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.
Christianity made great strides and spread throughout the whole land until the final withdrawal of the Roman Legions in 406. Wales produced many great Christian Leaders including SS Iltyd, Dyfrig, David and Teilo.
During the Norman years the Welsh ecclesiastical system was divided into four Welsh dioceses, St. David’s, Bangor, Llandaff and St.Asaph with the appointment of bishops by the Normans which was only accepted reluctantly by the people of Wales. Later with the extensive influence of various monasteries, the Cistercians, Franciscan, Dominican and other friars helped the process of pacification and acceptance until the Reformation.
Under Henry VIII, Wales became part of the ‘Church of England’ of which he proclaimed himself to be the ‘Supreme head’. All the Welsh religious houses were suppressed with deep social implications for the people. The next two hundred years were a period of great deprivation and persecution for the Catholic faith in Wales and England. The missionary priests were hunted down and were either hung, drawn and quartered as penalty for spreading the Catholic church’s message. These policies caused the number of priests to diminish drastically.
Gradually the penal laws against Catholics were eased and in 1829 resulted in Catholic Emancipation and restrictions on Catholics were removed. From 1688 despite the danger to the individuals, Rome always chose men of piety, integrity, sacrifice and learning to act as vicars apostolic (equivalent of bishop) to the areas of Britain. This was administered by the following monks and friars as Vicar apostolics:
1688 – 1708 Phillip Michael Ellis OSB
1750 – 1750 Matthew Pritchard 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. Later further changes were made to the Welsh district and the diocese of Newport and Menevia was set up as a suffragan see of Westminster diocese.
1850 – 1880 Thomas Joseph Brown OSB
1880 – 1895 John Cuthbert Hedley OSB
The boundaries were changed in 1895 when the diocese of Newport was redefined as comprising Glamorgan, Monmouth and Hereford. In 1916 the Cardiff Province was established, comprising the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Cardiff with 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 OFM Cap.
2001 – 2010 Peter D. Smith
2011 – George Stack