From 1688, despite the danger to the individuals appointed, Rome chose men of piety, integrity, sacrifice and learning to act as ‘Vicars Apostolic’ to areas of Britain. Wales and Herefordshire were part of what was known as the Western District. This was administered by the following monks and friars whose appointments as Vicars Apostolic carried the rank of bishop.
1688-1708 Philip Michael Ellis OSB
1715-1750 Matthew Prichard OFM
1750-1763 Lawrence York OSB
1763-1797 Charles Walmsley OSB
1797-1809 W. G. Sharrock OSB
1809-1829 Peter B. Collingridge OFM
1829-1840 Peter Augustine Baines OSB
In 1840 the Western District was divided in two. Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Wales became the Welsh District, with Bishop Brown, OSB as Vicar Apostolic.
Restoration of the Catholic Church in Wales
Ten years later further changes were made to the Welsh District. In 1850 the diocese of Newport and Menevia was set up as a suffragan see of Westminster diocese, with Bishop Brown in charge. He was followed by Bishop Hedley:
1850-1880 Thomas Joseph Brown OSB
1880-1895 John Cuthbert Hedley OSB
The amazing story of the Catholic Church in Wales in modern times belongs to these two great men. Between them they built up the Church in this land and provided for the needs of a growing Catholic population, most of whom were poverty-stricken immigrants from Ireland, Italy and other parts of the United Kingdom.
In 1895 boundaries were once again changed to reflect the make up of the Catholic Church in these parts. The Diocese of Newport was redefined comprising the counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth and Hereford. Bishop Hedley was reappointed in 1895 and continued until 1916. Francis Mostyn was Vicar Apostolic for the rest of the area until 1898 when it was made the Diocese of Menevia of which he became the Ordinary. The Diocese was ultimately part of the Westminster Province.
A Province for Wales and Herefordshire
On 7th February 1916, Pope Benedict XV issued the decree “Cambria Celtica” erecting the Cardiff Province, comprising the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cardiff with the Diocese of Menevia as a suffragan see. The Episcopal Seat was transferred from Newport to the growing city of Cardiff and the See was to have Archiepiscopal status, the Archbishop being responsible for overseeing the Church in the Province. The Archdiocese of Cardiff would watch over the flock of South Wales and Herefordshire, and the Diocese of Menevia would care for the North.
Uniquely, the Holy Father decreed that the Archdiocese should have two cathedrals with two cathedral chapters. The church of St David in Cardiff was to become St David’s Metropolitan Cathedral, and in recognition of the major role the Benedictines played in the history of the Church in this land, Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire was to be co-cathedral. This remained so until 1920 when Belmont Abbey was raised to the status of an autonomous Abbey with the decree “Praeclara Gesta”.
These boundaries remained until 1987 when Pope St John Paul II divided South Wales in two. The Archdiocese of Cardiff would have responsibility for the South East portion and continue to look after Herefordshire. The South West of Wales was a new Diocese but taking on the old name of Geneva, with the Episcopal Seat being in the city of Swansea. North Wales became the Diocese of Wrexham. These boundaries continue to this day.
On 7th February 2016 Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff was joined by Bishop Tom Burns of Menevia and Bishop Peter Brignall of Wrexham to celebrate the centenary of the Province and the Archdiocese. They joined the community of monks at Belmont Abbey in giving thanks to Almighty God for the past and commending to the future to Him. People from all over the Archdiocese of Cardiff were in attendance for a truly inspiring celebration. The history of our Diocese is long and rich and long may it continue.
The Archbishops of Cardiff
The following have served as Archbishop of Cardiff throughout our history:
1916-1920 James R. Bilsborrow OSB
1920-1939 Francis Mostyn
1940-1961 Michael McGrath
1961-1983 John A. Murphy
1983-2001 John Aloysius Ward OFMCap
2001- 2010 Peter D. Smith
2011- George Stack