Norwegian Church, Cardiff
The Norwegian Church Arts Centre is a point of cultural and historical interest located in Cardiff Bay (Tiger Bay), Wales. It was a Lutheran Church, consecrated in 1868. Under the patronage of The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission provided home comforts, communication with family and a place of worship for Scandinavian sailors and the Norwegian community in Cardiff for over a hundred years.
In the 19th century, Cardiff was one of Britain's three major ports, along with London and Liverpool. The Norwegian merchant fleet at the time was the third largest in the world, and Cardiff became one of the major centres of its operations.
Sjømannskirken – the Norwegian Church Abroad organization, which is part of the Church of Norway – followed in its footsteps. Under Carl Herman Lund from Oslo, a Church was built in 1868 in Cardiff Bay between the East and West Docks on land donated by the Marquis of Bute, to serve the religious needs of Norwegian sailors and expatriates.
Consecrated in December 1868, the church was clad in iron sheets on the instruction of the Harbour Master, to allow it to be moved if necessary. However, the construction form allowed it to be extended many times:
- 1883: Reading room enlarged
- 1885: Gallery and bell-tower added
- 1894: Reading room enlarged, reclad in wood
Known until this point as the Norwegian Iron Church, it now became known as the Little White Church, and became a welcome home point for sailors. Resultantly, and open to all sailors as a mission offering food and shelter, between 1867 and 1915 the number of visiting sailors to the church rose from 7,572 to 73,580 seamen per annum.
Cardiff-born writer Roald Dahl was baptised in the church.
When the church was in its prime it had a lot of public activity; from the Norse community settling in Cardiff and making roots there, to the Norwegian sailors using the place as a rest stop on their travels. The church had become a home away from home for the sailors during World War II as they weren’t able to go back to Norway due to Nazi occupation. The church hosted many important family occasions, such as weddings and christenings, for the community as well as more educational projects like cookery classes.
Even pre-World War I, coal exports from Cardiff were in decline. Post World War II, shipping trade had moved from Cardiff, and in 1959 the mission's work was discontinued. In the early 1960s, the Norwegian Seamen's Mission withdrew its patronage, and the last seaman's priest Per Konrad Hansen was withdrawn. The residual congregation and other Lutheran organisations funded its continued use by the resident expatriate Norwegian community. It was closed and de-consecrated in 1974.
In light of developments in Cardiff Bay in the late 1980s, and the proposed building of new roads around Atlantic Wharf, the now derelict and vandalised church was threatened with total destruction.
The community formed the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust, to save the building in the redeveloped docks. In partnership with the Norwegian Support Committee in Bergen, the trust raised £250,000, enabling the church to be dismantled in 1987, preserved and stored pending reassembly. The remaining original features were rescued, including the pulpit, one side-window, the chandelier and the model-ship; all of which were returned to the church.
With the Wales Millennium Centre built on its original site, with land donated by Associated British Ports, in 1992 reconstruction on the current site was started. In April 1992, the church was re-opened by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway.
Roald Dahl was a British novelist who was born in Cardiff, Wales and christened, along with his sisters, in the Norwegian Church where his family would worship.Throughout his life Dahl had continuous ties to the church and in the 1970s when the church first fell into a state of disrepair, Dahl was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to help save it. This led to Dahl being appointed the first president of The Norwegian Church Preservation Trust after it was set up in 1987 by the Church.
In the church is a room named in memory of Roald Dahl and all that he had done for the church - ‘The Dahl Gallery’. In this room is; - The silver christening bowl used to baptise Dahl and his siblings. - A shield given to the Church’s pastor as a gift, as during WW2 the church was home to sailors who couldn’t return to their homeland. - An anchor and oars in the shape of a cross. The oars are believed to be from a Norwegian sailing ship and the anchor is a gift to honour the church’s maritime heritage.
As well as this honour, Dahl is also celebrated yearly in September, the month in which he was born in 1916. In 2016 Cardiff Bay celebrated Dahl’s centenary as he would have been 100 years old. This centenary project was launched by The Norwegian Church.
In 2006 the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was transferred to Cardiff County Council, under the management of the Cardiff Harbour Authority.
The building is now used as an arts centre, and is known as the Norwegian Church Arts Centre. The centre includes a cafe and an art gallery. In May 2011 the church underwent a £500,000 refurbishment, including a new outdoor terrace and a DDA compliant lift. The Greig room hosts a diversity of local arts and culture.
The church has been refurbished, moved and opened in Cardiff Bay but it still has visitors very often. It is no longer a resting place and a home to the Norwegian sailors, it is however open to the public with a gallery and a small café for the remaining Norwegian community to relax and meet in. As the church has a strong link with Roald Dahl, every September the church honours him and his work. As well as this, the community in Cardiff and those involved with the church gather together every year for an annual celebration of Dahl’s birthday and Christmas. Coming 2016, launched by the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay will be celebrating centenary for his 100th birthday.
- Norwegian Fishermans' Church, Liverpool
- Religion in Wales
- Scandinavian churches in London
- Cardiff Docks
- Herbert E. Roese, Cardiff's Norwegian Heritage. The Welsh History Review, Vol.18, No.2. Dec 1996.
- Codrops. "Norwegian Church Arts Centre - Home, History". www.norwegianchurchcardiff.com. Retrieved 2016-02-08.
- Williams, David; Benbow, Steve; Gill, Peter (October 2005), About Cardiff: History, Heritage, Leisure, Culture, Sport, City Centre and the Bay, Cardiff: Graffeg, p. 48, ISBN 0-9544334-2-4
- "Places to see | Roald Dahl | Norwegian Church | Cardiff Bay". www.visitwales.com. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
- "Norwegian Church Arts Centre - Home, Roald Dahl". norwegianchurchcardiff.com. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
- "Roald Dahl centenary: 'Tremendous things' promised for 2016". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-02-10.
- Walker, Ed (17 May 2011). "New-look Norwegian Church reopens after refurb". Your Cardiff (Wales Online). Retrieved 2012-05-07.
- "Norwegian Church". Cardiff Council. Retrieved 2012-05-27.
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