Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 23, 2004
Statues honour Wales' martyrs
Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine overwhelmed the first St. David's
St. David -- Feast Day -- May 1
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Wales' capital city is noted for its architectural treasures - Cardiff Castle, the Civic Centre and Llandaff (Anglican) Cathedral. Not so distinguished, but a solid memorial to the difficulties of practising the Catholic faith is the Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St. David, tucked in a corner beside a modern shopping mall in the city centre.
Although it looks quite ancient, St. David's is just 45 years old, a resurrected casualty of the Second World War blitz.
After the Reformation, there was no organized Catholic presence in Cardiff until 1828 when public Mass was celebrated in a private residence. The city's first church, an early St. David's (1842) was soon overwhelmed by a huge influx of people fleeing famine in Ireland. By 1850, there were believed to be 12,000 Catholics in the city.
At first the parish was served by just one priest who, in addition to his impossible parochial duties, had to contend with anti-Irish riots and deplorable living conditions among the immigrant third of the population.
By 1887, the situation had been relieved with the arrival of Fathers of the Institute of Charity and a larger, new church on Charles Street was dedicated. Designed by Pugin and Pugin, it became the seat of the Archdiocese of Cardiff in 1920.
On the evening of March 3, 1941, the church almost ceased to exist when it was gutted by German bombs and fire.
For the next 18 long years, services were held back in the old church on St. David's Street, which had been recycled for use as a parish hall.
Happily, in 1959 the cathedral, fully restored and risen from its wartime ashes, was re-dedicated. Then began a long process of attracting back people who, over the years had joined other parishes.
Today its impressive fa‡ade identifies a completely revived parish and archdiocesan seat.
It's appropriate that Wales' principal cathedral be named to honour the country's famous patron, St. David. Known as Dewi Sant, this sixth century bishop established a monastery at Minevia (renamed St. David's) on the west coast. His shrine there became a popular pilgrimage destination and is now the site of a famous, now-Anglican cathedral.
Following the daily, well-attended noon (12:45 p.m.) Mass at the Cardiff Cathedral, Dean Peter Collins will gladly brief visitors on the history of the church and encourage them to tour the building. It has an unusually wide nave, designed with no pillars or aisles to allow an unrestricted view of the altar from all parts of the church.
As the centre of Catholic worship in Cardiff, it's appropriate that Wales' martyrs be honoured here. Accordingly, St. David's Chapel includes statues of Sts. Father John Lloyd, hands bound before him, and Jesuit Phillip Evans, a noose around his neck. Both were executed for their faith just a few blocks from the site of the present cathedral after being falsely accused of crimes during post-Reformation persecutions.
In addition to the noon Mass, there is semi-weekly exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at St. David's. Choral Evening Prayer and Choral Benediction are each celebrated at 5 p.m. once a week.
There are three weekend Masses at the cathedral and popular religious and secular organ recitals are scheduled irregularly in the evenings.