BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
FURIOUS HEREFORD parishioners this week staged an uprising against Archbishop Ward of Cardiff over his plans to "de-list" and sell off their historic Catholic church.
In a public meeting held on Thursday, angry churchgoers demanded that the Archbishop revoke his decision to put St Francis Xavier on the market, and build a modem church on the outskirts of the city from the proceeds.
Many believe that the diocese hopes to demolish the Grade II star listed church, described by one local historian as "one of the most stunning Greek Revival buildings in England". A cleared site, ideal for a supermarket in the heart of Hereford, could raise up to £2 million for the diocese.
Dissenting parishioners have the support of the Hereford Civic Trust.
Spokesperson David Whitehead said he was "deeply concerned about the sale of the church, its secularisation and possible demolition". According to another angry source, the episode has demonstrated the "usual episcopal hatred of architectural merit".
Parishioners and other locals are planning to raise the estimated 4750,000 needed to retain St Francis Xavier as a Catholic church.
However, any fundraising attempt will not please the Archbishop, who is alleged to have told one parishioner that "even if we win 42 million on the National Lottery, the church is still going". One opponent, Mrs Violet Rosser, who has been worshipping at the church since 1938, has mustered 150 petitions from churchgoers, including the present and past Mayor.
"It is no good having a church that people can't go to. We have tried to say to the Archbishop we want the church saved, but he is like a rock his word is law," she said.
Fellow worshipper Mrs Meschi, who has attended Mass at the church for 50 years, described St Francis Xavier, which draws much of its congregation from weekday shoppers, as a "beautiful Catholic presence in the centre of Hereford.
"It is heartbreaking that it will be sold off. The replacement will be a weekend church; who will be able to get up there without a car?"
St Francis Xavier was built by renowned London architect Charles Day ten years after Catholic Emancipation. The church is famous for its dramatic frontage a Greek Doric portico of two fluted columns and boasts one of Catholic martyr John Kemble's hands.
Fr Christopher Jenkins, parish priest at St Francis Xavier, remained firm. He told the Herald that "the Archbishop has decided that the church, with its dry rot and leaking roof, would cost at least £500,000 to repair. Sadly, the diocese does not have that money.
We are putting it up for sale for a year; if there are no takers then we will apply to have it de-listed". .