A strong Greek presence for decades in South Wales

For many decades, the 2,000 Greeks and Cypriots of South Wales have been one of the most dynamic communities living in this green corner of Britain. The families of Greek and Cypriot origin live mainly in Cardiff and the nearby areas of Barry, Trefforest, Newport, Roath, Canton and Swansea. With another 3,000 Greek Cypriots studying at the Welsh universities of Cardiff, Glamorgan, Swansea and Newport, there is a strong Greek Orthodox element. A month spent doing research at Glamorgan acquainted me with the lively Greek Orthodox element of South Wales. It is centered round the church of Aghios Nikolaos, one of the few Byzantine-style churches in Britain. In 1991 the church was listed for preservation by the Historical Monuments Organization of Wales, according to Anastasios Salapatas’s book «Hellenism in South Wales: 1873-1993» (Diaspora Press). The four largest Greek Orthodox churches in Britain are Aghia Sophia in London, Evangelismos tis Ypergias Theotokou in Manchester, Aghios Nikolaos in Liverpool and the Cardiff church. The church was consecrated on April 24, 1919 by Cyril III, then archbishop of Cyprus. The inscription on the facade indicates that construction was paid for by the contributions of shipowners and captains living in Cardiff, Barry and Newport. As nearly all of the local Greek community were connected with the shipping industry, the church was dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. The church has had 22 vicars, the longest serving of whom was Reverend Spiridonos Desyllas (1958-87). He was followed by Salapatas, who is also the author of an informative book about the Greek Orthodox community of Cardiff. In 1915, Greek Consul Angelos Momferatos laid the foundation stone for a second building, later to house the presbytery and Greek language school. Now there is a fully fledged, hospitable cultural center alongside, housing a lecture hall and a primary school, where two teachers give lessons in Modern Greek to the Greek children of Cardiff. The chief cleric, Archimandrite Iakovos Savvas, displays a youthful spark of creativity in his ongoing endeavor to develop the Greek Orthodox community. As Salapatas explains in his book, in 1987 there was a concerted effort to put the Greek Orthodox community on the ecclesiastical map of Wales, an effort which has since begun to bear fruit. There seem to be links between Aghios Nikolaos and the universities where many Greek and Cypriot students are enrolled. For the first time, Father Iakovos has arranged for a blessing at Glamorgan University to mark the start of this academic year. I spoke to many Greeks who are permanent residents of Cardiff, and noted their anxiety to ensure cultural continuity for their children and grandchildren. One can see their attempts to maintain the balance necessary to retain their Greek Orthodox heritage and traditions. The small Greek diaspora community of Cardiff is small in size but so significant in terms of faith, devotion to tradition, caring and hospitable to the young, and rich in spiritual gifts. (1) Ioannis K. Kalavrouziotis lectures at Ioannina University.