The Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea was built using reinforced concrete around 1937 and its dedication carries tribute to sailors lost at sea. The roof is designed to resemble the hull of a boat, and the windows in the crypt port holes. These aspects reflecting the maritime heritage of Amlwch.
Designed by Giuseppe Rinvolucri, an Italian architect who was originally brought to Wales as a prisoner of war. He subsequently married a local woman, and lived and worked in north Wales, specialising in Roman Catholic churches. He also designed a number of other churches in Wales, including those at Abergele, and Porthmadog.
Around 600,000 Italian soldiers were taken prisoner during the First World War, about half in the aftermath of Caporetto. Roughly one Italian soldier in seven was captured, a significantly higher number than in other armies on the Western Front.
About 100,000 Italian prisoners of war never returned home, having succumbed to hardship, hunger, cold and disease – mainly tuberculosis.
Uniquely among the Allied powers, Italy refused to assist its prisoners, and even hindered efforts by soldiers’ families to send them food.
From the 1930s he was living at St Francis Grange, Glan Conwy, an art deco style dwelling overlooking the Conwy estuary.
The main entrance leads into a small vestibule with raking sides; further doorways lead into the end of the main body of the church. The ribbing that is such a prominent feature of the exterior of the church also dominates the design of the interior; the body of the church illuminated by bands of geometrically patterned lights between the ribs. The lateral walls have marble panels which also follow the pattern of the ribs; to the top are paired panels, each with a moulded quatrefoil plaques depicting biblical scenes, plain paired panels below. The marbled panels continue at the far end of the church, raised up over round-headed doorways flanking a recess painted with a depiction of the crucifixion; star shaped lights follow the line of the domed arch.
Robert Jones of Beaumaris:
I think it is worthy of mention how the whole mass of imitation stone frontage was done by one plasterer long gone called Llew – Inja Rock, whose pretty unique style of work is still to be seen elsewhere around town today. He once showed me how it was done, all with a little teaspoon. What patience and what a proven good job to stand the trial of time of 40-plus years without a great deal, if any, remedial work. A sound memorial to a good working man.
For many years I have cycled y on my tours around Anglesey- often stopping to marvel at this concrete anachronism.
This time I stopped to walk around and take some snaps – here they are.
The Pevsner Buildings of Wales guide calls it:
A piece of Italian architectural daring of the 1930s – a soaring reinforced concrete and brick vault formed on six arches, expressed as ribs externally and internally, with a conical apse. Three transverse bands of glazing in geometric trefoils of white and blue.
Five glass stars – made in France, perforate the East wall round the apse.
Rinvolucri’s team of builders constructed the innovative parabolic vault in six months in 1935.
The same guide calls it Futurist, closer to Freyssinet’s 1920s airship hangars at Orly, Paris, than to Catholic Church design, and unlike the conservatism of Anglesey building.
He died in 1962 and is buried in St Agnes Road Cemetery, Conwy with Mina, who died in 1991.
They had one son born in 1940.