One hundred years' ago today, with the publication of the Apostolic Letter "Cambria Celtica", Pope Benedict XV created the Ecclesiastical Province of Cardiff, transferring the Episcopal Seat of Newport to the City of Cardiff, capital of Wales, and making the Diocese of Menevia suffragan to the Archiepiscopal See of Cardiff. The beautiful church of St David was to be the new cathedral of the Archdiocese, while the Episcopal Cathedral at Belmont was to remain co-cathedral with a Monastic Chapter and a Cathedral Prior. Unique in the Church, the Archbishop of Cardiff would have two chapters, one Secular and the other Regular and two Cathedral Churches. This extraordinary arrangement, fraught with difficulties and misunderstandings, was only to last four years, for in 1920, with the Papal Bull "Praeclara Gesta", Belmont was raised to the status of an autonomous Abbey within the English Benedictine Congregation, thus ending its 60 or so years of service as a cathedral. The first Archbishop was to be James Romanus Bilsborrow, Bishop of Port Louis, Mauritius, and a monk of Douai, who would only stay four years at the helm of the new Archdiocese, ill health forcing him to resign.
You might well ask how a flourishing archdiocese came to be created in a part of the British Isles so devoid of Catholics only 75 years earlier, when Bishop Joseph Thomas Brown, a monk of Downside, was appointed Vicar Apostolic of the Welsh District in 1840. This was the work of but two men, Brown himself, who is buried under the window of the Welsh saints in the North Transept, and Bishop John Cuthbert Hedley, a monk of Ampleforth, whose monument is next to Brown's, but whose bones lie buried at Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff. The amazing story of the Catholic Church in Wales in modern times surely belongs to these two great men, monks and bishops truly worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. Between them they built up the Church in this land and provided for the needs of a growing Catholic population, most of whom were poverty-stricken immigrants from Ireland, Italy and other parts of the United Kingdom. That is why we are here today, to give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the apostolic labours not only of these two monks, but of all Catholic men, women and children, religious and clergy, who worked tirelessly to build up and establish the Archdiocese, which celebrates its 100th birthday today. Archbishop George, our heartfelt congratulations to you, as well as to the clergy, religious and faithful Catholics of the Archdiocese: our prayers and the pledge of our support for the future.
The story of the work of these two Benedictine bishops and the connection between the English Benedictine Congregation, Belmont and the Archdiocese of Cardiff will be told many times in the course of this Jubilee Year, so it might be wise not to say too much about it again today. Most people think of Herefordshire as being that quintessential English county of apple orchards, hop fields, black and white villages and herds of Hereford cattle. It is also a border county that looks out from the Black Mountains towards the Malvern Hills, from the wild crags and valleys of Wales to the rolling countryside of England, and is cut in half by the River Wye. It is famous not only for its 250 or more medieval churches, among them the magnificent Hereford Cathedral, but also for an equal number of Norman castles, many of them reduced to almost nothing today, and a large section of Offa's Dyke. It is a county that from its earliest days was the meeting place of two worlds, the Celtic and the Welsh on the south side of the river and the Mercian, the Saxon, the Norman and the English on the north. Many of you will have come into Herefordshire today by crossing a narrow bridge guarded by traffic lights over the River Monnow. This is a false national boundary, as the ancient Diocese of Hereford extends beyond it into Wales and yet, at the very spot you entered England you were in an ancient Catholic parish, now Anglican, that until 1852 was part of the Diocese of St David's. Go to Newton St Margaret's, a tiny church with a glorious rood screen, and you will find a notice in the vestry on the duties of church wardens written in Welsh, the language commonly spoken here well into 19th Century. Visit any cemetery south of the Wye and, with the exception of English settlers, you will not find a single gravestone that does not bear a
Welsh surname. It is no anomaly that Herefordshire should still be part of the Archdiocese of Cardiff: the historical links run deep, the cultural links still strong.
Let us go back to the beginnings of Christianity and of Church organisation in the three ancient counties that made up the Archdiocese until Swansea, Neath and Port Talbot were snatched away from us to create the new Diocese of Menevia in 1987. Yes, there were Christians here in Roman times and the martyrdom of Saints Julius and Aaron at Caerleon at the beginning of 4th Century bears witness to this. The Venerable Bede, following Gildas, mentions them in his Ecclesiastical History and they are to be found in the Roman Martyrology, However, when dealing with the lives of the great and lesser saints of 6th and 7th Century South Wales, it is far more than the mists of time we have to contend with: there are the fantasies, elaborations and exaggerations of the medieval chroniclers and a certain vying for influence and authority among the various dioceses and their incumbents. Above all, the Norman Conquest brings with it an ethnic cleansing that affected the Church more than any other institution. Even so, it is not impossible to come to interesting conclusions, which to some extent reflect what happened in the 19th Century and the groundwork done by our own saintly heroes, Bishops Brown and Hedley, who in earlier times would most certainly have been canonised as the Apostles of Wales.
Perhaps it is St Dyfrig, also known as Dubricius and Devereux, who should be the Patron Saint of Herefordshire and South Wales. He really is our Father in Faith for he it was who gave the strongest impulse to the vast enterprise of evangelisation of saints such as Teilo, Samson and Illtud. Dyfrig was born just three miles from here at Madley. His two great monasteries were at Moccas, further along the road to Bredwardine and Hay of Wye, and at Hentland, again on the banks of the Wye near Ross. He became Bishop of Ergyng, an area that more or less covered the three counties that became the Archdiocese of Cardiff in 1916. But this was a time when bishoprics were attached to people rather than to places. He used as his base Weston under Penyard, just two miles beyond Ross on the Gloucester road. He is said to have attended the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi in 545, where he resigned his see in favour of St David and retired to Bardsey Island, there to die. Later his body was transferred to Llandaff Cathedral, but you can see here a great saint being used and claimed by rival factions in medieval times in the hope of securing an archbishopric and a Church independent of Canterbury for Wales. No such rivalry between Belmont and Cardiff in 1916: we kept the body of Bishop Brown, Cardiff that of Bishop Hedley. And, of course, both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church secured its independence from England about the same time, the first through the Apostolic Letter "Cambria Celtica," the other by Disestablishment and an act of parliament. However, today the Anglican Diocese of Hereford remains firmly in the Province of Canterbury, having been formed in the year 676 by taking the northern part of the Diocese of Llandaff and joining it up with the western part of the Diocese of Litchfield. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, decided to retain the older Celtic order and keep Herefordshire firmly attached to Wales.
That is the end of our history lesson for today, but the important question remains unmentioned, the elephant in the sanctuary, so to speak. What about the next hundred years and what will they be celebrating in 2116? These are difficult times, stressful and distressful times. Society, the world, the Church even, appear to be falling apart. Wherever you look, horror and division. The world is spinning out of control and God, where is God? We are men and women of faith who worship the living God is spirit and in truth. We trust in his Holy Name and we know that he is with us and that he alone has power to calm the storm, to forgive sin and to save mankind, not for this world only but for eternal life. The lesson of the past, our Christian past, whether in remote Celtic days or more recently just one hundred years' ago, is that like St Dyfrig and his friends and like Bishop Brown and Bishop Hedley, we too must walk in faith, putting our hands into the hands of God and trusting in him.
The times ahead are sure to be difficult, but, in the words of St Paul, "if Christ is for us, who can be against us?" We might be tempted to give up, but, in the words of St Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go; you alone have the words of eternal life." We must take heart and follow the example of the early Church in Jerusalem, a Church under persecution. "They remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers." True Doctrine, Community, the Eucharist and Prayer, lived in a spirit of charity and mercy: these will keep us strong, faithful and united. The Church a hundred years from now depends on what we do today. This is our vocation. This is God's will for us. Long live the Church of Christ! Long live the Archdiocese of Cardiff!
Praised be Jesus Christ! Amen.