Eglwys Y Groes (Holy Cross), Llangollen
Mass Times: (please check Notices page for changes)
Vigil Mass 6:00pm on Saturday
Holydays On the eve of the Holyday at 7:00pm
Weekdays Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:00am
NO SUNDAY MASS (except on Remembrance Sunday at 11:30am)
St Richard Gwyn Communities of
Chirk, Llangollen and Ruabon
The history of this church
The name 'Holy Cross' is rooted in some of the earliest evidence of Christianity here in Llangollen. Eliseg's Pillar was erected in the 9'h century by Cyngen, King of Powys, to commemorate his great grandfather, Eliseg. The valley in which it stood became known as the Valley of the Cross, and when the Cistercians arrived to found an abbey 400 years later, that was the name they chose - Valle Crucis.
Some 700 years after that, the early 20'" century found a small number of Roman Catholics resident in Llangollen. However, the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, and the evacuation of significant numbers of Liverpudlians to rural North Wales, saw a dramatic increase in the Catholic population. As a result, Llangollen, jointly with Chirk, was established as a Parish, and Father Patrick Shannon was appointed Priest.
Father Shannon initially held Masses in a room at Grapes Inn, but as his congregation grew, he moved first to the Armoury and then to the Cinema. Finally, in 1947, with wartime restrictions easing, he was able to buy a 21/2 acre site on the lower slopes of the castle hill at a cost of 500. Within a year, he had constructed a wooden chapel for a further £350. In honour of Llangollen's Catholic history, it was named the Chapel of the Holy Cross. To mark its opening, a large cross was carried in procession from Eliseg's Pillar and erected on the new site.
A Permanent Home
Although Father Shannon had made considerable progress in a short time and in difficult circumstances, he knew that the wooden chapel was only temporary. He continued to look for another building plot, or a building suitable for conversion. Unfortunately, he had little success. in 1955 he wrote, "I am afraid the hope of obtaining a chapel for conversion in Llangollen has dwindled ... the only hope now is to build a permanent church on our site."
Sadly, Father Shannon did not live to see his Parish achieve a permanent home - he died in 1956, aged just 48. His successor, however, Father Cyril Schwarz was quite happy to take up the challenge, and in 1957 he bought an old ironmonger's shop, with stores to the rear and an adjoining house on Oak Street.
The work began in February 1958, and was all carried out by volunteers, working in their spare time. Both the architect, Mr F C Roberts, and the director of works, Mr E Marshall of Marshall Brothers, Liverpool, donated their time and skills for free. The plan was to remove the upper stairs and back wall of the shop and carry the building through in to the stores to form the body and sanctuary of the church. The house would become the presbytery, and the remainder of the stores would form the sacristy and parish rooms, providing the social space so essential for a happy parish.
An average of 25 men worked on the building in any week, and it was estimated that over 100 individuals contributed to the project in total. They laid 32 tons of concrete and 9,000 bricks. The altar table, weighing one ton, was cut from Cefn stone and put in place by men of the Parish. Catholics worked alongside non-Catholics; locals alongside non-locals. Such were the persuasive powers of Father Schwarz (himself working as foreman), that a fellow priest was heard to comment that there was "hardly an able-bodied Catholic from Llangollen to Liverpool who was not involved in the building". A sign outside the building read:
Plans found in the Church records suggest that there was some debate over the external appearance of the Church. Given the building's location in the middle of a terrace of very traditional shops (including the local Co-op, complete with its wrought iron canopy), this is understandable.
Eventually, a very modest frontage was decided upon. The only external clues to the Church's identity were a simple crucifix and a series of symbols representing the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church.
From left to right, these are; Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. Like the Stations of the Cross inside the Church, these items were of very simple, yet modern design, and have stood the test of time well.
The Grand Opening
Finally, after more than 3 years, the new church was ready. On 27 August 1961, Bishop Petit of Menevia celebrated Pontifical High Mass at the old castle hill site, before leading a procession through the town to bless and open the new Church of the Holy Cross.
As The Universe noted, "Traffic came to a standstill ... people stopped and stared ... Bishop Petit of Menevia in gold mitre, crozier and green silk slippers was walking across the famous bridge ... accompanied by a blaze of colour of Papal Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and St Gregory in their resplendent uniforms followed by clergy and religious and thousands of his flock."
Changes to the Church have been few and far between. Following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), it was decided that the Priest should face the congregation during the Eucharist. This meant that he would need to stand behind the altar, and in order to accommodate this, the Holy Cross volunteers swung into action once more. Rather than move the altar, they extended the sanctuary back some three feet - knocking down and rebuilding the rear wall.
The late 1990s saw some much needed refurbishment work undertaken. While this involved some big improvements to the parish rooms, the only significant change in the Church was the installation of stained glass in the tall window to the right of the sanctuary.
O holy Cross, O holy Cross,
You bear for us alone.
You gave us hope and strength to build,
This gift, your church, our home
Chorus from 'Jubilee', a hymn written to mark the 50th anniversary of Holy Cross in 2011