which always seeks the common good, and care for those who are weak and vulnerable, a just and fair society where people can flourish?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. (Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)
Moving on: Look back into the church, to the large crucifix suspended over the Nave altar, and stand beneath it
Beneath the cross
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home (JOHN 19:26-7)
This anchor shaped cross is often a talking point with visitors to the church. It points to the seafaring past of this community and anchored, as it were, high above the nave, it draws people’s attention.
Yes, the cross should be a talking point, something that moves us, for it is at the heart of our life as Christians. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” said St Paul, “through which he world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
The cross is the means through which we are saved. Through Christ’s death on the cross our sins are forgiven and new possibilities with God emerge.
When we look at a cross or a crucifix we see a sign of God’s love for us. Like that well known inscription on prayer cards and bookmarks: ‘I asked the Lord how much he loved me. “This much,” he said. And he stretched out his arms and died.’
At the foot of the cross is Mary and the beloved disciple. From the cross, Jesus gave each to to the other, as mother and son, a new family, a new community.
We are, perhaps, always standing beneath the cross of Christ, for it is our hope, our life and our salvation, through which we are set free.
We are set free to love and be loved, set free to live without the shackles of sin, set free to be and become the people God has called us to be, set free to be the church, the body of Christ, in the world.
We adore You, Most Holy Lord, Jesus Christ, here and in all the churches of the whole world, and we bless You because by Your Cross You have redeemed the world. Have mercy on us. (Prayer of St Francis of Assisi)
The Station of the Resurrection
“If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” (1 CORINTHIANS 15:14)
The Stations of the Cross are, perhaps, the most particular prompt for a pilgrimage, for each station marks a stop along the way of sorrow which brings us at last to the glory of the Resurrection of Christ
If you want, you can take that journey now, beginning with the first station on the far left of the church and continuing around the walls, or you can simply move straight to the final station.
Traditionally, there are fourteen stations, each drawing our hearts and minds to particular events on Jesus’ journey to Golgotha. Often, there is a fifteenth – the Resurrection.
This station at St Mary’s is a more recent addition, as you can see by the different artistic technique. It was painted by Tony Goble, the last work accomplished before his death.
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” said St Paul. “Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:17-20).
There will be lots of opinions and beliefs in the world about Jesus. Some will want to say that he was simply a good man who did good things. But, for us, that is not and never enough.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead proclaims his victory over sin and death. Through his resurrection our own lives are raised with him, our hearts and minds set on heaven, which is our hope and destiny, our journey’s end, its final fulfilment. Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come in glory! (Memorial Acclamation)
Our journey’s end
Our journey is almost over – though not quite! Whenever we make a pilgrimage, however short or long, it expresses that our whole life is a pilgrimage. We continue on the move, journeying with Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who leads us home rejoicing!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all ever more. Amen.
This little pilgrimage simply gives a framework for any kind of possible prayerful journey you may wish to make, either here or elsewhere. There are many routes to take, and plenty of stopping points to ponder and pray.