The first parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin with its eight chapels of the Lordship of Cardiff was founded just before 1100 by Robert Fitzhamon, the first Lord of Glamorgan, on the banks of the river Taff (which gave the city its name - i.e. Caer-Dâf).
It was re-built in 1175. It gives its name to St. Mary Street one of the town's central thoroughfares. At this time it served as a Parish Church to a growing town along with a chapel of ease, St John the Baptist church, half a mile away at the other end of St Mary Street, near Cardiff Castle. Find out more about 1066 and all that!
In 1180, the parish was given to the pastoral care of the Benedictine monks of the newly founded Tewksbury Abbey in Gloucestershire's Upper Severn valley. St. Mary's was ranked as a Priory Church, with a small monastic community whose priest-in-charge was Prior. From 1190 a chaplain was appointed to serve St John's as the town expanded around the Castle
The monks were withdrawn c 1221, leaving one only as Prior. Distinct parishes of St Mary's and St John's were created in 1243.
St Mary's ceased to be a priory church, in 1254, when the Benedictines appointed a Vicar who was not a monk. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the patronage passed to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral.
From the 16th century, the livings of St Mary's and St John's were jointly held by the same priest, though the parishes were not actually merged until 1808. St Mary's declined but St John's, much closer to the centre of commercial activity, thrived
In 1607, St Mary's was seriously damaged by floods. By 1678 it was roofless and abandoned, and the parish had no church building until 1843
As Cardiff's port began to expand as an outlet for coal exports, the 2nd Marquis of Bute, an industrialist and zealous evangelical churchman, bought the patronage rights. He appointed the Revd. Leigh Morgan as priest-in-charge in 1842. The absentee Vicar of the parishes of St Mary and St John, the Revd. John Webb, issued an appeal for funds to build a new church for the dockland area. The Marquis donated £1000 and a new site for a church in Bute Street.
The new Church of St Mary was completed, apart from its towers, and opened for worship on 16th December 1843. The church was then consecrated by the Bishop of Llandaff on the 8th November 1845. St Mary's Parish was again separated from St John's in 1846.
A notable Vicar of St Mary's was the Revd. Griffith Arthur Jones, appointed in 1872. He remained in office for 31 years, and effected a transformation in parish life. He was responsible for the introduction of Catholic doctrine and ritual to St Mary's, although not without opposition from both parishioners, visitors to the church, and even, at times, from the Bishop. Gradual changes in worship and in church furnishings were introduced over the years.
At an early stage he instituted a daily Mass, the use of altar lights and eucharistic vestments. In 1879, after considerable opposition, the three-decker pulpit in front of the altar was removed, and by 1883 the present choir stalls, sanctuary and high altar were in place.
The interior was further modified in the 1970's by the addition of a nave altar, in keeping with contemporary liturgical reforms.
St Mary's owes its strong loyalty to the Catholic tradition of worship and teaching to the pioneering ministry of Fr. Jones, and his 20th and 21st century successors as Vicars of St Mary's. Although Cardiff and Butetown have experienced many changes and challenges, St Mary's remains, ministering to the local community, and shining as a beacon of catholic life and worship
When Severn's Sweeping Flood
When Severn's sweeping flood had overthrown
St. Mary's Church, the preacher then would cry:--
"Thus, Christian people, God his might hath shown
That ye to him your love may testify;
Haste, and rebuild the pile." But not a stone
Resumed its place. Age after age went by,
And Heaven still lacked its due, though piety
In secret did, we trust, her loss bemoan.
But now her Spirit hath put forth its claim
In Power, and Poesy would lend her voice;
Let the new Church be worthy of its aim,
That in its beauty Cardiff may rejoice!
Oh! in the past if cause there was for shame,
Let not our times halt in their better choice.
Rydal Mount, January 23, 1842