The Parish of St Helen’s serves Caerphilly town itself together with the neighbouring towns and villages of Llanbradach, Abertridw, Senghenydd, Bedwas, Trethomas and Machen. The Parish falls within the catchment area of St Helen’s Catholic Primary School and Cardinal New High School, Pontypridd and serves Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach. The present parish of Caerphilly includes the two previous church communities of All Souls, Senghenydd, and St Vincent, Trethomas.
No regular masses were held in Caerphilly until 1913. Occasionally the Fathers of Charity (Rosminians) from St Peter’s in Cardiff celebrated mass at the Market Hall but it was not until 1913 that the first resident priest, the Rev. Alfred Cuthbert Knight was appointed. He was a Rosminian, who had been responsible for the building of a number of churches in the area. He resided at Pwllypant House, where two rooms with a sliding partition were used as a chapel.
A Catholic chapel initially called All Saints was established in Senghenydd, four miles north of Caerphilly. The chapel was served from Caerphilly. On 14 October 1913 there was a huge explosion at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd and 440 men were killed, including about 40 from the Catholic community. The telegram sent to Fr Knight requesting his immediate attendance at the Universal Colliery is shown below.
Soon afterwards the Catholic chapel in Senghenydd was re-dedicated as All Souls to commemorate the lives lost in the explosion. Senghenydd became its own independent parish in 1929. All Souls church is now closed and has been converted into flats, called Sanctuary Court.
Fr Knight was followed by a number of Breton Benedictines under the leadership of the Rev. Paul Saillaur. They were recalled to France in 1921, at which point the Rev. Norbert James was appointed parish priest. He took on the lease of the temporary school in Trethomas, a corrugated iron building in Navigation Street, to serve as a Catholic church dedicated to St Vincent.
Fr Alfred Winsborough succeeded Fr James in November 1930 and set about establishing a permanent church in the centre of Caerphilly. He closed Pwllypant House, took up residence in a local hotel and rented Virginia Hall, a dance hall, for use as a temporary mass centre. He was able to purchase a site opposite Caerphilly Castle on Nantgarw Road, which was eventually exchanged with the Marquess of Bute for a three-acre site intended to be part of what is now Morgan Jones Park.
In this way our parish church came to occupy its current site opposite the castle. Archbishop Mostyn of Cardiff opened the original 400 seat church, dedicated to St Helen, on 28 April 1934 (the park opened in the same year).
The Present Church was built in the 1960’s in an original and modern style, the work of the Architect, Tom Price MC, who worked over many years with Archbishop Murphy. Price designed many new churches in the Diocese of Cardiff, combining Archbishop Murphy’s love for the open and light style of Church architecture he encountered in Portugal with his own modern training and the influences of such modern masters as Le Coubusier. Saint Teilo’s in Whitchurch is another example of the same style, while in Christ the King in Llanishen he experimented with a different, circular plan.
Saint Helen’s is one of Price’s largest and most successful designs. But whilst there is a very good feeling of the people gathered around the sanctuary, the former Parish Priest, Canon John Griffiths, felt at the time that there was a need to create a “greater feeling of reverence and an environment that proclaims the glory of God”. The decision to re-order the church coincided with the approach of the new millennium. The first plans were made in 1999. These were conceived in response to the existing structure, particularly the strong side lighting of the sanctuary coupled with the lack of any darkened area. It took three years for these ideas to be developed and translated into the reality you see today.
Re-Ordering at our Parish Church
We would like to say a special thanks to Caroline Mackenzie and Nigel Dees. Caroline Mackenzie was the artist to who created these wonderful Oak-wood sculptures. She graduated in 1974 from St. Martin’s School of Art, London. She then travelled to India in 1976 where she accompanied Jyoti Sahi. (Well Known Indian Christian Artist). She returned to Wales in 1988. Many of her fine pieces of artwork can be seen in St. Anne’s RC Church, Newport, St Clare’s Ely Cardiff and also work artistic piece’s placed in India. From 2000 – 2002 Caroline was the Honorary visiting artist at Prasad a, De Mont Fort University, Leicester. This residency gave Caroline the necessary workshop and studio facilities in order to work in the commission for St. Helen’s. Nigel Dees supported the project in every way that he was able to, in spite of his failing health.
Description of each Oak-wood Sculpture.
In this Interpretation, Jesus has been born in the Stable and Joseph, like many modern fathers is reclining. Behind there is a fierce bull. However he has become peaceful. In fact he is looking on in adoration at the divine child. St Helen is believed to have been the mother of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. He was a man who used his immense worldly power to establish the church and to spread the Gospel. Like this strong but potential destructive bull, he was transformed by his devotion to Christ.
Three Women and an Angel inside the empty Tomb
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Salome brought spices with which to go and anoint him. And very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen…” (Mk 16:1, 2). The three women are depicted from the left to the middle of the composition. The rolled up grave clothes are to the right of the tree. The angel is on the right announcing=g the resurrection through a joyous dance.
The postures of the three women represent three different attitudes towards this news. The one on the extreme left simply cannot believe it. The middle one is just walking up to the possibility. Mary Magdalene is the figure kneeling at the centre. She believes it. Like the stable, the tomb has been depicted in many different ways in Christian art. Here it can also be seen as a heart or a womb. The resurrection is a real historical fact witnessed by the women. It is also a mystical experience that can occur in the heart of each person today. The blossoming tree is related to the idea of St Helen’s discovery of the True Cross. Here the tree is like the blossoming tree of the cross.
At the most immediate level this sculpture represents the crucifixion. This is both a historical event but also, like with the resurrection, an experience that happens today. The image actually consists of six men and six women held in a circle of the cross. It is influenced by a real story about a hospice in France. A group of young people who had lost their loved ones through AIDS and cancer wanted to create a ritual. They had placed a candle in the centre. Then each person lit a nightlight in turn and spoke about his or her friend who had died. The experience of real grief expressed in a community and in relation to a sacred centre could be viewed as a way of discovering “The True Cross.”
The Good Samaritan
This sculpture is based on the story of The Good Samaritan (Lk.10:29-37). Jesus tells this parable in response to the question “Who is my Neighbour?” As with all the parables there are many layers of interpretation. Essentially the two highly respected members of the society, the priest and the Levite take no notice of the person who has been beaten up, whilst the Samaritan who has thought to be racially, spiritually and culturally inferior, is the one who actually does something about the situation. Here the Good Samaritan is depicted as an Indian Woman. The victim is a young western woman. This “Samaritan” represents the most unlikely person from a modern western perspective as someone who could be of help.
If anyone has anymore history of our Parish, then please use the Contact Us page to let us know.