Building » +Cardiff – Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David

+Cardiff – Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David

Charles Street, CF10 2SF

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

  • Image copyright Alex Ramsay

A large town church by Pugin & Pugin, elevated to cathedral status in 1920. The building was badly damaged by incendiary bombs in 1941, with the loss of a particularly richly furnished and decorated late Victorian interior. It was restored and refitted in a plainer modern style in the 1950s by Thomas Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price, when Pugin & Pugin’s original designs for the bell stage of the tower were finally realised. Many of the 1950s furnishings have not survived later reordering schemes, but amongst those that have is a fine set of ceramic Stations of the Cross by Adam Kossowski. The cathedral has a good collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century stained glass and other furnishings of note, some recent in date. The rock-faced and sandstone exterior is somewhat forbidding in character, but nevertheless makes a powerful contribution to the city centre street scene.

In penal times Catholics in Glamorgan persisting in the practice of their faith were served by priests resident at Llanarth Court, Monmouthshire, and by itinerant priests, mostly Jesuit. Many recusants were imprisoned or died in Cardiff gaol, amongst them the Rev. Philip Evans S.J. and the Rev. John Lloyd, who were executed at Gallows Field, Roath, in July 1679. In the eighteenth century Catholics were served from Pyle, then Bristol and (from 1804) Usk.

By 1830 the Catholic population of Cardiff had grown to about 1000, driven in large part by Irish immigration. The Rev. Patrick Mellua was the first resident priest, appointed in 1839 and taking up residence at 38 Bute Street, where he converted the ground floor into a chapel. In 1841 Bishop Brown OSB, Vicar Apostolic of the Welsh Vicariate, described the ‘densely crowded ground floor of the cottage, from which the window frame must be removed on Sundays in order that hundreds exposed to the weather in the roofless backyard, may discharge their religious duties’. Efforts began to secure a site for a permanent church and presbytery, and eventually one was acquired on Bute Terrace, where a church dedicated to St David opened on 19 October 1842. A major donor was Lady Catherine Eyre of Bath, who gave £3000 for the building of churches in Swansea and Cardiff, with the stipulation that they should be dedicated to the patron saint of Wales. The church was a plain neo-Norman design by J. J. Scoles (Little). A presbytery was built alongside the church in 1843.

In 1853 Bishop Brown entrusted Cardiff to the care of the Institute of Charity (Rosminian Order). By 1860-1 the Catholic population of the town had grown to 10,000, a third of the total population, and the church of St Peter at Roath (qv) was built. In 1882 the Rosminians handed care of the St David’s mission to the diocese, and with the help of the Marquess of Bute, a new church was built on Charles Street by the Rev. (Mgr) W. Williams. This was built from designs by the London firm of Pugin & Pugin, and the contractor was John Devlin of Glasgow. It was opened and consecrated by Bishop Hedley on 24 May 1887. The church was built without aisles or a chancel arch, to afford an unobstructed view of the enormous high altar and reredos, made by Boultons of Cheltenham at a cost of £1,000. On either side of the sanctuary arch were side altars to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart, also with tall gothic canopies. The total building cost was just over £11,000. The old church became a parish hall (it was later demolished).

In 1897 the hitherto plain walls of the interior were painted with a comprehensive cycle of murals by R. J. Hopkins. At the same time new stained glass windows depicting saints were installed in the chancel, in memory of Mgr Williams, builder of the church, who died in 1895 (The Tablet, 1897).

In March 1920 St David’s became the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Cardiff, created in 1916. In January 1925 a seated statue of St Peter, a copy of that in St Peter’s in Rome which had been displayed in the Catholic Oratory at the British Empire Exhibition, was presented to the cathedral (The Tablet, 31 January 1925). (This is no longer in the cathedral, but a similar statue – possibly this one – is now in St Michael’s, Newport, qv).

On 3 March 1941 the cathedral was seriously damaged by incendiary bombs, necessitating the requisition and adaptation of the old church/parish hall to serve as a temporary pro-cathedral.

In the immediate post-war years consideration appears to have been given to building a new cathedral on a different site in the city. In 1947 the fifth Marquess of Bute gave Cardiff Castle and Bute Park to the City of Cardiff, stating that the Catholic community should be allowed to build a new cathedral in the park, alongside the castle. In the early 1980s the wealthy Catholic philanthropist Julian Hodge offered to underwrite the cost of such a project and designs were prepared for a centrally-planned circular church. The possibility was taken sufficiently seriously for a foundation stone to be blessed by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his Cardiff in June 1982. However the foundation stone and plans remain in store and the proposal, which was highly controversial, has not been pursued (although the archdiocese still owns the land).

Post-war building restrictions meant that reconstruction did not become possible until 1953, under the direction of Thomas Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price of Newport. The War Damage Commission stipulated that reconstruction should be in two phases, each separately tendered. First was the roof, reinstated in 1953 by Messrs Graham, while the remaining work was undertaken by E. Turner & Sons of Cardiff between February 1956 and late January 1959. The second phase included the completion of the tower to Pugin & Pugin’s original unexecuted design, with a bell stage (built as a reinforced concrete box with a thin stone cladding), rebuilding of the chancel (with a new round window) and new and enlarged sacristies. Austerity and timber shortages necessitated the use of steel in the roof structure, with laminated mahogany trusses. The internal decorative scheme and fitting out was modern in form and spirit, with plain painted plaster walls replacing the former polychromy.

The new high altar, like its predecessor, was made by Boultons of Cheltenham, but was much simpler in form, with a tall geometrically-patterned reredos; a vast corona in the form of an inverted cone was suspended over it. A carved oak bishop’s throne was brought from Belmont Abbey. Wrought iron screens separated the central part of the sanctuary from the side altars, which were furnished with statues by David John. In the nave, a futuristic-looking pulpit was placed in front of the communion rails, and a fine set of ceramic Stations of the Cross by Adam Kossowski was added. An organ built by the John Compton Organ Company was installed at the liturgical west end, and an electronic carillon fitted in the new bell tower. The building was solemnly re-opened on 2 March 1959, almost exactly nineteen years after the bombing.

In 1979-81 a new clergy house was built on Charles Street from designs by F. R. Bates, Son & Price (main contractors Noel T. James of Newport). This provided accommodation for the curia and domestic accommodation for cathedral staff, and was linked to the cathedral by a cloistered walkway.

Post-Vatican II reordering has involved the removal of most of the 1950s sanctuary furnishings as well as the nave pulpit, and has seen the installation of a forward altar and new sanctuary floor. More recently, the choir stalls at the east end of the nave have been removed, and the 1950s paint scheme (for example in the high altar reredos) toned down.

In 2010 the former Ebeneser Chapel of 1855 opposite the cathedral was acquired, repaired and adapted to serve as a community facility for St David’s, with a grant of £1.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The building was opened by HRH Prince of Wales in December 2016.


The list entry (below) provides a fairly full architectural description, but says little about the furnishings. As described above, the interior was fully refurnished in the 1950s, but most of the sanctuary furnishings and the nave pulpit have been removed in subsequent reordering.

The church is not conventionally orientated, but this description follows liturgical convention (assuming the main altar is to the east).

The sanctuary has a polished marble floor and forward altar of circa 1990 (the Boulton one of the 1950s cut down and brought forward?). Against the east wall within a shallow chancel, the geometrical 1950s reredos survives, with the tabernacle placed against it and a pointed monstrance recess above, reached by a projecting external staircase. The bishop’s throne was brought from Belmont Abbey after the war, and is now placed against the right hand respond of the chancel recess, minus its oak canopy. To either side of the chancel, pointed triangular reredoses of the side altars remain, but the altars have been removed. There is a disused elaborate timber gothic altar in the chapel to the right of the sanctuary.

Five recesses give off either side of the broad, aisleless nave. Until recently the three western recesses on each side contained confessionals, and were given paired lancet windows, while the two eastern bays contained altars and were provided with circular windows. There is now only one confessional on each side, in the westernmost bay before the gallery. Working from east to west, the recesses contain:

North side:

  1. Sacred Heart altar: a stone gothic altar by Boulton of Cheltenham, surviving from the original Pugin &Pugin church, with 1950s painted stone low wall at chapel entrance (this was previously the St John the Baptist chapel; the Sacred Heart altar was in the sanctuary).
  2. Altar of Our Lady of Penrhys: formerly St Joseph’s altar, another stone gothic altar by Boulton from the Pugin & Pugin church, with carved panels of the Flight into Egypt and the Carpenter’s Shop. Under the raised central canopy is an oak statue of Our Lady of Penrhys, by Mother Concordia OSB of Minster Abbey, Kent, installed in 1992. 1950s painted stone low wall at the chapel entrance.
  3. In former confessional recess, an oak statue of St David by Beatrice Fannon, 2015.
  4. In former confessional recess, a pieta.
  5. Confessional.

South side:

  1. Archway to ambulatory leading to sacristies (where a fine brass eagle lectern –by Hardman? – is placed in a corner).
  2. Carved Gothic stone altar to the Cardiff martyrs Saint John Lloyd and St Philip Evans S.J. with modern statues of the saints under canopies on the outer pedestals. Made by Boulton for the Pugin & Pugin church, in memory of the Rev. Stephen Bruno I.C. and originally dedicated to St Anne.
  3. In former confessional recess, a statue of Pope (St) John Paul II, made for the Pope’s 1982 visit to Cardiff by the apprentices of Wimpey Construction UK (South Wales region). (They also made the ambo in the sanctuary).
  4. In former confessional recess, reproduction of Rubens’ painting of the prodigal son.
  5. Confessional.

Placed on the square piers between the recesses and the gallery front are Adam Kossowski’s fine coloured ceramic Stations of the Cross.

The baptistery at the west end (base of the tower) retains its original encaustic tile floor, and a tapering font of the 1950s, repeating the lozenge pattern found elsewhere in the cathedral. The baptistery also contains a large and powerful bronze sculpture of St John the Baptist, by Sir William Goscombe John, signed and dated 1895.

The cathedral contains much stained glass: in alternating clerestorey windows, in the chapel recesses, in the baptistery, and at the west end. Much of this glass predates (survived) the bombing. The finest is at the large five-light, two-tier window at the west end, in memory of Alderman Patrick Carey, Mayor of Cardiff 1894-5 (d. 1910), the central panel depicting Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, with Old Testament figures, Popes Pius IX and X, and numerous other figures. Published sources give no artists or dates for the stained glass windows of the cathedral; they merit further study.

The building retains its 1950s light fittings and nave seating.

List descriptions


Reference Number: 13671
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 19/05/1975  
Date of Amendment: 30/04/1999  
Name of Property: St David’s Roman Catholic Cathedral  
Unitary Authority: Cardiff  
Community: Castle  
Easting: 318569  
Northing: 176430  
Street Side: W  
Location: Opposite Ebeneser Chapel.  

History: 1884-1887 by Pugin and Pugin, architects. Built as RC parish church and raised to cathedral status 1920; gutted after incendiary bomb attack, 1941. Restoration in 1950s by F R Bates, Son, and Price; reopened 1959.  

Exterior: Gothic building of serious, severe Early English design. Normal alignment reversed, with entrance to E gable end. Coursed rock-faced Pennant stone with red sandstone ashlar dressings; slate roofs. 8-bay nave; windows of 2 lights with cinquefoils over. On ground floor, stepped buttresses break forward; doorway to L, then 3 confessionals, and then 3 gabled chapels; taller gable to R end bay. East front has low 2-centred doorway with flat head to doors and Gothic traceried tympanum; flanked by side-lights and then by tall buttresses; tall 5-light window with geometric tracery; statue in niche over. Four stage tower to L has low spire (originally bellcote), angle buttresses, 2 louvred lancets to bell stage, canopied statue of saint in niche between 2 windows; polygonal stair turret to S. In R (north) angle between front and nave has polygonal bay enclosing stair; lancets, slate roof; 2-light window to nave, above. Sanctuary of 2 bays (tall windows with quatrefoil heads); west end (ritual E end) has round window with honeycomb tracery, and projecting stair bay below.  

Interior: Spidery arch-braced and hammer-beam roof of timber and steel has tall wall posts on stone corbels. Front entrance to lobby with baptistery to S, stair to N; above lobby, stone gallery with 3 segmental arches to nave; arcaded parapet, organ chamber to S. In aisleless nave of 7 bays, square piers form superarches over clerestorey windows; side chapels and confessionals. Tall sanctuary arch, diapered reredos below round window with honeycomb tracery, marble floor to sanctuary. Late C19 stained glass in every other side window: W window has Visions of the Immaculate Conception witnessed by popes.  

Reason for designation: Included despite consequences of war damage as rare example of large-scale Roman Catholic church by important C19 Catholic architect.  

Ebeneser Chapel (Cornerstone building)

Reference Number: 13668
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 19/05/1975  
Date of Amendment: 30/04/1999  
Name of Property: Ebeneser Chapel (URC)  
Unitary Authority: Cardiff  
Community: Castle  
Easting: 318611  
Northing: 176465  
Street Side: E  
Location: Opposite St David’s Cathedral.  

History: Opened in 1855 as the Charles Street Congregational Church. Designed by R G Thomas of Newport. Became Ebeneser when old chapel demolished to make way for St David’s shopping precinct, circa 1976, when buttresses dramatically reordered to keep wall-foot dry. The romantic story that the many coloured stonework was the result of the architect’s writing to every head of state in the world for stone as a symbol of God’s dominion over the whole world is less likely to be true than that the stone was imported as ballast in returning coal ships (See ‘The Building Stones of Cardiff’).  

Exterior: Gothic style church above school hall. Faced in many coloured rubble with Bath stone dressings; slate roof. Main entrance to church via wide flight of steps in western elevation which has Gothic doorway with ball flower ornamentation and columns and doors with elaborate iron hinges; over the doorway, a large window of five cusped lights and circular foil; window and doorway flanked by slender full height ashlar buttresses with octagonal pinnacles with gablets. A single light window in each end bay of western elevation. A curved flight of steps rises from each side of Western light windows to doorways in sides. Nave of five bays, with porch and gallery in westernmost bay; large buttresses in side elevations of nave, pierced by arches at their base. Windows of side elevations of two-lights with daggers or foils over. Entrances to church hall also in side elevations.  

Interior: Interior of Church has plastered walls, a hammer-beam nave roof with scissors trusses, tall and slender chancel arch, lattice boarding to gallery front and to ground floor partition at west end of nave. West gallery supported by single cast-iron column with foliage capital. Stained glass, W window of 1855 with angels in tracery lights; “Light of the World”, by W Davies & Son of Cardiff; War Memorial window by Daniells & Fricker.  

Reason for designation: Attractive and early example of Gothic Revival chapel. Group value.  

Boundary walls and piers to churchyard of Ebeneser Chapel

Reference Number: 13670
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 19/05/1975  
Date of Amendment: 30/04/1999  
Name of Property: Boundary Walls & Piers to Churchyard of Ebeneser URC  
Unitary Authority: Cardiff  
Community: Castle  
Easting: 318588  
Northing: 176466  
Street Side: E  
Location: To front and side of Chapel.  

Exterior: Small churchyard enclosed by boundary walls of C19, probably contemporary with the church. On Western side, before main elevation, a low dwarf wall of stone with deep moulded coping. Piers in centre and at ends, each with four gablets. Centre gates of wood, incorporating cusped metal panelling. Most of northern boundary wall of stone rubble with brick coping; western part of northern wall as western boundary wall. Two piers at eastern end of northern boundary wall.  

Reason for designation: For group value with chapel and former school room.  

School room to rear of Ebeneser Chapel

Reference Number: 13669
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 19/05/1975  
Date of Amendment: 30/04/1999  
Name of Property: Former School Room to Rear of Ebeneser Chapel  
Unitary Authority: Cardiff  
Community: Castle  
Easting: 318629  
Northing: 176473  
Street Side: E  
Location: To rear of Ebeneser Chapel.  

History: 1871, by W D Blessley.  

Exterior: Rectangular block with Gothic motifs built against apsidal end of church and connected to it on its northern side by a short corridor wing with a six-light unglazed opening in its front wall. Schoolroom faced externally in stone. Slate roof. At northern end of south-west elevation, facing towards Charles Street and to north of corridor wing there is a tall narrow gabled porch flanked to each side by a narrow single light window. At the south end of the same elevation there is a further gabled porch. Church parlour of 1889 built against southern elevation; gabled south-west elevation of church parlour has a flat-roofed ground floor projection with a blind rectangular centre panel flanked to each side by a short paired lancet window. From north to south, rear elevation of schoolroom has two-light windows with daggers over, blocked doorway, two external stone chimneys and a single window.  

Reason for designation: Listed for group value with chapel.  

Heritage Details

Architect: Pugin & Pugin; F. R. Bates, Son & Price

Original Date: 1887

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II