Building » Cardiff (Ely) – St Francis of Assisi

Cardiff (Ely) – St Francis of Assisi

Cowbridge Road West, Ely, CF5 5JG

A concrete-framed church of 1960 and the most inventive of a large number of churches built in the Cardiff suburbs by Thomas Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price. The design is attuned to modern liturgical thinking and is enhanced with notable furnishings by Adam Kossowski and (more recently) Peter Ball. The sculptural openwork concrete campanile is a local landmark.

In 1926 a dual-purpose church/hall was opened to serve the Ely housing estate; the building occupied a site at the junction of Wilson Road and Grand Avenue and was joined later in the 1920s by a school and presbytery. In 1958 the building of a new church began on a small site acquired some years previously, to seat 450 to 500 people. The architect was Thomas Price, of F. R. Bates, Son & Price, the contractors Charles Winstone of Cardiff. The architect noted that, ‘utilising the site to the full has governed the plan shape as also has the need to bring the farthest point of seating to close proximity of the sanctuary…The floor of the nave slopes imperceptibly down from the rear of the church to the sanctuary and thus assists in ensuring that the altar is visible to all…The whole of the internal treatment is directed toward simplicity in colour and form, thus allowing liturgical elements to accentuate their purpose in an essentially functional as well as aesthetic sense. The aim is that of a realistic approach in solving the problems of creating a form appropriate to present day needs without destroying the symbols which have given validity to church design in the past’. The church was opened by Archbishop McGrath of Cardiff on 19 April 1960.

Description

The church is in a mannered modern style, rectangular on plan with a full-width western narthex, an aisleless nave and short sanctuary under a continuous pitched roof, northwest porch, southeast campanile and southeast chapel. Single-storey flat-roofed sacristies wrap round the northeast corner. The building has a reinforced concrete frame with walls of light brick panel infilling, rendered externally, the west front faced with random stonework. The main roof is covered with concrete tiles, with copper coverings to the transverse gables of the nave windows. The left part of the west façade is recessed at lower level behind four piloti, and the tent-shaped central doorway in this recessed section has a stone surround with incised Greek key ornament. Above this the wall rising to the broad shallow west gable is rendered, with a stepped arrangement of small rectangular windows. The stone-faced right-hand part of the façade carries life-size concrete figures representing St Francis’s vision of Christ on the Cross, by Adam Kossowski. The southwest tower has a solid rectangular base rising through the slope of the main roof and carrying a tapering openwork campanile of reinforced concrete. To the east of the tower in the main south roof slope are two dormers with steeply-pitched roofs. The north side of the nave has a concrete tented northwest porch and three large windows rising considerably above eaves level into steeply-pitched gables. The north wall of the short sanctuary, above the sacristies, is entirely glazed and the east end wall is blind.

Inside, the heavy members of the concrete frame are fully exposed, with large vertical struts carrying a continuous gallery round three sides of the nave. The walls are roughly rendered with sand and cement and the windows are clear glazed. At the west end the narthex below the gallery is enclosed by modernist openwork screens with a canted central doorway with the Greek-key ornament which appears on all the doors within the church. A similar openwork screen hides the organ in the gallery itself. The front of the gallery carries a continuous frieze with the Stations of the Cross in coloured ceramic against a backgroundof green sgraffito. The frieze is the work of Adam Kossowski. A canted opening leads to the sanctuary, which has a fully glazed upper north side. On the south wall is a canted opening to the southeast chapel which was originally a sedilia and a full-height strip of rectangular window openings next to the east wall. The east wall itself is blind.

The sanctuary has been reordered. The original communion rails have been removed, as has the original circular canopy over the altar (see figure 1). It is unclear whether the original tabernacle and altar have been replaced or adapted but the altar has been brought forward and the arrangement of altar steps altered. The fine hanging Christus figure against the east wall was introduced in 2005, replacing a more traditional crucifix. It is the work of Peter Ball and is made of oak with gold leaf and copper decoration. In the nave the original timber benches remain.

Heritage Details

Architect: F. R. Bates, Son & Price

Original Date: 1960

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II