Llythrid Avenue, Sketty, Swansea, SA2 0JJ
A striking modern church of 1961, recalling Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Chapel in its sweeping rooflines and small punched window openings. The structure is a simple concrete portal frame but the cladding and the internal arrangement clearly influenced by the Liturgical Movement give the building a particular character, which is enhanced by the survival of many of the original furnishings.
As a result of an initiative by a group of Sketty Catholics, a plot of land was acquired and a dual-purpose church-hall built in 1927-8, followed by a presbytery. Initially served by Benedictines from St David’s, Swansea (qv), Sketty became a separate parish in 1936. However, the Second World War and post-war austerity prevented the building of a permanent church. This came in 1961, when the new St Benedict’s was built alongside the existing presbytery and hall, being opened by Archbishop Murphy of Cardiff on 6 December that year. In planning the new building, the architect Thomas Price ARIBA of F.R. Bates, Son & Price was clearly influenced by Le Corbusier’s famous chapel at Ronchamp (1955), and by the insights of the Liturgical Movement, which were to become mainstream after the Second Vatican Council (1962-5). A contemporary account noted:
‘…The trend of the liturgical movement has been to return to essentials. In the early Church, the re-enactment of the Last Supper took place in much the same manner as instituted by Christ. A family meal was partaken by the Christian community, and there prevailed a physical and spiritual sense of unity among the assembled faithful … It is against this background that the new Church of St Benedict can be considered. The altar is the pivotal point in ceremony and the architectural focus of the building. The plan form, though expressing the differences in function between priest and laity, emphasises the unity between nave and altar. The sanctuary walls sweep outwards in a broad arc, embracing the nave, which, increasing in width as it approaches the Sanctuary, stresses the importance of the space reserved for the Sacrifice, and ensures that the altar is visible to all.
The Baptistry is located in the traditional position, close to the entrance to the Church; it is enclosed by a pierced circular wall through which the font is visible, and acts as a constant reminder that one enters the Church through Baptism.
The unusual and attractive ambulatory as one enters the church is beautifully illuminated with windows the full height of the wall giving a most artistic lighting effect. Apart from the Lady Chapel, there is a chapel of St John Vianney, Cure d/Ars, Patron of parish clergy’ (Diocese of Cardiff Yearbook, 1963, p.40).
The church was built in 1961 from designs by Thomas Price ARIBA of F.R. Bates, Son & Price and is modern in its design and – to a lesser extent – its plan form (still being broadly longitudinal, and originally with a separate baptistery). It has a concrete portal frame with rendered side walls and a pitched roof covered in concrete tiles. The gabled west front is in two parts, with the left-hand section a recessed full-height window with rectilinear concrete tracery and the wider right-hand section solid. A flat-roofed semi-circular entrance porch and ambulatory with continuous slit windows encloses the southwest angle of the main building and is topped by an open concrete campanile. Originally a large illuminated cross was attached to the campanile and a wrought iron sculpture representing the Holy Trinity on the main front but these have been removed at some point. The flat-roofed ambulatory is continued eastwards along the south side of the building and contains a side chapel, confessionals and a sacristy. On the north side of the building towards the main road the wall beneath the eaves line is facetted, with small square window openings punched in alternate faces to the full height of the wall. The east end is semi-circular and swept up to meet the ridge, with full-height slit windows on either side.
The approach to the interior is by way of the curving ambulatory with clear-glazed slit windows in the outer wall. The ambulatory originally enclosed a baptistery, but this has now become a small chapel, set below the concrete west gallery of the main church space. This has a tiled floor, sheer plastered walls with the vertical members of the frame clearly shown and an open concrete roof. On the south side are simple flat-topped openings to the confessionals and side chapel. The north wall is facetted like the exterior, with punched small, square, clear-glazed window openings.
The sanctuary is wider than the nave, lit from either side, raised three steps above the nave and defined by the original altar rails of Mona marble. On the east wall is a large painted crucifix with Our Lady and St John. As well as the altar rails, original furnishings or furnishings of note include the modern forward altar, the inset tabernacle behind the altar, the stone ambo, the tapering Mona marble font (now located in the sanctuary), the terracotta Stations of the Cross by David John and, probably, the pendant light fittings. At the west end, patterned floor tiles indicate the original alignment of the timber benches, which also appear to be original. There is some modern stained glass at the east end designed by Kate Schaeverein (which won a Lord Mayor’s Design Award in 2001).
Architect: F. R. Bates, Son & Price
Original Date: 1961
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed