From Norman conquest to the turbulent times of the Reformation, from the Civil War to the growth of Non-conformity and the Industrial Revolution, the Parish of St Mary the Virgin had seen it all! Now it was time for another important stage which was was to change the direction of the 'Mother Church of Cardiff' once again, a transformation which is still experienced today, over 160 years later.
Griffith Arthur Jones, a Welsh speaking son of a priest who, during a time at Jesus College, Oxford was greatly influenced by the Tractarian movement of the Church of England was ordained 1851 at age of 24 years. He served the first formative years of his ordained life in the Diocese of Bangor. But this is only half the story.
Before his appointment to the living of St Mary’s, he was settled into the country parish of Llanegryn, Merioneth which was his pasture for fifteen years. In 1843, the population of St Marys was in excess of 20,000 and the Third Marquess of Bute who himself had been influenced by the Tractarian movement and had converted to Roman Catholicsim, had the ideal man in sight for appointment to St Mary’s. He was 45 years of age at the time, and was to remain at St Mary’s until his retirement 31 years later.
The undoubted conviction of Fr Jones was that the catholic revival within the Church of England was right. The changes he made were gradual but profound, implemented along with a staff of assistant curates, and sisters of the Community of the Society of St Margaret.
Educational work had already begun to be implemented under his predecessor Canon Leigh with the establishment of St Marys National Schools. By 1891, Church Day Schools for boys, girls and infants known as Bute Terrace and Bute Town Schools, and mixed schools in Bute Lane and Temperance Town were established, as well as Sunday Schools and Bible classes.
Fr Jones ensured that the Eucharist was at the heart of Parish life, with three celebrations on a Sunday and each day throughout the week, and he placed great emphasis on teaching the catholic heritage of the Christian faith, and on catholic ceremonial.
Although changes were gradual, they were met with heated opposition from those who had been nurtured by the evangelical tradition of previous incumbents, and many changes were only implemented after he had retired, carried along by the momentum and foundation he had created.
St Paul’s Free Church of England – a church of a sect which broke away from Anglicanism in the nineteenth century and held determined Protestant ideas – were particularly objectionable. Under their influence, worshippers of St Mary’s who disagreed with their Vicar, bought a site for £2000 near the Pier Head. A temporary iron church was opened in 1878. In 1894 the foundation stone of a permanent building was laid by the Bishop of Llandaff and the completed church of St Stephen was consecrated in 1912.
Despite, the objections, Fr Jones’ commitment and resilience, his compassion and care and determination and catholic faith meant that, by the time of his retirement in 1903, he had achieved his purpose. When he died in 1906 Father Arthur, as he had become known across the city, was buried from St Mary’s amid scenes of universal grief and mourning
Fr Griffith Arthur Jones
The former St Stephen's Church, consecrated in 1912, the spiritual home for those who objected to the changes implemented by Fr Jones.
It was deconsecrated in 1992