First Welsh language service at Westminster Cathedral

St John Roberts painted by Jeffrey L. Thomas

St John Roberts painted by Jeffrey L. Thomas

As part of the events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Roberts, a multi-faith service will be held at Westminster Cathedral on 17 July, attended by the Heads of all Churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams will address the congregation in both English and Welsh. This will be the first time the Welsh language will have been used in an official capacity within the walls of Westminster Cathedral.

“Many people in Britain may well be unfamiliar with St John Roberts”, says Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, “I hope that this celebration will help us all to appreciate and be inspired by the heroic faith of this great man”.

All the Archbishops and Bishops of Wales, both Catholic and Anglican, have already confirmed their attendance and it is expected that the leaders of other religious denominations will be present too alongside representatives from all the Welsh chapels in London. During the ceremony Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly of Wales, will present an account of St John Roberts’s life and, after the service,  the Archbishop Peter Smith will give a reception to welcome the Welsh to London. 

“This is going to be a remarkable occasion for everyone involved, regardless of their faith or denomination” said Guto Harri, Press and Publicity Officer for the Mayor of London.

“Speaking professionally of course this will be a major event for the City of London but, speaking as a Welshman, I just know that this service will have a special resonance and it will be an honour for me to attend”.

During the service the legendary Welsh folk singer and activist Dafydd Iwan will perform his famous song ‘Oscar Romero’ which recounts the life and achievements of the inspirational Archbishop from El Salvador who was tragically killed in 1980. In addition, thirteen year old Mali Fflur ( who won first prize in the solo Cerdd Dant competition at the National Eisteddfod in 2009 ) will present an arrangement of a new poem in St John’s honour by the poet Dafydd Pritchard whilst the renowned tenor from Neath Stuart Kale will join forces with the Westminster Cathedral Choir to sing “Beatus Juan de Mervinia” ( in both Latin and Welsh ). This piece, by the Welsh composer Brian Hughes- who will be attending the event- was especially-commissioned for the service. There will also be a performance by the London Welsh Chorale.

“I was thrilled to have been invited to compose this work”, says Brian Hughes. “To have one’s music performed in Westminster Cathedral is such an honour but of course it is even more of an honour to be celebrating the memory of St John Roberts”.

BBC Newsreader and journalist Huw Edwards will also be taking part in the service.

“Westminster Cathedral is a truly spectacular venue”, says Huw Edwards, “and the sound of the music reverberating around those ancient walls is going to be awe-inspiring! St John Roberts is an inspiring figure to so many people and it is fitting that we should be honouring his achievements in such a hallowed space”.

This important event is expected to be one of the major events of the ecclesiastical calendar of 2010. The Archdruid of Wales James Jones will be present together with his wife- the novelist Manon Rhys and amongst the other distinguished attendees will be the Head of Cafod in Wales Richard Laydon, the Head of Christian Aid Jeff Williams, Aled Edwards the President of Cytun and Elfyn Llwyd MP whose constituency includes the village of Trawsfynydd where St John Roberts was born. In addition, Pascal Pechard and fourteen other representatives from Douai in France will make the pilgrimage to commemorate the fact that St John Roberts founded the famous monastery of St Gregory in the French town.

On the following day, Sunday 18 July, a special Mass in three languages- English, Welsh and Latin- will be held in the Chapel of St John’s College, Oxford ( St John’s alma mater) at 11.00 a.m. It is expected that this intimate service will attract around 200 people and that the proceedings will include a performance of a Latin plainsong which St John Roberts would have been familiar with in his lifetime.

St John Roberts was born at Rhiw Goch farm in Trawsfynydd. He studied Law at Oxford and on the completion of his studies he travelled to France where he converted to Catholicism. He moved to Valladolid in Spain where he trained as a Priest, and returned to London to care for the poor but was exiled many times by the anti-catholic authorities before eventually being sentenced to death in Tyburn on December 10th, 1610. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

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