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History of the diocese

The area known as the Welsh Province, comprising Wales and Herefordshire has a long history of Christianity. The martyrdom of SS Alban, Julius and Aaron is the first landmark in our Christian history. It is probable that they were put to death in the persecution of Valeriam 257-9. It is believed Alban was martyred at where is now the City of St. Albans and it is believed that Julius and Aaron were citizens of Caerleon and were probably martyred there. We know that at the Council of Arles three British Bishops were present.

During these years Christianity made great strides and spread throughout the whole land until the final withdrawal of the Roman Legions in 406. While Eastern Britain eventually became England through the Anglo Saxon invasion, Wales remained steadfastly Christian, which produced many great Christian Leaders, including SS Illtyd, Dyfrig, David and Teilo.

In 597 St. Augustine was sent by the Pope to begin the conversion of the pagan English. He had two meetings with the British Bishops and Abbots. St. Augustine wanted the Welsh Church to amend a number of its local traditions, particuarly to keep Easter according to the Roman date. Without doubt, St. Augustine handled this badly. The result was an exccess of ill-feeling between the English and Welsh Churches which Augustine's successor, St. Lawrence, caused in Ireland and Scotland as well. The dispute lasted until 768 when a young Welsh Bishop called Elfodd persuaded his fellow countrymen to come into line with the Roman Easter date.

In the words of the great Welsh historian, Sir John Edward Lloyd, 'loyalty of the Welsh to the See of Peter was not in question and Rome found the commmands as readily obeyed in Wales as in all other parts of the West'.

The capture and re-organisation of the Welsh ecclesiastical system by the Norman conquerors saw the confirmation of four Welsh dioceses, St. David's, Bangor, Llandaff and St. Asaph with the appointment of bishops in line with the wishes of the Norman overlords. They became accepted, often with some reluctance, by the people of Wales. Extensive foundation of monasteries, in particular by the Cistercians, and later the influence of the Franciscan, Dominican and other friars, helped the process of pacification and acceptance until the Reformation.

Under Henry VIII, Wales became part of the realm of England and the four dioceses part of his autonomous "Church of England" of which he proclaimed himself the "supreme head". All the Welsh religious houses were suppressed in 1536 with deep social implications for the people and except for a brief period under Mary the members of the Catholic Church in Wales and England then entered a two hundred year period of deprivation and persecution.

Despite early resistance to the changes, the Old Faith barely survived in many parts of Wales. Large numbers of the Catholic gentry faced penury and imprisonment for being recusants - refusing to attend the new services in the parish church. Missionary priests educated abroad were hunted down when they returned and tried to minister to pockets of Catholics in secret houses. Being hung, drawn and quartered was the penalty they faced for being "massing" priests. These policies gradually prevailed and the supply of priests diminished drastically - except in some large estates owned by heroic and influential Catholics, particularly in Monmouthshire. Families like the Vaughans, the Gunters and the Herberts hid and maintained chaplains so that their own families and their workers could attend the celebration of the Mass.

Gradually the penal laws against Catholics were eased and in 1829 this culminated in Catholic Emancipation when a great many - but by no means all- of the restrictions on Catholics were swept away.

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.

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

Boundaries were changed in 1895, when the diocese of Newport was redefined as 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.

In 1916 the Cardiff Province was established, comprising the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cardiff with the diocese of Menevia as a suffragan see, and the following served as archbishops:

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