Building » Abertillery – St Mary

Abertillery – St Mary

Hill Street, Abertillery, NP13 1AN

A Capuchin foundation, this modest nineteenth century church built of sandstone and granite was constructed in 1875-6. The building was sympathetically extended in 1923 and a new presbytery added after the Second World War. The interior has been compromised by the introduction of a suspended ceiling and the loss of some original furnishings.

In the late nineteenth century there was a small Catholic community in Abertillery, primarily made up of Irish immigrants working in the local mines. Two local women, Mrs W. H. Brewer and her daughter, were driving forces behind the establishment of a Catholic mission. In 1875 the Capuchin friars arrived in the village. Appealing for support in the pages of The Tablet, Fr Elzear Torreggiani OSF (who had taken charge of the mission at Pontypool in 1860 and later became Bishop of Armidale, New South Wales) described the area as ‘one of the remotest and wildest districts of the county, the inhabitants of which are proverbial, even in a mining district, for their ignorance and brutality’. Mass was said in a public house while funds for a church were raised, the foundation stone for which was laid by John Hedley, Auxiliary Bishop of Newport and Menevia on 5 October 1875. The building was completed and opened the following year, and was used during the week as a school. Its original architect has not been established, but the design bears some similarities with Paul Andre’s Our Lady of the Angels at Cwmbran (1882-3, qv), another of Fr Torrigiani’s churches.

There was no resident priest until 1908. In 1922 a £1500 legacy from John Lancaster, colliery owner, enabled extensive alterations, including the extension of the nave by three bays and the building of a gallery, baptistery and Lady Chapel (builder Stephen Albert Williams of Abertillery). The presbytery is a post-war construction.


The church is was built in two phases, in a simple Gothic style. It is built of random and rubble coursed sandstone with granite quoins, and slate roofs. The ridge of the later three western bays of the nave is higher than that of the original church. The windows of the original structure have yellow brick dressings with gauged arches and granite sills, while the dressings on the western extension are granite with a concrete plinth and sills. The central bay of the west front projects slightly (as at Our Lady of the Angels, Cwmbran), and has a plain pointed arched entrance with a large arched window above and a carved stone cross finial on the gable. Elsewhere, the windows are a combination of single and paired lancets with Y-tracery timber mullions. There is a lean-to plant room to the south of the sanctuary, sacristies are located to the north side and are attached to the presbytery.

Inside, a timber screen with high-level leaded lights screens off the porch from the nave. The nave is of six bays and aisleless; an archway marks the extent of the former west front. It is partially obscured by a modern suspended ceiling, which entirely obscures the roof structure. The ceiling also obscures the west gallery (not inspected). A Lady Chapel gives off the north side; it has a timber panelled altar behind which is an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour set within a tall oak Arts and Crafts style frame. The walls have recently been decorated, with some limited Gothic stencilling, and a portable timber font is located here. There are various painted statues, notably St Isabella in the nave, by Maison Raffl and stamped, ‘La Statue Religieuse – Paris’ and a Madonna and Child, of painted and carved wood and also signed ‘Raffl’. The sanctuary has been extended into the nave, being raised up one step with the original sanctuary arched recess at the east end, also with recent stencilling, There are forward and rear-facing altars, both in carved oak with open Gothic tracery, and there is an oak ambo. The east wall has more Gothic stencilling and a large painted wooden crucifix with a distinctive corona. Above is a truncated lancet window. A painted timber wainscot runs around the perimeter walls, and the floors are carpeted. The sacristy is entered through a door in the north wall; an original sacristy entrance at the east end of the wall is blocked.

Heritage Details

Architect: Not established

Original Date: 1876

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed