Amlwch - Our Lady Star of the Sea
This is certainly one of the most unusual churches on Anglesey. Dedicated to Our Lady St. Mary, as well as the 7th century Welsh saint St. Winefride, it is a 20th century creation, begun in 1932 and consecrated in 1937. The architect was Giuseppe Rinvolucri, an Italian from Piedmont who came to Britain after World War I, then married a Welshwoman and settled down in Conwy. He also built unusual churches in Abergele and Ludlow, Shropshire.
As an homage to Amlwch's maritime history and proximity to the sea, Rinvolucri designed the church to reflect the shape of an upturned hull of a ship, complete with porthole-like windows near the bottom. These windows open into the parish hall on the ground floor, underneath the main body of the church.
The church was constructed of reinforced concrete in the shape of a parabolic curve. This allows the interior to be a simple but impressive space, with no intruding roof trusses or columns. The arched structure is highlighted from inside with a series of glass rooflights, which provide excellent lighting within during the day, as well as giving the building a stunning appearance from outside at night when the interior lights are on. The church also includes five small star-shaped windows on the north wall, around the alter, and one large star at the south end over the main entrance.
The façade of the church was originally mainly rough stone, with a smooth plastered area around the star-shaped window. It was like this until the late 1950s or early 1960s when it was completely covered over. The plasterer very carefully decorated the plaster so that it looked like finely dressed stone. The illusion is somewhat spoiled now by the recent appearance of cracks in the plastering on the side of the stairs.
Unfortunately, like many other 20th century concrete buildings, the church suffered from the coastal Anglesey weather. By the early 21st century, shortly after it had been given Grade II* historic building listing by Cadw in 2000, it was realised that the structure was becoming dangerous. It was closed in 2004 and demolition was considered.
A fundraising effort began, aiming to raise £1.2M. Despite some setbacks, money came in from many quarters and refurbishment commenced, initially focusing on repairing the external concrete walls/roof to stop leaking, then on redecorating the interior walls, flooring and repairing the steps to the entrance.
In the apse, the original mural of Christ Crucified, created by Gordon Wallace in 1963 (which can be seen here and here), was replaced by a seven-foot high cross, carved from oak, suspended above the alter. The altar itself is also new and, along with the matching lectern and tabernacle-plinth, is made from Welsh granite and slate and includes the star motif used in the windows. On the wall to the side of the entrance is a wood carving of Our Lady Star of the Sea holding a boat.
The church was reopened with a special Mass on 1 May 2011 by the Rt. Rev. Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham. It is now again home to a substantial and appreciative congregation.
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