Building » Dolgellau – Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

Dolgellau – Our Lady of Seven Sorrows

Meyrick Street, Dolgellau, LL40 1LR

Built at the time of the Second Vatican Council and very traditional for its date, this is a well-detailed basilican-style church with more contemporary furnishings. It was built from designs by the parish priest Fr Francis Scalpell and the architect Maurice T. Pritchard. The church is largely unaltered, with distinctive dalle-de-verre glass by Hardman and a large external crucifix with bronze corpus by Giannino Castiglione, sculptor of some of the bronze doors of Milan Cathedral. It is listed ‘as a remarkable expression of the revival of Roman Catholicism in North Wales in the post-war period’ and makes a positive contribution to the local conservation area.

In the late 1920s there was only one Catholic church in the county of Merioneth, St Tudwal in Barmouth (qv). A small group of Catholics in Dolgellau wished to establish a parish and in 1928 a Maltese priest, Fr Francis Scalpell, was sent for a short period to test the viability of this. The following year, eight Carmelite Sisters from the Notting Hill Carmel, London were invited by Bishop Vaughan of Menevia to open a monastery in the town. Dedicated to the Holy Spirit, this was the first Discalced Carmelite monastery in Wales and the first dedicated Mass centre in Dolgellau since the Reformation. Despite some local hostility, the monastery was established that summer, with the first Mass presided over by Cardinal Bourne of Westminster. Within weeks of the opening of the monastery a small chapel was opened in an abandoned stable and outbuildings, dedicated to Our Lady of Seven Sorrows and St David.

During the Second World War Fr Scalpell was appointed parish priest, and chaplain to the monastery. He acquired a former fish and chip shop and cottage next to the chapel and extended the chapel into this, using stones dragged from the river at the rear of the plot. He enlisted help from Italian prisoners-of-war and produced a number of the furnishings himself.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the chapel was in need of continual repair and maintenance and it was evident a new church was needed to accommodate the growing congregation. The parish was poor, so outside efforts were vital to the success of the fundraising; volunteers in Liverpool began collecting and fundraising there. Fr Scalpell wrote thousands of letters to communities and individuals all over the world appealing for funds and as a result collected £42,000. He personally gave £8,000, from a legacy left by his mother. Around 1960 with a considerable amount still to be raised Fr Scalpell received a donation for the shortfall with three conditions, that the donor’s name would not be revealed, that the building would be in harmony with its surroundings and that the builders would all be local. The conditions were agreed to and the donation was made. 

Taking a direct involvement in the design, Fr Scalpell drew plans for his ideal of a ‘traditional and proper’ form of church using, where possible, only local materials.  Maurice T. Pritchard of Blaenau Ffestiniog was appointed architect and worked with Fr Scalpell to realise the design. In 1963 the old church was demolished and building of the new church started on the same site. Construction took three years and the total cost was £68,000. The contractor (John Evans & Sons) was local, as were the builders, masons, craftsmen, and foreman. Granite from four quarries in Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire was used to give a variety of colour to the exterior. The church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows was opened by Bishop Petit of Menevia on Sunday 4 September 1966 and was consecrated the following Easter.


The building is described in detail in the list entry, below, and repetition is unnecessary. Additional points not mentioned in the list entry are:

  • The dalle-de-verre windows of the apse are by Patrick Feeny of John Hardman Studios, 1967
  • Also worthy of note is a stained glass window in the south aisle of St Cecilia, a later addition, maker/artist not established
  • The ‘massive’ altar rails are of polished black slate
  • The rood cross was painted by Emanuel Scalpella, brother of Fr Scalpell.
  • A slate memorial in the Lady Chapel is of Thomas Peter Ellis (d. 1936), a retired Circuit Judge and Historian who was involved in the establishing of the first Mass centre in Dolgellau 
  • An oil painting at the rear of the nave of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows is by a local artist, Powys Evans, after Adriaen Isenbrandt’s painting of the same subject at Our Lady, Bruges
  • A holy water stoup inside the entrance is formed of what appears to be the lower section of an ancient stone cross, with a modern carving of a Maltese cross. Its provenance is unknown.

List description

Reference Number: 87544
Grade: II
Date of Designation: 09/08/2007
Date of Amendment: 09/08/2007
Name of Property: RC Church of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
Unitary Authority: Gwynedd
Community: Dolgellau  
Locality: Dolgellau  
Easting: 272872  
Northing: 317666  
Location: To S of the main square, with apse backing onto river.  

History: 1963-1966, architect Maurice Pritchard, builders John Evans and Sons. In 1928, Fr Francis Scalpell (1895-1970), a priest from Malta came to Dolgellau, the first Catholic priest since the Reformation. Initially services were held in a stable which was later extended into a fish and chip shop with the help of Italian prisoners of war. Fr Francis is said to have written over 25,000 letters to raise funds for a new church. In the early 1960s an anonymous donor provided sufficient funds to begin the present church specifying that it must harmonise with Dolgellau and its mountainous setting. Work began in 1963, and the church was consecrated on Whit Monday 1970. The total costs were £68,000. The west doorway is said to be based on Cormac’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel off Ireland’s south-west coast. The crucifix above the doorway is by a Milanese sculptor, Giannino Castiglione (who executed bronze doors for the front of Milan Cathedral in 1950, and is said to have worked at St Peter’s, Rome). The church is built in local stone, with altars incorporating stones from the Holy Land.  

Exterior: Church of rock-faced grey stone; slate roof. Romanesque style. Deep round-arched doorway flanked by heraldic panels representing Wales and Malta; a third panel representing the papacy, and a large crucifix over door. To the R of the doorway, two apsidal chapels at right angles to each other (Baptistery and Lady Chapel). The L elevation has three tall round-headed windows, then projecting bay with doorway and window over. Square bell turret with paired openings at bell stage and low pyramidal roof; tall round-headed window. To rear, beyond apse, is rendered end of vestry. Right hand elevation has lunette windows. At the rear of the right hand side of the church, at right angles, is Presbytery, a two-storey two-window house, rendered, with hipped slate roof.  

Interior: Nave has roof of open trusses with king-posts with raking struts; floor of quarry tiles. Apsidal sanctuary with 5 stained glass windows of Evangelists and Holy Spirit. Italian brass screens and gates to either side of sanctuary, baldacchino above altar, and bronze crown of thorns to altar frontal are all significant elements of original design. Right aisle of 4 round-arched bays plus chapel at sanctuary end (Chapel of the Most Precious Blood under lower arch and with doorway to vestry). The aisle is lit by lunette windows, one with stained glass. The round piers of the aisle arcade are pierced with squints to give view of altar. At W end of aisle is apsidal Lady Chapel, and then at right angles, apsidal Baptistery with seven windows symbolising the Seven gifts of the Spirit. The L side of nave has, at sanctuary end, an arched recess with confessional and tall window (under the bell turret); then two arches to recessed area. Nave then narrows and is lit by tall round-headed windows.  

Reason for designation: Listed as a remarkable expression of the revival of Roman Catholicism in North Wales in the post-war period. The building successfully introduces elements of modernity into a broadly traditional layout, in a rugged style apt for its setting.  

Heritage Details

Architect: M. T. Pritchard with Rev. Francis Scalpell

Original Date: 1966

Conservation Area: Yes

Listed Grade: Grade II