Building » Cardigan – Welsh National Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper

Cardigan – Welsh National Shrine of Our Lady of the Taper

North Road, Cardigan, SA43 1LT

The church and shrine complex was built in 1970 from designs by Weightman & Bullen, a well-known firm of Catholic church architects. The fortress-like external appearance is powerful, perhaps forbidding, and while the interior is less impressive it does contain several furnishings of note. Fr Cunnane, who built the church, apparently sought the advice of two noted liturgists, Fr James Crichton and Canon James O’Connell. The building is an unusual example of a revived Marian shrine designed for the modern age, and was designated a Welsh National Shrine in 1986. The appearance of the building has been altered by the relocation of the shrine and the installation of new glazing.

Breton Benedictine monks founded a monastery at Noyadd Wilym in Llechryd in 1904, and in the same year Emily Pritchard published her book, Cardigan Priory in the Olden Days, which related the history of the medieval shrine of Our Lady of Cardigan. Pritchard converted to Catholicism in 1912 and gave the monks two adjoining terraced houses in Cardigan (2-3 Pontycleifon) which they converted into a church. The shrine was restored with a new statue of the Virgin and Child, but the church was closed in 1917 when the monks returned to the Continent.

In 1930 a community of Carmelite nuns established themselves three miles from Cardigan and their chaplain, Fr Joseph Higgins, converted an old building at Arthur’s Court in The Strand to serve as a parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows. This was opened by Bishop Francis Vaughan on 4 March 1931.

In the early 1950s the Cardigan shrine was revived with the help of Martin Gillet, who had played a major part in restoring the Catholic shrine at Walsingham. He named it Our Lady of the Taper, after the medieval statue of Our Lady, which was said to have held a candle. Through his auspices, a painted wooden statue was commissioned from Dom Vincent Dapré OSB of Farnborough Abbey and installed in the Cardigan church in May 1956.

A new church was proposed in the early 1960s but a period of active fundraising by the parish priest Fr Cunnane was necessary before the architects Weightman & Bullen of Liverpool were approached in 1967 to provide a design. Merrick Sloan was job architect and the builders were Isaac Jones of Llanelli. The new building was modern in style, with a tower over the sanctuary and a separate tower with a fully glazed lower part containing the shrine, separated from the church by an enclosed courtyard. The church (dedicated to Our Lady of Cardigan) and shrine were opened by Bishop Petit in July 1970. A detached parish hall, the Bishop Petit Memorial Hall, was added in 1975.

Since opening, the church and shrine have been enriched by several furnishings. These include Stations of the Cross by Harry Comley (1970), an outdoor teak crucifix by David John (1971), and a quantity of stained glass in both buildings, made by Amber Hiscott of Swansea in the 1980s and 1990s. The installation of the glass in the shrine necessitated an alteration to the original glazing arrangements, which were intended to allow a clear view of the statue within. In 1986 Our Lady of Cardigan became a national shrine and a new statue of Our Lady of the Taper was cast in bronze, designed by Mother Concordia Scott OSB of Minster Abbey in Kent.


The building is in a modern style which, if not Brutalist, certainly has a fortress-like appearance. The external walls are of buff-coloured brick laid in stretcher bond. The church itself is essentially rectangular on plan with chamfered corners. One long thin range containing the presbytery extends to the west while to the north a wall extends westwards from the body of the church enclosing a paved open courtyard between the church, the presbytery and the detached shrine. The church has a flat roof, with a substantial metal-clad tower rising above the sanctuary, echoed by the smaller tower of the shrine. The canted west wall of the church fronting the courtyard is fully glazed with a small later porch; the other external walls of the church are largely windowless with the exception of a strip clerestory at the head of the north wall and the glazed eastern face of the sanctuary tower. By contrast, the east elevation of the integral presbytery has a long fully-glazed first floor passage.

The interior of the church is a single undivided space, with walls of barefaced grey brick, a floor paved with pale coloured ceramic tiles, and a flat timber-boarded ceiling carried on substantial laminated timber beams with a strip clerestory on both sides. The sanctuary is marked by single raised step now covered in carpet. Above the sanctuary rises a tall void with a glazed eastern side, apparently designed to light the altar at 10.00 a.m., which was the usual time of Mass when the church was built.

Furnishings include the original altar, font and a ledge for tabernacle all made of green Penrhyn slate from Bethesda and carved by Mervyn James, the large teak crucifix on the external west wall made by David John in 1971 and the Stations of the Cross by Harry Comley (1970). Also by Comley are a paschal candlestick, a dove above the tabernacle and a casket containing a candle blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1986 for the inauguration of the national shrine. The large woven wall hanging to the left of the main altar was made by Lt. Col. Berowald Innes from designs by David John. Mother Concordia’s bronze statue of Our Lady of the Taper is placed in a side chapel in front of a tapestry by Trudie Forbes (1984). In the glazed west wall is a band of stained glass depicting the Seven Sacraments, made by Amber Hiscott and installed in about 1980. The strip clerestory in the north wall facing the road contains more glass by the same artist, on a Marian theme and depicting flowers, installed in 1999. The small shrine building now contains a statue of Our Lord and has panels of stained glass applique, also by Amber Hiscott.

Heritage Details

Architect: Weightman & Bullen

Original Date: 1970

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Not Listed