Finding Faith in Cardiff
This is the second of a series of walks guiding you through Butetown, and sharing the significant religious jewels of the past and present.
If you’re picking up this walk from the first Faithful Butetown walk, then simply make your way south and turn left into James Street with the Millennium Centre ahead of you. We’re heading to Cardiff Bay which each year receives millions of tourists and visitors. Our departure point is Bute Place. (Google Map link here)
The development of this place from an Industrial working docks into a place of leisure and pleasure means that there are plenty of places to eat and drink but there’s more to this place than meets the eye!
So whether you’re sitting outside one of the restaurants or cafes, enjoying the fresh air, taking a virtual stroll through the sights and sounds, or physically making the journey, we hope you’ll enjoy discovering this part of Faithful Butetown!
This Faithful Butetown walk takes us from the bottom of Bute Street at Bute Place where the city opens up to the sea, and the bronzed back of the Wales Millennium Centre gleams in the (occasional!) sunshine. We shall skirt the water’s edge to the Norwegian Church and back around into Mermaid Quay and finally arrive at an open space where Nature is quite at home!
Distance: 1 mile / 20 minutes (excluding stops)
Starting Point: Bute Place, Ghandi Statue
Parking: There is ample parking in Cardiff Bay with a multi-storey car park.
Public Transport: the walk begins a few minutes way from Cardiff Bay Train Station, and the main bus routes.
Terrain: Pavements, flat, no hills.
Religions discovered: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism
We’re starting the journey at Bute Place with its ‘Craft in the Bay’ shop and studio and a few rather unimpressive water features at a place called ‘The Flourish’. But it’s not these that we’ve come to see but the statue of Mahatma Ghandi. (Google Map link here)
The statue was unveiled on 2 October 2017, the UN International Day for Non-violence.
Although this statue is for all and everyone who values peace, it was made possible through fundraising by and donations to the Hindu Council of Wales and stands “as a focal point of peace and will help ensure that the legacy of Gandhi lives on for future generations in Wales.”
About half of the 10,000 Hindus in Wales live in Cardiff, and the largest Hindu temple in Wales, the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is located not too far away in Grangetown, the community across the other side of the River Taff, and was first opened in 1982. Before this, the Temple was located n in a former Jewish place of worship and which itself is now home to a Church. With three different faiths inhabiting its walls, it could tell many tales!
In recent years, in association with Wales Tamil Sangam, there has been an annual celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights, with music, dance and workshops at the Wales Millennium Centre which can’t easily be missed from where you stand!
We’ll get there soon, as we move on, across the road towards the large Oval Basin known as Roald Dahl Plas which forms the entranceway to the old West Bute Dock, and now used as a gathering and events space in the Bay, but not before we consider another faithful gem of the past.
All Souls Church
Between the Oval Basin and Sainsbury’s shop on the corner is the site of the former All Soul’s Church ministering to seafarers through the Mission to Seamen (now Mission to Seafarers).
Before this, from 1863, their mission was carried out from a floating church in the shape of HMS Thisbe, a former Royal Navy ship, moored nearby in West Dock which ran the length of Lloyd George Avenue behind you.
The ship was replaced in 1892 by the Chapel which thrived until after the Second World War when it was closed in 1952, and demolished shortly afterwards. The picture (above/left) shows the coronation visit of King George V and Queen Mary on 25 June 1912.
The pulpit made its way to St Edward’s Church in Roath, and its Baptism Register can be found in St Mary’s Church at the top of Bute Street.
There were another two permanently moored ships nearby in the docks, HMS Hamadryad was used as a hospital for sailors and stood further East. HMS Havannah which was used an industrial ship for boys, some of whom attended the services at St Mary’s. The ship was anchored just south of Penarth Road (not far from the present Brains Brewery Quarter development).
Many of the boys were Confirmed after receiving instruction by one of the priests who held classes on board. The bell from the Havannah also found its way to St Mary’s (in 1985) and which is rung each day before Mass begins.
We’ll discover the site of a more recent floating Christian presence later in the walk, and which has also disappeared, as well as more about the Mission to Seafarers and Apostleship of the Sea.
Wales Millennium Centre
The Wales Millennium Centre was opened in 2004, with its second phase completed in 2009, and is home to a number of arts organisations, the icing on the cake for Cardiff Bay Development.
Although, of course, its main purpose it arts, performance and entertainment, several events of significance to the diversity of the community, including faith, have been held here . The Centre has recently taken great strides to be more accessible to people who have perhaps felt excluded, with the appointment of a very effective Community Engagement Producer.
‘In these stones horizons sing,’ are the words of poet Gwynneth Lewis, who said of her words, “I wanted to convey the sense of an international space created by the art of music.”
But perhaps, too, all around us, in the neighbouring communities of Butetown and elsewhere, there are horizons and possibilities. Looking at the Centre from the outside, the words are bounced back from within the dome of Welsh metal and wood, glass and slate and ring true to offer a commentary on the community beyond.
In the mid nineteenth century, as Cardiff expanded on the back of the docks a new cosmopolitan working class community was created. The sea drew in sailors not only from around Great Britain, Ireland and Europe but from the Middle East and the Far East, Africa and the Americas. More than 50 different countries came to settle in Cardiff’s docklands, bringing with them their culture and religion, creating a unique community, and a new experience of the world.
It’s here that the Norwegian Church was situated – but ironically, we’ll come to that later in our journey!
Several ‘Global Banquets’ have been organised by the Centre, providing a taste of food from around the world, as well as fascinating entertainment through music, song and dance, bringing together people of different cultures, backgrounds and religions.
The Centre also supports the Butetown Carnival and, for a few days in August each year, this area is filled with colourful costume and vibrant music for the Carnival parade, and there are events here, too, for Black History Month in October.
We’re moving on, just a few yards away, passing the statue of Ivor Novello behind the Pierhead Building to the Senedd, the place of Welsh Politics.
It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 1 March 2006 (St David’s Day) with a service at St Mary’s Church.
Although this is a place of politics and not religion, there is a Faith Communities Forum which “aims to facilitate dialogue between the Welsh Government and the major faith communities on any matters affecting the economic, social and cultural life in Wales.”
The Forum is chaired by the First Minister, and consists of two representatives from each of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh faith communities and Evangelical Alliance Wales, as well as a representative from each of the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church in Wales, the Free Church Council, Churches Together in Wales (CYTUN) and Interfaith Council for Wales.
In addition, there is also a Cross Party Group on Faith which highlight the positive contribution of faith groups to communities in Wales.
In recent years, a Chaplain has been appointed to the Senedd, a position presently served by the Salvation Army.
Merchant Seafarer’s Memorial
Pause here at the steps of the Senedd, before moving on – for between the steps and the water, right in front of us, is the Memorial to “Merchant seafarers from the ports of Barry, Penarth and Cardiff who died in times of war.”
It is a beautifully crafted piece of work by Brian Fell. Each year, on the day before Remembrance Sunday and on Merchant Seafarers Day in May, a Memorial Service is held here, attended by former seafarers, politicians, and others, and the service includes readings from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim Scriptures each read by representatives of those faiths.
There is a related memorial stained glass window in St Mary’s Church, Bute Street dedicated to the members of the Russian Convoy Club who died during the war. Their standard also hangs there. The club closed a few years ago. The roll of honour can be found in Butetown Community Centre.
Butetown has one of the oldest Somali communities in the UK, riding on the wave caused by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1860, and Somali Sailors who settled here often worked in unhealthy, cramped and low paid jobs often as firemen at the bottom of tramp steamers. During war time, many Somali sailors worked for the Merchant Navy and gave their lives in the service of this country.
Onwards now to the Norwegian Church, built in 1868 between the East and West Docks (the site of the Millennium Centre) on land donated by the Marquess of Bute, whose family name runs through Cardiff and beyond.
Whilst the Third Marquess of Bute (John Crichton-Stuart) was reportedly the richest man in the world, he was also a generous patron and contributor to many causes, including communities of faith, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, as was his father. The Second Marquess had, for example, donated land for the first Jewish Cemetery at Highfield in 1841.
1868 was a significant date for the Marquess. It was the year he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, causing, at the time, quite a controversy! His conversion was the inspiration behind Benjamin Disraeli’s novel, Lothair.
Anyway, back to this Scandinavian gem! The church where author Roald Dahl was baptised, it was a popular meeting point and a ‘home from home’ for Scandinavian sailors, serving up to 73,000 people a year at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The inside of the Church conjured up images from home: portraits of the Scandinavian royal families, paintings of Norwegian scenery, tapestries and national flags. However, its days were numbered and as coal exportation declined so did the number of Norwegian ships.
The Norwegian Seaman’s Mission withdrew their mission from the Church in the mid 1960’s, leaving its running to the local congregation and other Lutheran organisations. Financial constraints, however, meant eventual total closure and de-consecration in 1974. The building fell into disrepair and was vandalised.
With the development of Atlantic Wharf the church was carefully dismantled in 1987 by The Norwegian Church Preservation Trust. Various parts of the interior were stored and, after raising £250,000 in Wales and Norway, the Trust re-erected the Church on its present site. It was re-opened by Princess Martha Louise of Norway on the 8th of April 1992. Sixteen years later, the Trust was transferred to the County Council, under the management of the Cardiff Harbour Authority. It is now home to a coffee shop and a cultural and arts programme.
The green space behind the Waterguard pub (a former Customs and Excise House) is Britannia Park caressing the foot of Roath Basin. It has been regularly ransomed to developers but up until now, thanks to public pressure, has remained a green open space, and in Summer months is packed with people spilling out of the pub. Soon, it will be built upon with a new Military Medicine Museum.
For many years here was the Lightship, a floating Christian centre, established in 1993 with support from Associated British Ports and Cardiff Council, and with its own Christian Chaplain to the Bay. It closed in 2015 when the four churches that funded it could no longer foot the £45,000 bill.
The vessel was originally a floating lighthouse commissioned for UK waters in 1953. It was brought to Cardiff from Cumbria and visited by thousands of people.
(Photograph: Wales Online)
The Flying Angel
In the distance, and across the bridge that takes you to Porth Teigr, the road that straddles the BBC Roath Lock Studios, you’ll see what remains of the working port of Cardiff.
At the far end of Porth Teigr, to the north, at an entranceway to the Port, once stood the Flying Angel of the Mission to Seafarers, still active today through its South Wales Chaplain and volunteers.
Up until, 2015, the Flying Angel was a small hut like structure of no architectural significance or beauty but continued to welcome seafarers although it is now demolished. It has given way to HMS Cambria which moved from Barry in 2000, and is the only Royal Navy Reserve Unit in Wales.
Even though there is no Mission to Seafarer’s Centre in Cardiff now, the work continues with a Chaplain for South Wales whose work stretches from Newport, Cardiff and Barry in the east to Port Talbot and Milford Haven in the west, and who is supported by volunteers and honorary chaplains. (Picture of Flying Angel: Merchant Navy Association Wales)
The Roman Catholic’s Apostleship of the Sea, another Missionary organisation for Seafarers also works here in the the docks, and is likewise served by a Chaplain and volunteers. Each ministers to all seafarers, regardless of their faith.
If you took the walk way that leads from here across the bridge, you’ll end up on the Barrage with its mile long walk to Penarth, and where you can view the boats arriving and leaving through one of the locks.
The construction of the barrage was one of the largest engineering projects in Europe. Completed in 1999, it created a 500 acre freshwater lake with 8 miles of waterfront.
Far ahead across the bay on top of the headland is St Augustine’s Church Penarth. Notable persons buried at St Augustine’s include Welsh composer and musician Joseph Parry. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, he is best known as the composer of ‘Myfanwy’ and the hymn tune ‘Aberystwyth’. He was the first Welshman to compose an opera. ‘Blodwen‘ the was the first opera in the Welsh language.
There are fourteen Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorials in the churchyard, marking the burial place of British and Commonwealth soldiers. They commemorate ten soldiers from the First World War and four soldiers from the First World War. One of the graves commemorates a member of the Australian Infantry.
We’re making a U-turn now, walking along the water’s edge towards the cafes and restaurants of Mermaid Quay. You can either do this on the same paved way or get closer to the water on the decked walkway.
During your time in the Bay, look out to sea, and, if the weather is good, you may see two small islands in the Bristol Channel: Steep Holm and Flat Holm.
Flat Holm falls within the boundaries of Cardiff and is the southernmost tip of St Mary’s parish.
Now a nature reserve, it’s possible to take a boat trip to the island and, in past years, members of St Mary’s Church have made pilgrimage there in honour of St Cadoc, the 5th-6th century Abbot of Llancarfan, near Cowbridge.
Flat Holm was regularly visited by Cadoc as a place of retreat. It was after one of these retreats that Cadoc realised a prayer book had been left behind and so his companion, St Baruc, made the return only to succumb to the sea, his body washed up further along the cost, a place to which he gave his name: Barry.
The island, too, is knitted into the life of another Christian saint. The legend goes that two of the knights who killed St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral were buried there, a story colourfully painted into the reredos of an altar at St Mary’s Church by local artist, Carlos Depas.
When the initial St Mary’s Priory Church was built around the year 1100, a chapel to St Thomas Becket was created shorty after his death in 1170.
The predominant features of Mermaid Quay seem to be eating and drinking, packed as it is with cafes, restaurants and pubs, and is particularly crowded on sunny days. But who is it all for?!
A few years ago, a group of young Muslims from Butetown, working with an organisation called Citizens Cymru/UK, campaigned for Nandos to serve Halal chicken in their Cardiff Bay restaurant.
Considering the close proximity to a community with a large number of Muslims the situation expressed, perhaps, how non-inclusive the Cardiff Bay Development had, and how poorly it related to and benefitted its nearest community. You can read the story here but, in short, they won their campaign!
The statue, People Like Us, by John Clinch (1993) features a man and a women oblivious to your presence, along with their dog! It celebrates the people of the community of the original Tiger Bay.
Take a peek over the barriers to the decked walkway below and you’ll see ‘a shrine’ to a fictional character from TV’s Doctor Who offshoot, Torchwood!
Squeezing out through eateries and further on, beyond Techniquest, is Mount Stuart Primary School which, at one time, appointed the first black headteacher in Wales, Betty Campbell, and where Black History was taught for many years before it became compulsory in schools.
Betty was a member of St Mary’s Church. A statue of her is planned for Central Square between Central Railway Station and the BBC studios. You can read the story here
Like St Mary’s (Church in Wales) Primary School seen on another walk, the school is ethnically diverse and many pupils speak English as their second language.
If you like, you can carry on past the school, taking the walkway into the streets of housing which wrap around the nursing home, you’ll come to the old Royal Hamadryad Hospital, its name given to the new Welsh Medium Primary School next door. The building of the hospital had been made possible by a substantial donation from the the Third Marquess of Bute and it replaced the ship which served as a hospital, and for which he had also given a site in the docks.
However, if you want an escape from the crowds, why not visit the Cardiff Bay Wetland Reserve which you’ll find behind St David’s Hotel. Just turn left after Techniquest, and see the land and the sea meet up – with nature at its heart. It was created on a former salt marsh after the Barrage was completed, and supports a rich diversity of plants and animals. And, so, breathe!
Butetown, Tiger Bay, the Docks, Cardiff Bay—whatever, you call this area and community—has changed much over the years, but it still retains pride in its multi-cultural and multi-religious past and present!
This is the second of a series of walks created by St Mary’s Church to celebrate the part that faith and religion has played and continues to play in the life and growth of Cardiff, and to profile the community of Butetown.
We welcome feedback, corrections and suggestions for additional information, and hope to extend this series of walks to continue to give more insight into the past and present of our communities.