Piercefield Lane, Penparcau, Aberystwyth, SY23 1RX
A modern design of the late 1960s, built as a daughter church to St Winefride’s, on a fan-shaped plan to encourage active participation in the liturgy. The Buildings of Wales describes it as ‘an interesting design, let down by poor finish and detail’. Closed in 2008 and left empty for ten years, the building was sympathetically restored in 2018 to serve as the main Mass centre for Aberystwyth.
The first evidence of Catholic revival in Aberystwyth was in 1845, when Bishop Brown, Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, advanced proposals to convert a playhouse in Thespian Street into a church. Nothing came of this, and no substantial progress was made until 1867, when Bishop Bernard Collier OSB chose the town as his place of retirement. Realising the need for a place of worship for the small but growing Catholic population (both resident and visitors), he established an oratory and priest’s house at Queen Square House, and Fr Charles Limpens, a Belgian émigré, was appointed resident priest.
In 1872 Fr William Williams, a Catholic convert, took over the mission and set about building a permanent church. Bishop Collier had already acquired the site in Queens Road from Sir Pryse Pryse of Gogerddan, and in 1873 an appeal for funds was launched. George Jones & Sons, architects of Aberystwyth, drew up plans for a church and attached presbytery, a contract was let to James Williams (builder), and construction began in March 1874. The estimated cost was £1500, but this proved optimistic, and plans for a 110ft tower and a school on the site had to be abandoned. The presbytery cost a further £500. An anonymous benefactor contributed £300 to meet the cost of the carved stone high altar, which was made by Messrs Boulton of Cheltenham. On 19 August 1875 the new church was solemnly opened by Cardinal Manning of Westminster.
In 1936 the Carmelite Order was invited from Ireland to establish a foundation at Aberystwyth. Led by the charismatic figure Fr Malachy Lynch (later responsible for the development of the shrine at Aylesford, Kent), the Carmelites had ambitious plans to expand the mission, and in 1940 a new church was built in Lampeter (qv). In 1952 Lampeter became an independent parish, but in the same year the Carmelites established a new Mass centre at Penparcau, followed by others at Aberaeron (1958, qv) and Borth (1969, now closed), the latter two being converted Nonconformist chapels.
In 1962 a greenfield site on the edge of a housing estate at Penparcau was acquired by Bishop Petit of Menevia, financed in part by a legacy from the Truscott family of Aberystwyth. In 1968 plans were prepared by Thomas Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price and the new church opened on 16 August 1970. The main contractor was T. Alun Evans of Rhydyfelin. The dedication honoured the Welsh Martyrs of the Reformation period, amongst the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
In 2004 the Carmelites departed, and since then the parish has been provided with secular priests. In 2008 Welsh Martyrs was closed and its future was for several years uncertain, while plans for future church provision in Aberystwyth were under review. In 2012 a decision was taken by the Bishop of Menevia to close St Winefride’s, while proposals for the demolition of Welsh Martyrs and its replacement with a new church at Penparcau were advanced by the diocese, then withdrawn. At the end of 2017 a £360,000 programme of renovation of the Penparcau church was begun, with a view to the church becoming the focus of Catholic parish life in Aberystwyth. The renovated church reopened in October 2018.
The church was built in 1969-70 from designs by Thomas Price of F.R. Bates, Son & Price, and is a modern design built to reflect the new liturgical requirements emerging from the Second Vatican Council. It has a quadrant or fan-shaped plan, with the seating arranged in semi-circular fashion around the altar, to encourage active participation in the liturgy. The building is constructed of brick with a render facing and is externally articulated by a pylon and loggia at the entrance, and by angled projections around the quadrant sides, evoking flying buttresses. Inside, the walls were originally faced with pale brick, with square-section metal uprights close to the outer perimeter wall, providing an ambulatory. The uprights support steel roof trusses and a metal roof.
In the recent restoration, the external render was repaired or replaced and the windows were renewed. These are clear glazed and have metal frames. Internally, the original bare-faced brickwork of the walls has been painted and the boarded floor renewed, though the original curved benches remain, as does the original altar with a small openwork metal crucifix suspended on the plain reredos. At present (March 2019) the metal Stations of the Cross are not in the church; their place is taken by photocopies.
Architect: F. R. Bates, Son & Price
Original Date: 1970
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed