Building » Anglesey (Holyhead) – St Mary Help of Christians

Anglesey (Holyhead) – St Mary Help of Christians

Market Street, Holyhead, Anglesey LL65 1UT

A striking modern church on a square plan, owing something to Maguire & Murray’s influential church of St Paul, Bow Common, but more conventional in its liturgical arrangements. Although it has lost its original dalle de verre glazing, the church retains many original furnishings, as well as glass from the former church and more recent furnishings of note. The building is on a raised site and its pyramidal lantern roof makes a dramatic contribution to the local townscape.

The town of Holyhead was until the sixteenth century called Caergybi after St Cybi, a sixth century monk and cousin of St David, who founded a monastery here around 540AD on the site of a former fortress. Viking invaders destroyed the monastery in the tenth century and the present thirteenth century church of St Cybi now occupies the site.  

Large numbers of Irish workers began to arrive in the town with their families in 1846 to help with the construction of the harbour. As Holyhead developed into the principle mail-packet station for Ireland the stream of immigrants continued, especially during the Great Famine. The first resident priest was Fr Fennelly in 1853, who used a room in South Stack vaults. This first Mass centre was followed by rooms in houses opposite the Pelham gates, in Well Street, and over R. Kleiser’s shop in Stanley Street.

Following Fr Fennelly, a Franciscan, Fr Bonaventure, was appointed; seeing the need for a permanent place of worship and in spite of local opposition he obtained a plot in Market Street. The church of St Mary, Help of Christians was opened and blessed in 1860; it was a simple stone-built Gothic Revival chapel that could seat approximately 150 people, with an adjoining presbytery.

In 1895, Bishop Francis Mostyn of Menevia invited the Oblate Fathers to take charge of the mission. The Rev. Richard D’Alton made plans for a school and a new church; the school was opened in 1905 but the church never came to fruition.

By the 1960s the condition of the old church and the limited space it offered for a community of about 1,000 parishioners led to a decision to build a new church. Work started on this in January 1964 with the demolition of the old church and presbytery, with the new church built on the same site but set back on the sloping site to give it a more elevated position relative to other buildings on Market Street. The architects were Edmund Kirby & Sons of Liverpool and the contractor Sandham Ltd of Heswall, Cheshire; the cost was £50,000. The church was opened on 28 February 1965. Its original appearance includes slab-in-resin or dalle de verre windows.

In 1992 a new presbytery and hall with library were added. Between 2003 and 2004 a full set of stained glass windows were commissioned from Alan Davis, replacing original dalle de verre glass in the main worship area and adding new glass above the entrance. The cost of the scheme was approximately £80,000. In 2008 the church was seriously damaged by vandals, including damage to the font; the cost of repairs was over £14,000. More recently a large sandstone sculpture entitled Incarnation/The Love of God by Julie Winter has been erected at the bottom of the steps in front of the church.  


The building is square on plan and is a concrete framed construction; it has a pitched roof topped by a large central lantern clerestorey with pyramid roof structure and a tall steel finial. The walls are of buff brick over a plinth of engineering bricks with a concrete sill. The roof covering is copper, the windows metal framed. At the front is a projecting porch and there is projecting sacristy to the rear with felt covered roof.

Inside, the entrance porch has a quarry tiled floor and steps and bare brick walls. There is a small piety shop to one side (probably the original baptistery) and a glazed screen with doors at the top a short flight of steps that lead into the main worship area. The narthex is not separated from the main worship area but above is a gallery; to the rear of the narthex is a shrine of St Eugene de Mazenod with a relic of the saint. The main space is a single volume, square on plan, with the raised central area and clerestorey carried on piers. The walls are faced with a mixture of bare brick and hardwood timber panelling, while the floor covering is of multi-coloured vinyl tiles (carpeted in the centre alley). Seating in the main worship area is hardwood benches, arranged in a traditional west-east fashion with aisles either side; the sanctuary is up one step with the altar up a further three steps. To the north of the sanctuary is a Lady Chapel and to the south a chapel to St Joseph, each with hardwood altar rails. The sanctuary and side chapel floors are quarry tiled with some carpeting.

The following furnishings are of note:

  • The high altar is original to the church, and is constructed of Verdi Issoire and Botticino marble, decorated with carved and painted A Ω and PX details
  • The tabernacle is silvered, cylindrical and domed. It was presented by J. H. Keegan in memory of his wife and daughter
  • The altars of the side chapels match the materials of the high altar; the Lady altar has a carved and painted M and the St Joseph altar a saw and axe. Above each altar are carved wooden statues of Our Lady and St Joseph
  • The mahogany font is now located at the east end of the main worship area
  • A full set of stained glass windows by Alan Davis installed between 2003 and 2004 is on the themes of the Mysteries of Light, The Resurrection and Mary Help of Christians
  • In the shrine of St Eugene de Mazenod, two stained glass windows from the old church, one depicting St Joseph and St Mary (in the style of Mayer of Munich), the other St Patrick and the Sacred Heart
  • In the side chapels, abstract collages by Linda Vaughan on the themes of Absence and Presence.
Heritage Details

Architect: Edmund Kirby & Sons

Original Date: 1965

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed