The Welsh Province has a long history of Christianity. Its origins undoubtedly date back to Roman times. The new faith arrived and was spread by the troops occupying fortresses and towns and by traders from Gaul.
While eastern Britain became England through Anglo Saxon invasions, Wales remained proudly independent and a strong spirituality grew with many traditional saints leading lives of piety and influence in the 5th and 6th centuries.
Illtyd, Dyfrig, Moccas, David and Teilo and many others, who are remembered in church and place names to this day, lived in monastic settlements. So great were their reputations and missionary endeavours that no fewer than four of the seven founding saints honoured in Brittany were born and educated in South Wales.
When the Saxons were converted by St. Augustine, he regarded the independent nature of the Welsh Church with its long established language, liturgies, discipline, practices and particularly the date on which Easter was celebrated, as a cause of difficulty. Although he regarded some of these disciplinary peculiarities, as being against the unity of the Church, he did not doubt its doctrinal orthodoxy. For another 300 years these differences went unresolved until after the Norman invasion.
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. They carried the rank of bishop. From the time of the establishment of the four vicars Apostolic in 1688, the area covered by Menevia was part of the Western District. In 1840 the Western District was divided in two. Herefordshire, Monmouthshire and Wales became the Welsh District, with Bishop Brown, 0SB 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. Boundaries were changed in 1895, when the diocese of Newport was redefined as comprising the counties of Glamorgan, Monmouth and Hereford. Bishop Hedley was re-appointed 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. Since 1897, Menevia diocese had included most of Wales, and this presented a variety of difficulties. In particular, travel between the north and south Wales was a problem. There were differences too, between the two areas in terms of geography, history and public administration that made the development of a unified diocese difficult. These and other pastoral considerations led Archbishop Ward of Cardiff and Bishop James Hannigan of Menevia to petition Rome for a third diocese. When the Province was restructured in 1987, Bishop Hannigan was translated to the new diocese of Wrexham and Daniel Mullins became bishop for the restructured Menevia diocese.