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The Roman Catholic Parish of St Joseph’s in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, UK

Address
63 Conway Road
Colwyn Bay
Conwy
LL29 7LG

Mass in Gwydir Uchal Chapel

I suppose once you have visited the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Auschwitz, and even the Tower of London, life never appears the same again. Stand and watch the names engraved in the walls, sometimes with the nails of fingers, and understand the statements that are being made. Realise that you are standing in the same place as the person being tortured. They cannot fast forward to your time, and you certainly would not want to reverse to their time. But pain and trauma is a connecting link…. if you have the sensitivity to comprehend the presence of the statement. Tourists love to explore the sites they visit but not all tourists are discoverers. Being able to comprehend hidden statements is a challenge to our consciousness.

So, this chapel situated just 1.5 miles outside Llanrwst was founded in 1673 and was part of the Wynn Estate, with its Grand Manor House or Castle a short distance away. Its history goes back to the 600’s and at one time the estate embraced 55sq. miles. Royal patronage was important and indeed the ability to adjust to the prevailing political and religious powers was essential for survival. The Wynn family were the most important political entity in North Wales for many generations. They had the ability ‘to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds’. Part of the castle built (1550?) with stones taken from the dissolved Abbey of Maenan, and yet the castle contains a secret priests hole, designed to save visiting priests from arrest and martyrdom. The family resting place for the Wynn family is in the beautiful church in Llanrwst. Religious dissent was at the core of the Wynn family identity.

 

Saying Mass, or just being a priest was a capital offence at this time. St. David Lewis (from Wales) was executed in 1679 and St. Oliver Plunkett in 1681. In spite of the dangers a Jesuit priest helped the Wynn family design the Chapel and the paintings that decorate the roof. The architectural austerity of the building reflects the instructions of Oliver Cromwell, but the paintings suggest a mark of defiance under the protection of a very large coat of arms of King Charles II. Look closer. One can detect ‘Roman Catholic’ iconography concealed in the overall paintings of angels and biblical figures. The figure ‘IHS’ jumps out for those who know its meaning. This was an early Christian symbol denoting the presence of Jesus Christ, and adopted by St. Ignatius as a symbol of the Society of Jesus. It is a symbol associated with the Real Presence, and indeed there are other symbols present, including images in the clear glass windows. The roof paintings might have been inspired by Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel (1512), and one of the causes of the Reformation, but the quality of the paintings are amateurish. But the chapel is a monument to a tradition of successful religious dissent within the Wynn family that lasted generations.

Within the dissenting disposition was a wish, or a prayer that one day a Mass might be said within the walls of this house of prayer. And so, on Saturday 24th September 2022 a group of parishioners from St. Joseph’s, Colwyn Bay, gathered, with their Confirmation Candidates to incorporate the fullness of the prayer tradition associated with this Chapel. The Welsh language was to the fore of the liturgy. The offertory procession included a Welsh Bible, A first class relic of Oliver Plunkett, the symbol IHS in commemoration of the Jesuit involvement in the Chapel, and a ‘Roman Collar’ worn by all Catholic clergy including the Pope – which was invented by a Protestant Minister, the Reverend Donald McLeod from Glasgow. 

It was a memorable occasion.

Father Frank Ryan O.M.I.


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