Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay, Glamorganshire

(Click photos to enlarge).

When I composed the by-line for this blog - "Ancient and not-so-ancient places of interest that I have visited in the UK" - I freely admit that I kept it deliberately vague, for although I have a bias for neolithic sites, standing stones, dolmens, stone cirles, etc, I also wanted to feature some more modern places (relatively speaking) too. For instance, there are a number of fascinating churches all over the country.

One of my very favourite churches - the white-painted wooden structure of the Norwegian Church in Cardiff - dates to the 19th Century which makes it very modern indeed when compared with the subjects I've featured thus far, but it is a building that I have a great fondness for. The Church is located by the waterside in Cardiff Bay, and is a near neighbour to the Welsh Assembly in an area of Cardiff that has featured in BBC Wales' science fiction show Torchwood as well as several episodes of Doctor Who. Look closely in some of the Torchwood episodes and you may even spot the Norwegian Church.

Today the Norwegian Church functions as an arts centre and has a very nice cafe downstairs - a great place to grab a coffee and a slice of cake. To give a little history, I'll quote from the church's website:
"The Port of Cardiff was one of the first to have a Norwegian Sailor’s Church established to provide religious and social care to thousands of Norwegian sailors that were employed in the Norwegian merchant fleet. The Church was founded by Herman Lunde of Oslo and built in 1868 between the East and West Docks on land that was donated by the Marquis of Bute. It was consecrated in the December of that year. In the years that followed, the Church was extended a number of times when the reading rooms were enlarged. In 1885 the most significant alterations took place when a gallery and a bell tower were added."
Read more at:

The author Roald Dahl, who was born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents, was christened at the Norwegian Church (as were his sisters). Shortly before his death in 1990 he became the president of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust, an organisation that sought to restore the church after it had fallen into dereliction.

Curiously juxtaposed within a few metres of the Norwegian Church is a memorial statue to Captain Scott. Scott and his party, of course, were beaten to the South Pole in January 1912 by a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen. It was on their return journey from this expedition that Scott and his comrades perished.

UPDATE: With referernce to the Captain Scott memorial , my father adds that: "The reason for its location is, of course, that is where they set out from for the Antarctic. The curious coincidence is that they were beaten to the South Pole by a Norwegian. There is another memorial to Capt Scott in Cardiff – the 'lighthouse' in Roath Park lake on top of which sits a model of the Terra Nova."

(Pictures of the Captain Scott 'Lighthouse' memorial in Roath Park Lake can be seen here).

Date visited: 19 June 2008

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Pilgrims' Cross, Nevern, Pembrokeshire

(Click photos to enlarge).

On the outskirts of the village and just a short walk uphill from St Brynach's Church is Nevern Castle, the site of a pre-Norman native Welsh stronghold. The path to the top is known as the Pilgrims' route, and passes a cross - also believed to be at least "pre-Norman" (if not dating from a whole lot earlier) - carved into the rock face of the hillside.

One theory has it that the cross is not carved into the rockface, as such, but into the stone of a bricked-up entrance to a cave. What is inside the cave? Well, that's a matter of some speculation...

In the next photo I asked my father to point out the cross, mainly to give an idea of scale.

Here is a close-up of the cross carving:

And closer still (below) we see that visitors have been pressing coins into the spaces in the rock face. This practice is quite worrying as it could damage the carving. But if you're short of a few pence with which to buy a packet of nuts in the local pub, then you know where to come.

Date visited: 13 February 2009

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Church of St Brynach, Nevern, Pembrokeshire

(Click photos to enlarge).

The small village of Nevern lies just a few miles east of Newport in Pembrokeshire, and is well worth a visit for a number of reasons. Its church has some very interesting features, whilst a short walk away from the church is the Pilgrims' Cross (which I shall feature in a separate post).

The church of St Brynach is said to date back to the 6th Century. That is not to say that all of the building we see today is from that era. The tower in the first photo is a Norman addition.

To the east of the porch stands the Vitalianus Stone. Believed to date back to the 5th Century the stone features both Ogham and Latin inscriptions (VITALIANI EMERETO in Latin, and VITALIANI in Ogham).

A short distance further to the east stands a magnificient "Celtic" cross known simply as the Great Cross. This is thought to date to the 10th or 11th Centuries.

Standing at 13 feet in height the Great Cross is believed to be one of the most perfect specimens of its kind.

Inside the church in the nave there are a pair of stones embedded into the window sills.

The first is known as the Maglocunus Stone and again we see more Ogham and (fainter at the top) Latin inscriptions. The translation reads "(THE MONUMENT) OF MAGLOCUNUS (MAELGWN) SON OF CLUTORIUS".

In the adjacent window sill there is embedded the Cross Stone. This shows a form of "Celtic" cross made of intertwining cords, and resembling a prone human figure.

Outside again and on the north wall of the church on the sill of the second chancel window, we find the so-called "Imperfect Incised Stone". You can just make out a few letters from a vertical Latin inscription that has been turned through 90 degrees and is most likely an example of a stone being re-cut and re-used.

Finally, in the avenue of yew trees leading from the gate to the porch, there is one particular yew tree that has a legend all of its own. Known as the Bleeding Yew, this tree has been "bleeding" its red sticky sap from a lower limb for as long as everyone can remember. The legend apparently is that the tree will bleed "until a Welshman is once again Lord of the castle on the hill". As a small child I remember visiting this tree and the story I heard at the time was that the blood was supposed to be (or represent) the blood of Christ. I cannot back up this alternate "legend" as it was only hearsay or perhaps being only six or seven years old at the time I got the wrong end of the stick.

However, I was somewhat alarmed to discover on this visit that the branch in question has been removed, but as can clearly be seen in my photo above there are two openings in the stump of the missing branch through which the sap has been flowing.

Date visited: 13 February 2009