Bulwark Road, Chepstow, NP16 5JE
A well-detailed post-Vatican II design by Tom Price, on a corner site overlooking the River Wye. The interior is a single volume, with radial seating converging on the altar.
Chepstow and Monmouthshire were strong centres of Catholic recusancy during the penal years, centred on Raglan Castle, home of the Earls of Worcester. Chepstow Castle was identified as a hotbed of Catholicism at the time of the so-called Popish Plot in the late 1670s, and there are records of Catholics in the town throughout the eighteenth century. In 1812, when a secular priest was appointed, their number was given as fifty. A church may have been built in 1796, possibly on St Michael’s Hill, and in 1827 a church was built in Welsh Street. From 1859 (possibly earlier) a room at the back of the church was used as a school. Bishop Brown, first Bishop of Newport, lived at Silure Villa on Hardwick Hill from 1847 to 1859.
In 1969 a new presbytery was built on Bulwark Road as the first phase of a planned new complex of church and presbytery. In 1972 the church in Welsh Street, by then too small and in need of repair, was demolished to make way for an access road to a car park. Mass was said in the school in Bulwark Road until 16 April 1975, when the new church of St Mary at the front of the site was opened and consecrated by Archbishop Murphy of Cardiff. Both church and presbytery were designed by Tom Price of F. R. Bates, Son & Price.
On plan the building is a segment of a circle, with the seating arranged in a radial pattern converging on the altar, and with a separate Blessed Sacrament chapel and ancillary spaces behind the sanctuary. Externally it is faced in brick, with stone to the curved external walls of the sanctuary and chapel. The roof slopes up towards (or down from) the sanctuary, with steel beams carrying a roof (originally at least) finished with copper. The curved outer wall of the nave is punctuated by reinforced concrete ‘flying buttresses’, a trademark feature used by Price elsewhere, eg at Penparcau, Aberystwyth (qv). Alongside the main entrance is a tall, narrow brick campanile with attached cross.
The interior was designed to meet the liturgical requirements of the Second Vatican Council, with the altar the focal point, no seating more than thirty feet from this and no communion rails. The walls are of fair faced pale brick, the floors carpeted (over woodblock in the sanctuary) and the roof has acoustic panels between the steel beams. The sanctuary is raised on a curved dais of two steps. It is top-lit by a raised circular rooflight and by a wide high window in the back wall containing stained glass depicting the Nativity (Virgin and Child flanked by kneeling shepherd and magus), designed and installed by John Hardman Studios. The altar is of simple design, of Forest of Dean stone with a tapering base. The Blessed Sacrament chapel is behind a glazed screen, and has a small circular altar and tabernacle with granite plinth flanked by wooden statues of the Holy Family. This space is also lit in part by a circular rooflight. To either side of the chapel are the sacristy, WCs and a space for parents with small children.
Architect: F. R. Bates, Son & Price
Original Date: 1975
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed