St. Mary's Church in Swansea, founded in the 12th century is the largest church within the Swansea and Gower district, despite having a relatively impoverished income during its early history. Swansea's only other church at the time was the much smaller building of St. John's in High Street. This church, founded by the Knights Hospitallers circa 1165, was more a chapel of ease to the Parish of St. Mary's, attended mainly by the Welsh-speaking inhabitants of the town. Following designs by a local architect, Alfred Bucknall, St. John's Church was extensively restored and reopened as St. Matthew's Church in 1886.
During the latter 17th century, religious dissent had gained considerable strength within the Swansea region, partly due to the upheavals of civil war and interregnum in the 1640s and 1650s. However, it has been noted that Swansea's direct contact with Bristol, a very influential centre of early Nonconformity, also served to greatly influence the people of Swansea. The Dissenters, or Nonconformists, were those in England and Wales who worshipped outside the established Church of England. The main Nonconformists in England; the Baptists, Presbyterians and Independents, and the smaller Society of Friends or Quakers all contributed to the religious history of Wales, although the principal ones were the Baptists and Independents.
John Miles, the founder of the first Baptist Church in Wales at Ilston, in 1649, established a number of Baptist chapels across South Wales during the 1650s. However, the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy in England was followed by religious intolerance and a severe regime brought Baptist progress to an abrupt end. By the time of the Conventicle Act of 1664 the Ilston chapel was abandoned and its congregation forced underground. In 1662-3, John Miles traveled to America to end his days in a town that he later named Swansey in Massachusetts, now known as Swansea!
After many years of persecution following the Restoration, The Toleration Act of 1689 finally allowed religious freedom to the hard core of Dissenters who had come into existence. Swansea Nonconformists soon acquired meeting houses within Swansea town. Such a meeting house was established by the Independents/Presbyterians just off High Street. By 1667 their swelling numbers led them to build a chapel on the site of the present Swansea Unitarian Church adjacent to Argos. The present building dates back to 1847.
Bethesda Baptist Chapel can trace its origins directly back to John Miles' Baptist Church in Ilston. During troubled times the Baptist community in Swansea became the local parent church of the Baptists in the wake of the abandonment of Ilston's chapel. In 1698, the Baptist congregation rented the meeting house previously used by the Independents/Presbyterians (now known as Baptist Court) before finally building their present home in 1831.
The English-speaking Baptist Church, now known as Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, opened in 1827. It's four distinctive Corinthian columns were added during an extension and 'face-lift' in 1875.
During the eighteenth century, Methodism gained popularity, breaking from the Established Church and subsequently dividing into several sects. In Wales, the Calvinistic Methodists later became the Presbyterian Church of Wales.
St. Andrew's Church, formerly Swansea's only Presbyterian church, was built in 1864, by Scottish immigrants working in the drapery trade. St. Andrew's, whose decorative twin towers beautifully set off the skyline surrounding St. Helen's Road, later became a United Reformed Church before falling into dereliction. Swansea Muslims bought the building from a private owner in 1997, intending to restored and turn it into a community centre.
St. John's Church at Hafod was built in 1879-1880 to replace the original St John's Church on High Street (now St. Matthew's Church), because it was closer to the centre of population in the parish. The Vivian family provided generous financial contributions towards its construction and continued to support it after it was opened. The church's architect, Henry Woodyer, had previously worked for the Vivians in 1851 when he designed St. Paul's Church, Sketty.
The Catholic community gradually formed in Swansea from the end of the 18th century when Irish immigrants settled mostly in Greenhill. The first Catholic church built in Swansea was St. David's Church in 1847. However, the housing conditions in the Greenhill area were very overcrowded and insanitary, resulting in many of St. David's parishioners to succumb to cholera in 1849. Despite these setbacks to the Greenhill area it soon became apparent that another church was urgently needed. St Joseph's in Greenhill was established in 1866 and a much larger church was built between 1886-1888, costing £10,000. The original church become the present parish hall. St. Joseph's was eventually elevated to Cathedral status by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
Christ Church on Oystermouth Road, almost opposite County Hall, started in a Sandfields schoolroom in 1863. It was later consecrated and created as a separate parish carved out of St. Mary's in 1871.
St. James' on Walter Road was first built in 1867 as a chapel of ease for St. Mary's Church and did not become a separate parish until 1985, briefly becoming the home of St. Mary's congregation when St. Mary's was destroyed during the Second World War.