Friday, 22 July 2011

A Very Norwegian Place to be

The Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay

We spent a very interesting few hours at the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay, yesterday. Built on Bute Dock in 1868 for the many service men who sailed into Cardiff Bay in an age when Cardiff exported more coal than any other port in the world, the little wooden church is still a distinctive feature of the sky line in Cardiff Bay. Originally it both provided a place to relax and write home for the many Norwegian sailors who came to Cardiff and also acted as the hub for the thriving local Norwegian community. The church fell into disrepair in the 1960's and 70's but was restored in 1982 by a conservation group whose president was the author, Roald Dahl. Dahl was born in Cardiff, of Norwegian parents. Today, the church, which is within sight of the Senedd (the Welsh Assembley Building), has been newly refurbished and houses a cafe and gallery. It was very poignant to be in the cafe, yesterday, as the news of the terrorist atrocities in Oslo was breaking on the BCC's world news chanel. It brought home to us the importance of such missions to seamen all around the world; here was a place where people come together to feel connected with home at times of national anxiety and tragedy as well as at times of rejoicing. Our heart goes out to the people of Norway, a nation well known for its exemplary tradition of democracy. 

The gallery at the church is currently hosting a facinating exhibition of photographs illustrating the message of each of the 66 books in the Bible. Masterminded by Owen Brown, the exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. I quote from the book which accompanies the exhibits, a paragraph which I think reflects the location of the exhibition at the heart of one of the ports that shaped the Britain and America of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

'You may think our modern world is founded on secular ideals, but arguably the translation of the Bible not only influenced the English language and literature more than any other book, it was also the seedbed for Western Democracy, the driver for the abolition of the slave trade, the shaper of the British legal system and the framework for the Christian culture of both the British and American empires. is also a book which outsells, is read by more people and is being translated into more languages than any other today.'   

The exhibition takes each book of the Bible and illustrates one verse with a photograph which captures the theme or the flavour of the book. I was struck by the power of this simple idea to communicate something of the essence of the scriptures in a way that gets people thinking and talking and brings out the contemporary relevance of the Bible's themes. You can find more information about the exhibition and see some of its stunning images on

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