High Street, Blaenau Ffestiniog, LL41 3BW
A late nineteenth century former commercial premises in the town centre, hollowed out and adapted to form a modern Catholic church in the late 1960s. Clever internal planning has provided a devotional and functional place of worship, incorporating church, parish room and presbytery under one roof.
In 1900 Bishop Francis Mostyn of Menevia, convinced of the benefits of Welsh-speaking priests to promote the Catholic faith in the nonconformist heartlands, endeavoured to increase the number of native speakers among the clergy. Recognising the sympathies of many Welsh people for the Bretons, he appealed to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Holyhead, to send Breton priests to learn Welsh and minister within the diocese. Two Breton Oblates from the Diocese of Quimper, Pere Peter Merour OMI and Pere Julian Tanter OMI arrived later that year, initially living and studying at Holyhead. In 1902 they were sent to Blaenau Ffestiniog to establish a mission, serving a primarily Irish and Italian Catholic community of about twenty-five people who had migrated to the town seeking employment in the slate quarries. The previous year another Breton priest had established a mission at Llanrwst.
On 5 October 1902 a mission dedicated to St Cadoc was opened at 10 Church Street, which served as both presbytery and oratory. Being a strong Nonconformist town there was much hostility towards the fathers, such that in late 1903 Bishop Mostyn was forced to close the mission and withdraw both priests. After this there was no resident priest in the town for forty-two years, and the small community of Catholics were served infrequently by priests from Denbigh, Dolgellau, Pwllheli and Porthmadog. Between 1942 and 1945 an Oblate father from Colwyn Bay travelled each week by train to say Mass in a small tin hut chapel in the town.
On 11 May 1945 the parish of Blaenau Ffestiniog was created and dedicated to St Mary Magdalene, ministered again by the Oblates under two Irish priests, Fr Patrick Hawkes OMI and Fr Thomas O’Dea OMI. The order had purchased a house in Barons Road which they named ‘Bethania’ and converted one of the rooms into an oratory, replacing the tin hut chapel.
In 1955 an attempt was made to purchase a former nonconformist chapel was not successful. An influx of workers especially from Ireland, employed in the construction of the nearby hydroelectric plant at Tanygrisiau and the atomic power station at Trawsfynydd from 1959, swelled the congregation considerably so a derelict shop on the high street was purchased to be converted to a church. Many of the Irish workers assisted in adapting the premises into a temporary Mass centre until there were sufficient funds to fully convert the building. A workers’ chapel was opened in 1961 at Trawsfynydd and ministered by Fr Joseph Taaffe OMI. By 1964, as the construction projects were completed, the number of Catholic workers declined, so with a shrinking congregation the oratory once again served as the Mass centre. Soon afterwards, having raised the sufficient funds, Fr Thomas Magee OMI instigated plans for the conversion of the former shop premises; these were brought to fruition under his successor, Fr William Hughes OMI. M. T. Pritchard of Blaenau Ffestiniog was appointed architect for the conversion and work started in 1968. It was completed fifteen months later, at a cost of £17,000. On 28 October 1969 the church of St Mary Magdalene was blessed and opened by Bishop Petit of Menevia.
The Oblates departed in September 2007 and the diocese then assumed responsibility for the parish. At the time of visiting, the church was closed for public worship in preparation for extensive renovation work.
A modern church adapted from a late nineteenth century former three-storey shop premises. The north front of the building is faced externally with randomly coursed quarry-faced local granite with rendered walls to the west and south, all under a shallow-pitched slate roof. The windows are modern uPVC units with granite lintels and slate sills. There is a short concrete canopy above the entrance on the north side, above which is a carved slate name plaque for the church in Welsh. There are three matching carved plaques just below the guttering with episcopal, papal, and cross emblems and there is a painted wooden cross at the west side of the north wall. To the rear there is a projecting element consisting of sacristy, upper room and presbytery.
Inside a small porch with a confessional opposite leads into the double-height nave, of two bays defined by buttresses, with the sanctuary under a low ceiling. The walls are plastered and painted; the floor is herringbone parquet throughout with carpet in the alley up to the altar. The sanctuary is up one step and has a simple oak rail. The altar is of slate slabs, and behind this the brass tabernacle is set within a slate-lined recess.
Furnishings include a painted ceramic plaque of St Mary Magdalene, a carved oak crucifix of Christ the King, plaster statues of Our Lady Queen of Heaven, St Joseph, and St Patrick, and a wall-mounted painted plaster statue of St Mary Magdalene wearing a distinctive medieval-style headdress. There are two slate memorials (in Welsh and English) for the Oblate Fathers by the entrance porch.
Architect: M. T. Pritchard (conversion)
Original Date: 1967
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed