Norwegian Church, Cardiff
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 well known navigation and 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.
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early 1960s, the Norwegian Seamen's Mission withdrew its patronage, and the last seaman's priest Per Konrad Hansen was withdrawn.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.
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.
- Norwegian Fishermans' Church, Liverpool
- Religion in Wales
- Scandinavian churches in London
- Cardiff Docks
- Cardiff's Norwegian Heritage. The Welsh History Review, Vol.18, No.2. Dec 1996.
- 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
- 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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