Alexandra Road, Gorseinon, Swansea, SA4 4NX
A striking modern church, designed by Robert Robinson and opened in 1967. The design was influenced by the Second Vatican Council’s desire to encourage active participation in the liturgy, mainly by means of proximity to the altar, and was one of a number of churches built to polygonal or centralised plans around that time, notably Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The building has been internally reordered but its architectural character and many furnishings of note survive, including some fine stained glass and a large figure of the Risen Christ by John Petts.
From the mid-1920s the parish priest at Pontarddulais began saying Mass in Gorseinon, with a temporary church in Mason’s Road. In 1932 a dual-purpose church and hall supplied by Hallwoods of Hyde in Cheshire was erected in Pontarddulais Road, opening in July of that year, and in 1936 Gorseinon was made a separate parish. When Fr Gerald Hiscoe was appointed parish priest in 1958 he found the 1932 building in a poor state of repair, damp and with defective foundations. He raised £60,000 in three years to build a new church on a new site about a mile from the old. Robert Robinson, a parishioner, was engaged as architect; he specialised in the design of schools and had recently designed the Catholic secondary school at Gorseinon. He was also the architect for St Joachim and St Anne, Dunvant and additions to Sacred Heart, Morriston (qqv).
Old mine workings were discovered below the proposed site, necessitating additional foundations. A parish hall was placed beneath the church, to make best use of the sloping ground. The church was built on a centralised plan, a plan form then enjoying a vogue in the wake of Gibberd’s Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which like the church of the Blessed Sacrament was opened in 1967. Fr Hiscoe wrote that ‘the theme of the new church – the church of the Blessed Sacrament – is that of a monstrance’, the nave forming the base, the lantern the stem and the finial (a circle within a cross) the pyx (Proctor, p. 153). The body of the building has fourteen sides and the ridge and furrow roof fourteen radial steel beams. This was apparently a reference to the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The external walls were originally intended to be what Robinson referred to as brise soleil, in fact a concrete lattice of the kind he had used in 1964 for the apse at Sacred Heart, Morriston, but this proved too expensive. Instead, the walls are of rendered brickwork with mass-concrete window units with cross-shaped openings. In the same manner, the roofs were intended to be covered with copper but economy forced Robinson to substitute bituminous felt, which subsequently failed and was replaced in steel.
The interior has seen considerable changes. The altar was originally set further forward and had an open metal baldacchino or canopy above and three rows of seating behind it. Both the original white marble altar and the ovoid stone font were made by John Hopkins & Son of Tewkesbury, monumental masons, but were designed by Robert Robinson, as were the original steel and teak bench seating, lectern and canopy. The font originally stood in a baptistery area next to the confessionals, on a section of striking radial-patterned flooring.
The interior was later (possibly in 1984) reordered, with a new sanctuary platform and altar. The timber altar rails and the canopy were removed and the bench seating replaced with timber benches. The font was moved to a new location in the porch. In addition to the font, surviving original furnishings include the stained glass by John Petts, which is of excellent quality. Petts also designed the figure of the Risen Christ, 8ft high and made from welded steel pieces and a statue of Our Lady. There is later glass by Paul Quail (from c1984, which may be the date of the reordering). The organ, concealed behind the altar, came from the Nazareth chapel in Morriston.
The large modern presbytery next door to the church was also designed by Robinson. He commented that it was always too large for its intended function and on the day of the opening of the church it was apparently was mistaken by Archbishop Murphy for a block of flats.
The list description below dates from 2007 and offers a full account of the building. It summarises the church’s importance ‘as an innovative church design which is a particularly articulate expression of Liturgical Movement principals, in its centralised planning and bold modernity, successfully integrating expressive, symbolic forms. A harmony of art and architecture is achieved, notably in the remarkable quality of the stained glass and fittings by John Petts’. The list entry states that the altar was originally centrally placed under the lantern, but the illustrations in the Robinsons’ book of 2010 (see bibliographic references above) suggest that it was slightly off-centre. The listing also implies that the egg-shaped font was designed by Hopkins of Tewkesbury, whereas the Robinsons’ book confirms that it was the architect’s design.
Reference Number: 87524
Building Number: GradeII
Date of Designation: 10/08/2007
Date of Amendment: 10/08/2007
Name of Property: Church of the Blessed Sacrament
Unitary Authority: Swansea
Location: Situated on the E side of Gorseinon on the S side of Alexandra Road.
Broad Class: Religious, Ritual and Funerary
History: Roman Catholic church of 1967, by Robert Robinson, architect, and one of the larger new churches of the 1960s in South Wales. Designed in partnership with the artist John Petts (1914-1991). The centralised plan became popular in the post-war period, and was seen as encouraging greater participation in the liturgy, a theme encouraged by the Liturgical Movement and stressed by the Second Vatican Council. The most notable example of this plan in Britain is the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral by Gibberd (1962-67). Perhaps closer to the Blessed Sacrament is the contemporary St Mary at Leyland, by Jerzy Faczyski. The original centralised plan with the altar beneath the lantern proved unsuccessful, and the building was re-ordered with altar moved to the rear of the church. The original seating was replaced, the original altar replaced by that from the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, the baldacchino removed, and the egg-shaped font removed to the porch. John Petts designed the statues of Christ and the “Mater Amabilis”, as well as stained glass in four of the bays of the building; the red glass in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament; the blue glass in the bay where the font formerly stood, the yellow glass in the children’s chapel, and the chiefly rose glass behind the Mater Amabilis. Other glass, depicting scenes from the books of Genesis and Exodus is said to be by Paul Quail. The stained glass at the heads of the two stairways down to the church hall depicting the Passion of Christ and Life of the Virgin is more recent. The egg-shaped font by John Hopkins of Tewkesbury now stands in the porch of the church. The basement of the church provides the church hall (modernised and re-ordered). The church roof is said to have been originally felted.
Exterior: Roman Catholic church, rough-rendered brickwork on black brick basement, 14-sided in plan with each side gabled. Ridge and furrow 14-sided metal-clad roof, 14-sided glazed lantern with matching roof in miniature (the lantern windows and gables aligned over the valleys of the main roof) and welded steel openwork cross with red painted centre disc. The roof gable verges slope outward from gully-ends over rainwater heads to overhang the wall sections. These are all (apart from the entrance section) pierced by Greek-cross shaped small windows in regular pattern of one at apex, and then alternate rows of two and three. The church entrance on the N side up steps from the pavement is to the upper level, the building being raised on a basement church hall entered from the car park below, but the line between floors is not marked externally. N porch is built out, with matching gabled roof, rendered side walls and full glazing with hardwood mullions and transoms. On the rear S side two of the walls, corresponding to chapels within, are projected with similar roof detail to porch.
Interior: Impressive single space dominated by serrated roof, boarded with steel ribs on 14 steel posts, the ribs running up to 14-sided steel ring at base of lantern, whose roof is also ribbed and boarded. The posts are mostly linked by a white-painted broad beam and the gabled spaces between are mostly infilled with white plaster panels at this point or glazed. Two bays each side of the porch do not have the beam and are open to the cross-pierced outer walls. Three bays infilled behind the sanctuary screen the organ, and there is a statue of Christ on centre panel. Sanctuary is quadrant shaped and has timber panelled back screening a passage behind which has two small vestries. Bench seats against panelling and centre chair on step. Curving open-back pews in 4 blocks follow curve of sanctuary step. Around the church from the sanctuary: the 2 bays each side are glazed above the beam and the first is open below to a chapel, the second glazed below with door to stairs to the basement, the next bay each side is infilled and has confessionals, the next 2 each side are open to the outer wall, and the final one contains the porch. The glass in the small cross lights is to an overall colour scheme moving from yellow to red from left to right, and with animal and natural themes to the designs. From left chapel has overall yellow glass, next green-blue, the third is infilled, and the next 2 bays, open to the walls, have pink and blue, and pink and purple. Then the entrance bay is glazed below the beam, plastered above. The 2 open bays left of porch have glass to overall green, and then blue, then the bay with confessionals, then the steps to basement have glass to red, yellow and black theme and finally the last chapel has glass to a deep red. Statues of Christ and Our Lady by John Petts. In porch is an extraordinary egg-shaped stone font, matt-finished with finely lettered incised inscription and cross. The top, flattened off, has 2 shallow bowls hollowed out and polished. The font stands on a rock-faced granite block.
Reason for designation: Listed as an innovative church design which is a particularly articulate expression of Liturgical Movement principals, in its centralised planning and bold modernity, successfully integrating expressive, symbolic forms. A harmony of art and architecture is achieved, notably in the remarkable quality of the stained glass and fittings by John Petts.
Architect: Robert Robinson
Original Date: 1967
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Grade II