St Michael's Church,
Buckingham Place, Wheat Street, Brecon
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Dedication: St Michael
Photography: John Ball
Exterior: 12 January 2007 and 8 January 2010
Interior 10 February 2011
Exterior: Nikon D50 digital SLR
Interior: Sony Ericsson W595 mobile phone
1. St Michael's Church is early in date for a Roman Catholic church in rural Wales. The great Spanish soprano Adelina Patti of Craig-y-nos Castle in the Swansea Valley was married at St Michael's Church on 25 January 1899 to her third husband, Baron Rolf Cederstrom.
[Source: CPAT website (Clwyd Powys Archae-ological Trust)]
2. When, in 1829, Catholic Emancipation was foremost on the political agenda, a public meeting had been held in the Town Hall in Brecon, and most of the gentry present had petitioned Parliament opposing the move. Despite stern opposition, the bill conferring normal civil liberties on Catholics became law, and they were now able to practise their religion openly. The time had therefore become propitious for the building of a proper church and a noted Catholic architect, Charles Hansom, was engaged for the purpose. The new church, built in the Gothic style at a cost of £1,000, was opened in 1851. During the time that the church was being built, it would appear that the Catholics returned to Kensington [in Brecon] and worshipped in what had formerly been a farmhouse. In March 1851 they had been in occupation of this 'temporary' accommodation for nine months. The new church could seat 150 people, although in 1866 the recorded attendance for Mass was only sixty. This was in sharp contrast to the situation at St Mary's where the attendance on Sundays was 380.
[From Georgian and Victorian Brecon - Portrait of a Welsh County Town, by W S K Thomas, Gomer Press, Llandysul, 1993.]
3. By 1850, the Mass attendance [in Brecon] had risen to 200 and it was obvious that the Chapel House was no longer adequate for the rapidly growing Catholic population of Brecon. The decision was taken to build a church. Part of the property purchased in 1806 from the proceeds of the sale of the Watergate property to the Particular Baptists had been sold and provided part of the capital. There was also a generous donation from a wealthy benefactor, a Mr. Howard of Corby, towards the cost of the proposed new church.
A new priest, Fr Joseph Jones, a convert from Ysceifog in Flintshire, came to Brecon in the spring of 1850 in succession to Fr Havard. Work began on the new church which would be dedicated to St Michael. The Three Cocks chapel house was demolished, the foundation stone laid, and Fr Jones and his housekeeper niece took up temporary residence in Usk Terrace just down the lane from Wheat Street. In the Religious Census of 1851, we learn that Mass was said in the interim period in a converted farm house at Kensington, not far from the Watergate Chapel. The average Mass attendance was given as 191, with 50 attending Sunday afternoon devotions and 25 at catechism class.
A well-known architect was chosen, Charles Hansom, brother of Joseph Hansom of Hansom Cab fame, and the total cost was just over £1000. The new church was of a simple, practical Gothic design with a homely character all of its own and, apart from persistent problems with damp, has served the Catholics of Brecon well. On 6 August 1851, the Feast of Transfiguration, St. Michael's Church was opened. 'The Silurian' of Saturday, 9 August, reported the event:
"The very handsome little church, erected on the site of the old Catholic chapel in Wheat Street, was opened with the usual solemnities on Wednesday last. The design of the exterior is very beautiful, and from some points of view, forms a very ornamental feature in the general ensemble of the town, but, unfortunately, it is deprived of much of its architectural effect by the close proximity of other buildings. The congregation was not very large, though it included several highly respectable families of the Catholic persuasion from neighbouring counties, as well as many Protestants from the town and country."
In October 1851, Fr Peter Lewis was appointed to Brecon as parish priest. He was born at Nant-y-glo in Monmouthshire in 1815 and came from an old recusant family which related to the martyr, St David Lewis. An energetic and zealous priest, he was an ideal appointment.
[Adapted from From Darkness to Light - The Catholics of Breconshire 1536-1851, by Michael R. Lewis, Old Bakehouse Publications, Abertillery, 1992.]
4. The church exterior and interior, and the adjacent church hall, were the subject of a restoration and renovation project completed in January 2010. The project was supervised by the local priest, Father Ross Patterson, STL, BD, Dip.Theol.
Right: Brickwork on east wall (Jan 2007).
Far right: After pointing in Dec 2009.
Below: Nave, chancel arch and sanctuary.