Historic Welsh celebrations at Westminster Cathedral



As part of events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Roberts, a multi-faith service was held at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, attended by church leaders of all denominations. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams addressed the congregation in both English and Welsh. This was the first time the Welsh language was used in an official capacity within the walls of Westminster Cathedral.

The service began with a colourful Procession of over 30 Officials through Westminster Cathedral who followed the Saint John Roberts banner, which was especially commissioned for this 400th anniversary year of celebrations. The Cathedral was full of visitors from Wales and beyond who were there to witness this unique service and make this such a memorable occasion.

Dr Rowan Williams said: "It was a real joy, when we gathered in Westminster on 17 July to give thanks for the witness of St John Roberts, that we were able to celebrate the grace and holiness of God in all the saints of Wales - the famous and the not so famous - and to share in the language and the music that has given voice to their prayers and witness over the centuries."

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, said: “Many people in Britain may well be unfamiliar with St John Roberts. 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, and the leaders of other religious denominations were present at the service, 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, presented an account of St John Roberts’ life and, after the service, the Archbishop Peter Smith gave a reception to welcome the Welsh to London. 

“This has been 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 has been a major event for the City of London but, speaking as a Welshman, I just knew that this service had a special resonance and it was an honour for me to attend”.

During the service the legendary Welsh folk singer and activist Dafydd Iwan performed 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 ) presented an arrangement of a new poem in St John’s honour by the poet Dafydd Pritchard whilst the renowned tenor from Neath Stuart Kale joined 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 attended the event- was especially-commissioned for the service, this was the first time for his new work to be performed. There was also a performance by the London Welsh Chorale.

“I was thrilled to have been invited to compose this work”, said 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 also took 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 was awe-inspiring! St John Roberts is an inspiring figure to so many people and it is fitting that we have honoured his achievements in such a hallowed space”.

This important event has been one of the major events of the ecclesiastical calendar of 2010. The Archdruid of Wales James Jones was present together with his wife- the novelist Manon Rhys and amongst the other distinguished attendees were 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 made the pilgrimage to commemorate the fact that St John Roberts founded the famous monastery of St Gregory in the French town.

The Procession consisted of four archbishops, eight bishops around 20 priests, and archbishops and bishops from the Orthodox Church, making it a memorable day. Also, the Mayor of Westminster Judith Warner and her consort Count Paolo Filo della Torre were present, she is second in line to the Royal Family, and it was an enormous honour to she attended the service.

On Sunday, a special Mass in three languages -  English, Welsh and Latin -  was held in the Chapel of St John’s College, Oxford (St John’s alma mater).  Around 200 people attended the service which included 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 10 December 10, 1610. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

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