Rosemary Lane, Conwy, LL32 8HY
The church is a simple rectangular roughcast rendered building with a slate roof, erected in 1916, with a hall extension added in the 1970s. It occupies a sensitive site in an angle of the scheduled town wall close to the Upper Gate within the Conwy Castle World Heritage Site. While the building itself is of modest architectural interest, within the grounds is a group of important interwar devotional sculptures of the Stations of the Cross (including a large Calvary group) which are listed Grade II. One of these is attached to the church itself, others are built into the town wall. They were carved of Carrara marble in Italy, and installed under the direction of Giuseppe Rinvolucri.
The mission established in Llandudno in 1867 served a very large area, stretching from Rhyl in the east along the coast to Bangor and as far south as Dolgellau. In 1906 the Franciscans from Pantasaph started a mission at Conwy, and in 1916 the present church of St Michael and All Angels was built, with the help of a legacy from Emma Houlgrave of Seaforth, Liverpool. It was opened in October of that year by Bishop Mostyn of Menevia; contemporary reports do not record the architect. A former drill hall in Mount Pleasant was subsequently acquired and served as a parish hall.
During the 1930s the grounds of the church were embellished at the instigation of the parish priest, the Rev. Patrick McCullough, and the church became something of a pilgrimage centre. Fr McCullough first built a Lourdes Grotto, as a thank offering for a cure at the Marian shrine. This was followed by a marble Calvary group forming the twelfth of a set of fourteen Stations of the Cross, which (according to a press cutting in the Carmel archives at Dolgellau) ‘were designed by and purchased from the House of Fernandino Pallo (sic) of Pietrasanta and Catella Fratelli, Turin’. Ferdinando Palla (1852-1944) was a sculptor and sculpture conservator who was Head of the School of Fine Arts in Pietrasanta, northern Tuscany, and set a workshop in the 1870s. The workshop is noted for its funerary sculpture, church statues and furnishings, and larger marble commissions across the world (the company is still in business, as is Catella Fratelli, which seems to be more of a general marble supply company). The Calvary group was dedicated by the Bishop of Menevia on 11 September 1932. The Tablet reported that ‘the Bishop’s address gave a useful reminder to the non-Catholics listening to his lordship’s words that one thing which the war did was to make many who were not of the Catholic Faith familiar with the sight and purpose of wayside Crucifixes. The Sacred Figure had since then formed the design for many war memorials, and the Bishop expressed the hope that nobody in Conway would hereafter pass the Calvary unveiled that day without a respectful bow or a raising of the hat’. The marble relief Stations of the Cross (twelve of which were attached to the medieval town wall and one to the west front of the church) were unveiled by the Bishop of Menevia on 20 March 1934. The commission of the Stations and their placement was directed by the Italian engineer and architect Giuseppe Rinvolucri, who settled in Conwy after the First World War and designed churches at Abergele, Amlwch and Porthmadog (qqv) as well as a private chapel for Robert Wynne at Llanfair Talhaiarn (Garthewin) (The Tablet 5 May 1934).
During World War II the number of Catholics in Conwy increased with the influx of soldiers stationed on the Morfa and children evacuated from Liverpool and other large cities. St Mary’s convent was transferred here from Lowestoft for the duration of the war, occupying a large house on Morfa Drive. As hostilities ceased, prisoners of war were encamped in the surrounding area and attended Mass at the church, both Germans and Italians. The church was renovated in the early 1940s, when a German prisoner of war, Josef Beule, an assistant Professor of Art at The Dusseldorf Academy, decorated the baptistery with murals and the pulpit with symbols of the four evangelists in a modernist style. Italian soldiers also contributed towards the cost of one of the stained glass windows behind the altar as a mark of appreciation of their time in Conwy. In the 1970s an extension was added on the south side of the church by Bowen Dann Davies to provide a parish hall. The church was closed in 2018.
[In 2020 the decision to close the church was revoked by the Congregation for the Clergy, Rome].
The church is a simple building erected in 1916, consisting of a nave, sanctuary and northwest porch, with roughcast rendered walls and a slate roof. An additional hipped roofed porch was added in the 1970s at the west end as part of the hall extension. The nave has four bays, separated by shallow buttresses, with tripartite square-headed Gothic windows. The windows to the sanctuary are placed higher up, and the west end has half-timbering in the gable. The interior is open to the roof with king post trusses, purlins and exposed rafters. The east window has stained glass depicting the crucifixion, and to each side of the sanctuary are niches with plaster statues of the Sacred Heart and Our Lady and Child. The sacristy and confessional are on the south side. The interior is fully carpeted.
The hall extension to the south is set a full floor below the church on a level with the crypt. It was designed by Bowen Dann Davies and cannot be seen from Rosemary Lane. The walls are faced in concrete blocks and the roof is a slate mono-pitch continuing the slope of the church roof, with rooflights providing light into the church through the original south wall windows. Access into the hall is either via the west porch and staircase, or an external staircase at the east end. There is a third set of connecting stairs leading down from the sacristy.
Crucifixion and Stations of the Cross
Reference Number: 87416
Date of Designation: 30/12/2005
Date of Amendment: 30/12/2005
Name of Property: Crucifixion and Stations of the Cross at St Michael’s RC Church
Unitary Authority: Conwy
Locality: Walled town
Street Side: S
Location: Immediately adjacent to the Town Walls and on the W and S sides of St Michael’s Roman Catholic church.
History: mid C20, the work of G. Rinvolucri, an Italian architect who came to Wales originally as a prisoner of war. He lived and worked in the Conwy area, and designed several R.C. Churches in N. Wales. The church was built in the inter-war period as it is not shown on the 1913 Ordnance Survey. None of the sculptures is signed or dated, but all have dedications.
Exterior: a mid C20 large sculpture in white marble of the crucifixion with the figures of the 2 Marys and John. It forms the 12th station of the cross. The first 11 and the 13th are square relief plaster casts against the Town Wall, and the 14th is on the W wall of St Michael’s RC church.
Reason for designation: listed for its special interest as a fine mid C20 devotional sculpture forming the focus of a group of distinctive tablets, all of exceptional quality, on the medieval town wall.
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1916
Conservation Area: Yes
Listed Grade: Not Listed