Building » Bridgend – St Mary

Bridgend – St Mary

Ewenny Road, Bridgend, CF31 3HS

A modern church of distinctive character and quality, incorporating materials and furnishings from the predecessor church built by the Benedictines, as well as modern furnishings by local artists. The circular tower is a landmark on the southern approach to the town centre.

As with many towns in South Wales, Bridgend experienced a large influx of Irish immigrants in the wake of the Great Famine of the 1840s and 1850s. At that time the town had no place of Catholic worship, and the faithful travelled to Cardiff or Swansea to receive the sacraments.

In 1852 the Rev. Charles Kavanagh of St David’s Swansea started monthly visits to Bridgend, and Mass was said in a house on the corner of Brackla Street and Chapel Street, the home of John Burke. Before this, in the early nineteenth century, Sir John Nicholl had purchased the Merthyr Mawr estates, where he built Merthyr Mawr House. Three members of his family, Captain Illtyd Nicholl R.N. and his sisters Lucy and Teresa, later converted to Catholicism and in 1855 purchased a piece of land in Ewenny Road for £210, with the intention of establishing a church and school. Other benefactors were Mr and Mrs Boyd Harvey, the third Earl of Dunraven and Miss Honora Godsell. The architect/builder is given in a modern newspaper account (in Douai Archives) as John Jenkins of Bridgend. The church was built in a simple round-arched style of local Quarella (Ewenny) stone, and was completed within a year, the first Mass being said on 9 December 1855. Soon after completion, the church was extended and the orientation changed, with the high altar relocated from the geographic west wall to the north wall; these alterations were completed by 1857 and were paid for by Captain Nicholl and his family. In 1857 Bishop Brown of Newport and Menevia invited the Benedictines to look after the mission and Fr Henry Ignatius Sutton OSB was appointed first resident priest. In the 1890s extensive repairs to the church and presbytery were undertaken by the Fr Raphael White OSB. In 1897 statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Holy Infant and St Joseph were donated by parishioners, and the Stations of the Cross erected. A fine oak altar and reredos by Mayer of Munich were added by Fr Morrell OSB in about 1906.

During World War II the arrival of workers for the newly-constructed munitions factory and American soldiers helped increase the congregation. The priests at St Mary’s said Mass for Italian and German Prisoners of War detained at Wick and Island Farm.

In 1962 the Benedictines withdrew from St Mary’s and the Archdiocese of Cardiff assumed responsibility for the parish. The Rev. James Hennessey was appointed parish priest, and seeing how inadequate the church was for the growing congregation set about extending and renovating the building. Improvements were carried out by the T. G. Price of Bates, Son & Price and were completed by December 1964, when Archbishop Murphy consecrated the church.

In 1994 the Rev. William J. Isaac was appointed and was given the task of addressing the issue of overcrowding at the church. The decision was taken to build a new church, presbytery and hall on the same site, and the last Mass in the old St Mary’s was held in November 1997. The new church was completed twelve months later and the first Mass celebrated on Christmas Day 1998. The architect was Kevyn Davies of Cwmafan, Port Talbot. The concept for the design was based in part on the image of the pelican in her piety, common in Catholic churches but also significant here as it is features on the coat of arms of the Carnes, a local Recusant family. The apse and tower were constructed of stone from the old church. Two artworks in the church are by Kevin Sinnott, great-grandson of John Burke, whose house was one of the early Mass centres in the town. Bishop Regan of Wrexham consecrated the church on 12 March 1999.


The building is a complex comprising church and hall (to the south) with kitchen, meeting room, and WCs, all on one level; there is an attached two-storey presbytery (to the north) and a small car park to the front (southwest). The church is of laminated timber portal frame construction, with the external walling of re-used randomly coursed Ewenny stone and brickwork, some of it rendered. Externally it is dominated by a stone-faced round tower with lead-covered conical roof and a mainly glazed end wall. The roofs are steeply pitched and covered with slate. Beside the entrance is a slate name plaque with an enclosed statue of St Mary.

Inside, a wide narthex provides access to the main worship space, the tower, hall, and WCs; a piety shop is located in the base of the tower. A large glazed screen divides the narthex from the main worship space, which is on a diagonal axis with the tower. The main space is aisled, with a confessional in the northwest corner, the sacristy through the north wall, and the sanctuary at the east end with semi-circular apse, with baptistery (located down one step) to the north and tabernacle to the south. The floor coverings are quarry tiles to the narthex, carpet in the main worship space and green terrazzo to the sanctuary and baptistery. The walls are generally plastered and painted, with areas of exposed stone in the apse and timber panelling to the ceiling. The roof is asymmetrical with high-level windows to the south and east.

New furnishings and re-used items from the former church include:

  • The iron gates of the piety shop depicting the Annunciation, and the finial cross on the tower are by Iona McLaggan (a descendant of the Nicholl family) and Eugene Craig; they were made at the Ravens Forge in Merthyr Mawr.
  • The narthex screen has a series of square etched glass images of a pelican with the name of the church in English and Welsh and a stained glass panel depicting a standing figure of the Virgin Mary; by Christian Philips of the Swansea School of Architectural Glass, 1998.
  • The altar and font are of Portland stone, the altar with a carved cross picked out in gold on the front.
  • Paintings of the Crucifixion and the landing of Catholic immigrants, in the apse and baptistery respectively, are by Kevin Sinnott.
  • Paintings of St John the Baptist and of Christ’s Baptism in the main worship space at the east end are by Sue McDonagh of Cowbridge.
  • The benches, sanctuary furnishings and pulpit are of light oak.
  • The ornate tabernacle is silvered and cylindrical, with an engraving of the pelican in her piety on the doors and a sculpted finial of the pelican; it comes from the original church.
  • An oak triptych of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, flanked by St Alphonsus Liguori and St Dominic at the east end of the north aisle is also from the former church and was donated by the Boyd Harvey family.
  • The Stations are framed wooden low reliefs of 1897, from the original church.
  • Polychrome statues of the Virgin Mary with the Holy Infant and St Joseph at the west end are by Mayer of Munich and come from the 1906 reredos of the original church. A statue of the Sacred Heart also by Mayer of Munich is located at the west end, and has a brass memorial to Teresa Nicholl (d. 8 November 1898).
  • A re-used stained glass panel of St Benedict is housed in a light box within the narthex.
  • There are brass memorials from the former church to the Nicholl family and Julieta Boyd Harvey, dating from 1901 and 1908 respectively.
Heritage Details

Architect: Kevyn Davies of Cwmafan, Port Talbot

Original Date: 1998

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Not Listed