THE FOUNDING AND EARLY YEARS
OF THE GREEK COMMUNITY IN CARDIFF, SOUTH WALES
A talk given by Fr. Anastasios D. Salapatas
at a Conference of the Centre for Greek Diaspora Studies
London, 14-15 October 2016
First of all I would like to thank and congratulate the organisers, and more especially Dr. George Vassiadis, for such a unique opportunity we have to get together and study the history of the Presence of Greeks and Cypriots in Britain, over the last two centuries.
My topic is the Greek Community in South Wales. It is really interesting to see how a Greek Community was born in an isolated area of Britain. My personal interest on this subject comes from the fact that I lived in Cardiff for six years (1987-1993) and served there at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
A). THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Cardiff is a nice city by the sea in South Wales, in the west part of the British Isles. It had been an important port for many decades, serving the British industrial machine of coal exporting, from mid-19th century right up to the end of 1960s. It is interesting to note that the southern part of Wales is quite famous for its excellent quality of coal, the gold of the Celtic soil.
The Greek sailors, very experienced in all matters related to ships and sea transporting from the ancient times, came in support of this process of transporting the valuable material. By coming frequently to Cardiff and the other South Wales ports (especially Newport and Barry) they got to know the area well and they liked it. Thus, they decided to establish their own business offices in these towns and they also founded their family homes there.
The first official meeting of Greeks in Cardiff had taken place on 18th December 1873. At that meeting the seamen Greeks had decided to build a Greek Church, near the port, and dedicate it to Saint Nicholas, the Patron Saint of the sailors. That meeting was organised by an Englishman, called Timothy Hatherly, who was based at the time in Wolverhampton; he had been ordained an Orthodox Priest at Constantinople by Metropolitan Vassileios of Smyrna and had returned to his native land to serve the Greek Orthodox congregations. He was also “a musician of considerable attainments, and wrote a book entitled Byzantine Music, which is regarded as the standard work in English on this subject”!
On the 20th December 1873 a local paper, called “The Cardiff Times”, gives a detailed account of the Divine Liturgy that was celebrated the previous day, in honour of St. Nicholas (19th December is St. Nicholas Feast Day, according to Julian calendar). St. Nicholas was from the beginning (from the very first day) and still is today the Patron Saint of the Greek Community in South Wales.
The article is quite long. Some of the most interesting elements in it are as follows:
· Its title is: “The opening of a Greek Church at Cardiff”.
· There is a specific reference to the venue of the liturgical meeting, “a room in Patrick Street for Divine Worship in accordance with the rubric of the Greek Church”.
· Also to the Greek sailors in Cardiff, “there are always a large number of Greek sailors in the port”.
· There is a specific mention to “the few Greek residents of the town”, which obviously refers to the fact that by that year some Greeks had settled already in the city.
· The article is concluded by the phrase: “A number of the Greek residents and captains, and others in the port, with the priest, dined together at the Windsor Hotel afterwards, in commemoration of the opening of the Church”.
Three years later, on 20th February 1876, the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece had issued an encyclical letter, addressed to all Bishops of the Hellenic Kingdom, by which they were asked to recommend to all of their monasteries to offer their generous contributions towards the construction as well as the maintenance of a Greek Church in Cardiff. We are not aware of any responses to this request.
B). THE dawn OF THE 20TH CENTURY
A famous Greek journalist and historian, called Vasos Tsimbidaros, in his book “Hellenes in England” (p. 218), refers to the Greek Community in Cardiff, where “there was a Greek Consulate before 1900, as many Greeks lived there and numerous Greek ships came into the port. They used to import cereals and they were loaded with coal which was exported to the Mediterranean and South America. After 1900, the comings and goings of the ships were so frequent, that many Greek sailors left the sea and remained in the ports in order to work in various business”, like hotels, cafes etc., that were serving mainly the seamen, both Greeks and others.
It is worth noting that some of the greater Greek Shipping Companies had started their maritime businesses from Cardiff and from the other South Wales ports, or at least they had passed through there and had been busy there for a period of time. Among those belonged to the first category is the Kollakis family (one of the richest seafaring families in Europe), and the most well known ones of the second category are the Embirikos and the Fafalios families and obviously Aristotle Onassis himself.
1903 was quite an important year for the Cardiffian Greeks. The local paper “Evening Express” reports on the 8th April 1903:
“It is the eighty-second anniversary of the Greek independence, and the occasion was celebrated by the opening of a new Greek Church, for the purpose of which a shop, near the canal bridge in Bute Street, has been converted. The Greek Consul (Mr. J. Stangala) and most of the leading Greek ladies and gentlemen of the town were present. The offices of Greek firms and the Greek shipping in the port were decorated with flags. It is twenty-five years since there was a Greek Orthodox Church at Cardiff. The Greek priest, who has been in charge of the Orthodox mission here for some three months, is a dignitary of the Patriarchal (technically called the Great) Church at Constantinople. He is a man of solid learning, and earnest to a degree in his desire to benefit his co-religionists. The premises at 51, Bute Street, have been rented, and will be known henceforth as "The Orthodox Eastern Church." The place is being adapted for Divine worship in accordance with the primitive rite of the unchanging East. It was here, as early as 8.30 am that a congregation comprising some 300 people met together, when the religious service was performed by the Very Rev. Father Georgiades, Grand Economos. Prayers were offered for the health and prosperity of the Royal families of Greece and Great Britain, whilst a solemn commemoration was made of those who fought, bled, and died for liberty and fatherland in the terrible struggle for the emancipation of Greece from Turkish thraldom”.
The Community appears to be quite strong. In a little while the Priest and its lay leaders came in contact with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Community was then recognised officially by a special grand letter, written on parchment, the original of which is today kept at the central offices of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain in central London.
The letter, issued in June 1903, signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim ΙΙΙ and twelve Metropolitans, states that St. Nicholas Church is under the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, from which it receives the Holy Myrrh and its Parish Priests. According to the Minutes’ Book of the Community (p. 29), the Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim had sent to his Church in Cardiff a personal present; and that was a large icon of St. Nicholas, which was placed on a special icon stand, specifically made and offered by Demetrios Logothetis, Vice-Concul in Cardiff at the time.
C). THE construction of the church
In 1905, after many efforts and negotiations with the local authorities, the Community signed a lease agreement (lasting for 99 years) with the Marquise of Bute. The freehold was eventually purchased by the Community, during my time as Parish Priest, in 1989.
According to the initial agreement, the plot of land was given to the Greek Community in order to build a place of worship and another building, which was to roof the Greek School (ground floor) and the Priest’s accommodation (first floor). That plan was eventually realised.
The foundation stone of Saint Nicholas’ Church was laid on in August 1906, by the Greek Consul in Cardiff, Mr. Miltiades Raphael.
The paper “Evening Express” reported on 28th August 1906: “The resident Greek population of Cardiff is about 400 and the floating population nearly 200. This will be only the fourth Greek Church in this country; the other being in London, Manchester and Liverpool”.
When the Church was eventually built a special plaque placed on the outside front wall, which read that the construction of the Church was made possible by the financial contributions of “Greek Orthodox Ship-owners, Ship-captains and sailors living in Cardiff, Barry and Newport”.
D). the rules of community
In 18th March 1908 the Greek Orthodox Communities in Europe & America where placed -by Patriarchal Degree- under the spiritual and pastoral care of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.
That was the reason why when the Greek Community in Cardiff had written down the Rules of the Community asked the King of the Hellenes through the Government of Greece to approve those Rules. King George I had eventually approved the Rules by Royal Degree, signed in Corfu on 17th April 1910. The Rules were amended in February 1914 and were published in Athens later that year.
It is certainly worth looking into those Rules, as they are not just a legalistic document but a significant source of the Community’s history. Each article of those Rules presents another aspect of the life and the progress of the Community, as well as of the way that the members were looking into certain elements of their Community life in South Wales at the time.
Article 1: The Community’s base is in Cardiff and includes those Greeks living in Barry, Penarth and Newport.
Article 2: It states that the Greek Church in Cardiff is subjected to the jurisdiction of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece and it will always remain a Greek Church.
Article 3: This is quite an interesting article, which states that the assets of the Community are acknowledged and proclaimed as real property of the Hellenic State. There are references to certain conditions and obligations, but it is very clear that the Community assets will be in the name of the Hellenic State through the Greek Consulate in Cardiff. That obviously, apart from anything else, showed the patriotic feelings of the members of the Community.
Article 6: The crews of the Greek ships arriving at the ports of South Wales and at the ports of the Bristol Channel, when they offer financial contributions to the Community, they are entitled to take part in the Community Assemblies and also they get the right to vote and to participate in the decision making process.
It is obvious that the financial needs of the newly founded Community necessitated the insertion of this article into the Rules.
Article 8: This article introduces the leaders of the Community, the so-called Community Council. This Council consists of 6 members. Permanent Chairman is the Consul of His Majesty the King of Hellenes in Cardiff. A permanent member is the current Parish Priest. The other four places are filled with people from the regular members of the Community, voted at the General Assembly every four years.
Article 22: This article emphasises how important it is to keep strictly the aims of the Community, as described in article 1, and also to preserve unchanged the articles 2, 3 and 6.
Strictness and perseverance, in keeping the cultural and religious elements of our nation, is the legacy of the founders of the Greek Community in Cardiff.
They seem to have had forgotten though that proverbial saying of our forefather Heraclitus, who said: “τά πάντα ρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” (“everything flows and nothing stands still”). In regard to the Community Rules, the Greek Omogeneia in Britain had introduced a new Constitution in the 1960’s and is at the moment in the process of adopting a new one. The Greek Community in Cardiff has adopted and follows the new Constitution, while the old Rules of 1914 have only today an historical significance, but not a legal authority.
E). erection of the community building
The works for the erection of the Community building, which is situated next to the Church, had started in 1915. The foundation stone was laid on 25th March 1915, by Antonios Momferratos, who was a Greek diplomat, serving at the time as Consul General of Greece in Cardiff.
The Parish Priest at the time was Archimandrite Isaiah Vergopoulos, who was born in Kalamata, in Southern Peloponnese. He served the Community from 23rd December 1909 up until 31st August 1917. These were very difficult times for the Greeks of the mainland, as they had been divided -for political reasons- into royalists on the one side and followers of the Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos on the other.
This unfortunate ethnic schism had been brought into the Cardiffian Greek Community as well. Fr. Vergopoulos had been described as the leader of the royalist group and that had troubled and wounded the Community. He was eventually removed from St. Nicholas Church and returned back to Greece.
f). consecration of st. Nicholas church
The next important milestone in the history of the Greek Community in South Wales was the official opening and the Consecration of St. Nicholas Church.
As it is well known the Sacred Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain was founded in 1922. Before that, there was no Greek Orthodox Hierarch residing in Britain.
When the Archbishop Cyrill III of Cyprus came to London accompanied by a number of Greek-Cypriot dignitaries, in order to discuss the matter of the much desired Union of Cyprus with the motherland Greece, he was asked to visit Cardiff and to preside over the special ceremony of the Consecration of St. Nicholas Church. So he did.
This ceremony had taken place on 24th / 6th April 1919. The Minutes’ Book of the Community Council (on page 120) reports the event in detail as well as the best wishes of His Beatitude towards the Community. The Minutes were signed by the Archbishop of Cyprus, the members of Clergy and the lay leaders of the Community.
The Archimandrite Fr. Gennadios Themelis, originally from the island of Kalymnos, was the Parish Priest of St. Nicholas Church at the time. He served the Greek Community in Cardiff from 1917 up to 1928. He had studied psychology at Brussels University; he was very well equipped in the Byzantine Church Music and had written and published a number of books and articles. In South Wales he organised the Greek Education and established Schools in Cardiff and Barry. He was very well respected by his congregation. In 12th December 1928 Fr. Gennadios had fallen asleep. He is the only Greek Orthodox Priest who had died and was buried in Cardiff.
g). HISTORY CONTINUES…
That was the founding and the early years of the Greek Community in South Wales.
But the Community as a living organisation continued to exist, carried on its development over the next period, presenting always a living witness of real Eastern Orthodox spirit and Hellenic civilisation to the hospitable country of Great Britain and in particular to the Principality of Wales where it was based.
The present Priest in Charge is The Very Rev’d. Archimandrite Iakovos Savva (appointed in 2000 AD).
In regard to present time population, the Greek Community of St. Nicholas numbers about 2000 souls, the Greek students in the South Wales area should be about 3000, while the Roman-Catholic Corfiots are estimated at around 500 people.
The two most important elements that bring all Greeks together in Cardiff and in South Wales are St. Nicholas Church and the Hellenic School. These are the two most dynamic elements of Orthodox faith and Greek culture that the Greeks in the area trying hard to preserve and to develop even further.
Dawling T.E. and Fletcher E.W., Hellenism in England, Faith Press, London 1915
Salapatas, A.D., Hellenism in South Wales (1873-1993), Diaspora books’ Publications, Cardiff 1993 [in Greek]
Tsimbidaros, Vasos, Hellenes in England, Alkaios Publications, Athens 1974 [in Greek]