Building » Carmarthen – St Mary

Carmarthen – St Mary

Union Street, Carmarthen, SA31 3DE

A well-detailed design of the early 1850s by Charles Hansom in the Second Pointed Gothic style, the intended north aisle and south transept omitted for reasons of cost. The interior retains Hansom’s carved altar (brought forward) and fine reredos. In the 1880s the church was altered and Hansom’s original presbytery was replaced by a monastery/clergy house by Albert Vicars, after the Passionist order took charge of the mission. The church contains a quantity of stained glass by Mayer of Munich and others. With the clergy house it makes a prominent contribution to the local townscape.

In the later 1840s a steady flow of refugees from the famine in Ireland passed through Carmarthen, and the regiments stationed in the Carmarthen barracks often included Irish solders, many of them Catholics. In 1850 the Rev. Peter Lewis arrived to establish a Catholic mission in Carmarthen, with services held in a converted property at the junction of Water Street and Goose Street. Fr Lewis had previously been at Pembroke, where he had overseen the building of the church of St Mary (qv) in the dockyard settlement. In Carmarthen he prevailed upon the Herbert family of Llanarth Castle, Monmouthshire to purchase a site in Union Street and donate it to the church. Some funds for a new building were raised by local subscription, but most came from Miss Catherine Richardson of Bath.

The architect for the new church was Charles Hansom of Bristol, who had previously provided the designs for St David at Swansea and St Michael at Brecon (qqv). The builder was Daniel Santry of Carmarthen. Construction started in 1851 but during the course of the building work Fr Lewis was replaced by the Rev. Lewis Havard from Brecon. In the event, the funds available were not sufficient to complete the church to Hansom’s original design, and the intended north aisle and south transept were not built. A small presbytery was attached at right angles to the church on the south side. The church was opened by Bishop Thomas Brown OSB on 4 August 1852. Contemporary reports of the opening indicate that the carved altar and the reredos were designed by Hansom.

In 1888 the care of the parish was entrusted to the Passionist Order, who remained in Carmarthen until 1986. In 1889 under Fr Dominic O’Neill, the first Passionist Rector, the church was restored and given a new painted ceiling (painted over before the end of the twentieth century) and a new west gallery with an organ. At the same time the original small presbytery was replaced by a substantial three-storey monastery or clergy house. The architect for these works was Albert Vicars of the London firm of Vicars & O’Neill (who also designed the Passionist church of St Joseph, Highgate in London). The works were funded by the Misses Richardson and Abadam, Mr Charles Morris and others. Miss Richardson died in 1891 and was interred in the burial ground at St Mary’s; a £50 legacy from her allowed for new marble and alabaster altar rails (since removed). In April 1895 Bishop Hedley of Newport and Menevia blessed a new 14 cwt bell, and in 1896 the bishop returned to be presented with a bejewelled Gothic mitre made by Hardman, Powell & Co. and donated by Miss Alice Abadam of Picton Terrace, Carmarthen.

A primary school was built nearby in 1923 and a parish hall in 1936 (since rebuilt). Since 2000 the church has been served by Marist priests. In 2016 a new Holy Door of Mercy was formed in the north wall of the church, allowing step-free access.


The building and its many furnishings are fully described in the list entry (below). The following points can be added:

  • At the foot of the flight of steps at the main entrance, a reset medieval stoup on a pedestal is thought to have come from the lost chapel of St Barbara, Carmarthen (Coflein).
  • The sanctuary has been re-ordered. Hansom’s gradine and reredos remain in situ, with the mensa brought forward. The altar rails purchased with a bequest from Miss Richardson have been removed.
  • The east window of 1852 looks like the work of the Hardman firm.
  • The octagonal painted stone font (an addition of 1889 by Vicars) has been moved from the west end to a new location next to the sanctuary step.
  • Large statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Lourdes on either side of the chancel arch date belong to the Vicars scheme.
  • The church was repaired and redecorated in 2016, when a new doorway was formed in the north wall of the nave to allow step-free access to the building.

List description

Reference Number: 9612
Building Number: 
Grade: II  
Status: Designated  
Date of Designation: 19/05/1981  
Date of Amendment: 28/11/2003  
Name of Property: Roman Catholic Church of St Mary  
Unitary Authority: Carmarthenshire  
Community: Carmarthen  
Easting: 240348  
Northing: 220234  
Location: Situated at far NW end of Street.  

History: Roman Catholic church of 1851-2 by Charles Hansom of Bristol, built at the expense of Miss K F Richardson, daughter of General Richardson, with attached presbytery and provision for adding a N aisle and S transept. Altered in 1889 by Albert Vicars with new organ gallery, font, boarded ceiling and painted decoration (now gone). Nave windows of c1892 by Mayer of Munich. The parish was run by the Passionist order from 1889 to 1986.  

Exterior: Roman Catholic Church in rubble stone with ashlar dressings, steep slate gabled roofs with coped gables, cross finials and terracotta ridge tiles. Decorated Gothic style. Nave with lower chancel, S porch and ashlar SW spirelet. W end has quatrefoil in roundel to apex over W window set high, 3-light with taller centre light and quatrefoil heads to side lights, and hoodmould on carved crowned heads. Raised plinth continues around 2 large buttresses at right angles at SW corner that carry spirelet. Buttresses are shouldered with ashlar dressings and gabled heads under octagon base to diagonally-set square pinnacle with gables and spire with cross finial. S side of nave has 7 bays. First bay has lean-to S porch with broad cinquefoil-cusped pointed arch, paired boarded doors and hoodmould with carved stone heads. Flight of 6 stone steps flanked by dwarf stone walls. At foot of one is a medieval stoup on pedestal inscribed that it came from the lost chapel of St Barbara, Carmarthen. Porch has chamfered pointed inner door within. The second bay has 3 quatrefoils in pointed surround set high, third and fourth have 2-light windows with quatrefoil in heads and gabled buttress between. Bays 5 and 6 are plainer, as intended for S chapel addition, each with lancet with stone voussoirs beneath raised cement band, [perhaps a roofline), and 3 plainer buttresses, lower one between lights. Bay 7 has single storey link to the presbytery. N side, plain as intended for aisle, has 5 narrow lancets with stone voussoirs between buttresses. Westernmost window is within broad red brick blind arch, perhaps for a porch or chapel, and has slightly taller flanking buttresses. NW buttress has ashlar quoins. Lower chancel has 2 2-light pointed windows with quatrefoil tracery and hoodmoulds and E window has 3 sexfoils in pointed arch set high.  

Interior: Painted stucco interior with boarded timber ceiling of 4 cants. Pointed double-chamfered chancel arch with hoodmould on carved stone heads. N wall has 4-bay arcade with pointed arches, round columns and moulded caps for intended N aisle, and S wall has similar 2-bay arcade for proposed S chapel. Heavy boarded S door beneath W end organ gallery with pipe organ. Stained glass: E window of 1852, life of Christ in 3 sexfoils, richly coloured. Nave S has, from W, Nativity to dead of both World Wars; Annunciation by Mayer of Munich to W. Richards and wife (died 1890 and 1893); St David window of c1990 by Barry Brady; window to Sister Pierre died 1952, Virgin Mary. N side has from W: window to C. A. Blake (d 1911) of St Anthony; late C20 Passionists memorial window of St Paul of The Cross presumably by B. Brady; Annunciation window to J. and W. Regan (died 1906 and 1908), highly coloured, by Mayer; similar window to W. and C. Regan (died 1892 and 1904) signed by Mayer. Chancel side windows with patterned glass. Small octagonal stone font, 1889. Altar, by Hansom, is painted Caen stone with 3 trefoiled arches on coloured marble colonettes, carved spandrels. Highly ornate painted stone Gothic reredos above with 4 canopied niches with large carved figures of St Paul of the Cross, St Winefride, St Patrick and St Bridget, flanking taller niche with brass crucifix. Marble lining to niches, crocketted gables and finials. Ogee-headed piscina on S wall, shelf on N.  

Reason for designation: Included as an early example in the region of correct revived Gothic, by a leading Victorian designer of Catholic churches.  

Heritage Details

Architect: Charles Hansom; Albert Vicars

Original Date: 1852

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II