Building » +Swansea – Cathedral Church of St Joseph

+Swansea – Cathedral Church of St Joseph

Convent Street, Greenhill, Swansea, SA1 2BX

The Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Menevia since the creation of the diocese in 1978. The building was built by the Benedictines and opened in 1888. It is a handsome example of the work of the firm of Pugin & Pugin in the Geometrical Gothic style, with a tall nave, aisles and an apsidal sanctuary. A presbytery was built at the same time. The church was enriched in stages, with furnishings by Boulton of Cheltenham and Hardman and Pippet of Birmingham. There has been some reordering at the east end but the late nineteenth and early twentieth century furnishings and character survive largely intact.

The district of Greenhill was originally part of the mission territory of St David’s church, in the centre of Swansea. Fr Charles Kavanagh, builder of St David’s, started working in the Greenhill district and his successor Fr Lewis raised money for the building of a school, convent (finished in 1863 and occupied from the beginning by the Ursuline sisters) and a simple church, which was opened in 1866 (on the site of the present parish/cathedral hall).

In 1873 the Swansea mission was given over to the Benedictine Order and St Joseph’s became a separate mission, with Canon W. J. Richards OSB as priest. Canon Richards was later somewhat dismissive of his predecessor’s efforts, recalling that ‘I found Greenhill a new working men’s district, still in the process of formation, on whose bleak and bare hillside, where roads and streets had yet to be made, had been dumped down by Fr Lewis, Catholic buildings consisting of church, convent and schools. The church was plain […] with rubble walls without sanctuary or sacristy and with nothing distinctive of a church but the cross that crowned it’. Canon Richards raised money for the erection of a large and handsome new church, designed by Peter Paul Pugin of the London firm of Pugin & Pugin, who were at that time also working for the Benedictines at Belmont Abbey (qv). The church was begun in 1886 and was opened by Bishop Hedley on 25 November 1888. It was built on the site of a former pond and therefore required deep foundations. A presbytery was also built, linked to the sanctuary of the church by a short cloister. The organ for the new church was given by Lord Petre, while the Stations of the Cross were made in Antwerp.

On 7 December 1919 the church was consecrated, and a Celtic memorial cross to the memory of parishioners who died in the First World War was unveiled, the gift of the Sisters of St Mary’s Convent, Greenhill. The baptistery was also completed about this time.

The Benedictines served the parish until 1932, when it passed to the Diocese of Cardiff. When in 1978 diocesan boundaries were revised and the Diocese of Wrexham created, St Joseph’s became the cathedral church of the Diocese of Menevia. The sanctuary was reordered, with the high altar remodelled and brought forward and the cathedra placed centrally where the high altar had previously stood. Additional seating for clergy and servers was also installed.


The cathedral is not orientated; the liturgical east end is to the south. All directions in the following description are liturgical. The exterior is fully described in the list entry (below), and repetition is unnecessary. One correction may be noted: the roofs appear to be covered in artificial slate, not modern pantiles as stated in the list entry.

The interior is not described in the list entry. This is tall, with a six-bay nave arcade of pointed moulded arches on short thick octagonal piers of red Dumfries sandstone, set on tall moulded bases of Bath stone and crowned by plain moulded Bath stone capitals with a deep necking. The western bay has a full-width timber organ gallery, its underside enclosed by a timber screen in 1899. The principal trusses of the scissor-braced open timber roof are carried down the clerestory walls first as timber posts then as stone wall shafts resting on carved stone corbels of music-playing angels in the spandrels of the arcades. The lean-to aisle roofs are carried on diagonal stone arches. Both aisles have windows set in segment-headed reveals and have patterned mosaic dados. Two bays of the south aisle have doors to confessionals. The floor is of woodblock and the walls are plastered.

The tall stilted sanctuary arch has jamb shafts resting on canopied niches with figures of the Virgin Mary and St Joseph. The sanctuary ceiling is richly painted, all that visibly remains of the elaborate painted scheme of 1907 by Hardman & Pippet. Reordering in the 1980s following the raising of the building to cathedral status, and to meet post-Vatican II liturgical requirements, involved the separation of the high altar from its reredos, with the former remodelled and brought forward to serve as a forward altar, and the latter, which has reticulated tracery and statues of St Michael and St Gabriel under canopies, retained in situ. The tabernacle was removed to a new Blessed Sacrament Chapel, formed out of the former Lady Chapel, while the cathedra was placed centrally below the reredos. The side chapels retain their alabaster rails, altars and reredoses. Other fittings of note include the stone and marble pulpit of 1907 and the small octagonal stone font, moved from the original southwest baptistery to the southeast side chapel. Most of the windows are clear glazed but the sanctuary east and side windows have late-nineteenth century figurative stained glass said to be by Hardman of Birmingham, and in the south aisle is a three-light window of 1988 depicting the Last Supper, by Catrin Jones.

List descriptions


Reference Number: 11571
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 30/03/1987  
Date of Amendment: 30/03/1987  
Name of Property: R C Church of St Joseph
Unitary Authority: Swansea  
Community: Castle  
Town: Swansea  
Locality: Greenhill  
Easting: 265568  
Northing: 194428  
Location: Tall church building overlooking valley with St John’s Church, Hafod, opposite, long flank to street.  

History: 1886-8. Designed by Pugin and Pugin, architects of London (cost £10,000).  

Exterior: Plan form of apsidal chancel flanked by side chapels, 7-bay aisled nave with W chapel and baptistry, NW polygonal tower with spire, twin W porches. Decorated style. Coursed bull-nosed masonry. Bath stone dressings, red Dumfries stone to nave piers and responds. Modern pantile roof. W front with finial to gable parapet, small arched opening over 4-light Geometric traceried window, flanking buttresses, lancets to NW turret with openwork timber-bellcote and spirelet; twin pointed doorways with traceried tympana to W porches, figure of St Joseph in tabernacle. Buttressed clerestory with 3-light traceried windows and to outer gable of SW baptistry; triple lancets to buttressed aisles; openwork finials to angles of E nave gable. E end with lower traceried clerestory and 3 light E window under corbelled gable with finial. Wheel window and headstops to overlapping chapel at SE side. Enclosed churchyard with tall Celtic Cross War Memorial (1919) at W end. Presbytery joined to E end.  


Reference Number: 11572
Grade: II  
Date of Designation: 30/03/1987  
Date of Amendment: 30/03/1987  
Name of Property: Presbytery at St Joseph’s R.C. Church  
Unitary Authority: Swansea  
Community: Castle  
Easting: 265577  
Northing: 194403  
Location: Attached by cloister/corridor to E of St Joseph’s Church.  

History: 1886-8. Designed by Pugin and Pugin, architects of London, as part of original scheme.  

Exterior: 2 storey asymmetrical building, forward to right. Rubble facings, Bath stone dressings, quoins, hipped slate roof with end stacks. 2 and 3 light mullioned windows, arched head to ground floor left. 2 storey porch in angle. Attached range with linking corridor runs left to join church, timber work bargeboards, second doorway etc. Walled forecourt.  

Reason for designation: Group value.

Heritage Details

Architect: Pugin & Pugin

Original Date: 1888

Conservation Area: No

Listed Grade: Grade II