Roald Dahl and the Little Norwegian Church

With its attractive white painted clapboard structure and stubby spire the Norwegian Church provides a striking counterpoint to the modern buildings in the glitzy Cardiff Bay Development. The oldest surviving church in Britain founded by the Norwegian Seamens’ mission, these days it’s an arts centre and café. Its wooden decked terrace is a perfect spot for munching Norwegian-style snacks whilst you admire views across the bay.

So, what’s a Norwegian church doing in Cardiff?

Dahl Gallery inside the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay

Dahl Gallery, Norwegian Church, Cardiff by Norwegian Church Arts Centre
During the late 19th century tens of thousands of Norwegian sailors visited the city aboard merchant ships bringing strong, straight Scandinavian timber to Wales to be used as pit props in the mines. The ships then exported the Welsh coal all around the world. Churches like this one, which dates back to 1867, were built to provide religious and social care to the Norwegian sailors who founded themselves far from home for weeks on end.

Some of them never went home.

One of the most famous members of the church’s congregation was best-selling children’s author Roald Dahl who was born to Norwegian parents in Fairwater Road in Llandaff, Cardiff. His father Harald, from Oslo, co-founded a ship-broking company in Cardiff around 1880. Roald spent his childhood and school days in Cardiff. His family worshipped at the Norwegian Church when it was in its original location in the Cardiff Docks. He and his siblings were all baptised here.

The Norwegian Church with flag flying

Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay by Paula J James
When the church fell into disrepair in the 1970s, Roald was at the forefront of a campaign to raise money to save it. Money was raised locally and from Norway to dismantle and repair the church, relocating it to its new site in 1992. Unfortunately Roald himself didn’t live to see the project completed, dying several years earlier.

The church was extensively renovated in 2011 and reopened on 17th May – Norwegian Constitution Day. A gallery upstairs at the church hosts temporary exhibitions of photography and art by local artists. Naturally it’s been named the Dahl gallery. Look out for the silver christening bowl which belonged to the family and is now on show here today. 

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