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St David's Cathedral
Above: Cathedral tower
[Photography: John Ball, 1968: Kodak Retinette 1B 35mm compact]

St David's Cathedral, St David's, Pembrokeshire

Denomination: Anglican

Dedication: St David

First built: 1180
Rebuilds: many rebuilds and restorations over the centuries

Photography: John Ball, Venita Roylance
(see captions for further details)


Note 1: The oldest part of the present building is the nave, dating from the last quarter of the twelfth century, when the Cathedral was rebuilt after having been burned down by the Danes in 1078. In 1220, the tower fell and destroyed the choir and transepts. They were almost immediately rebuilt as was also the lowest stage of the tower. The Lady Chapel was built about 1300, and sometime after 1328, Bishop Gower added to the height of the walls of the nave, inserted Decorated windows, added a stage to the tower, put up the rood screen, and built the south porch. The roof of the nave probably belongs to the first decade of the sixteenth century. Immediately afterwards, Bishop Vaughan vaulted the chapel bearing his name to the east of the Presbytery.
It cannot be said that the bleak-looking exterior reflects the distinguished record of the see, but the interior generously compensates any sense of disappointment. From the south door one looks between the leaning piers of the nave arcade and can appreciate the great richness of the Norman ornamentation of the arches. From this point, too, can be seen the unusual manner in which clerestory and triforium are combined. This richness of walls is matched by the very remarkable sixteenth-century roof of grey Irish oak. It comprises a number of pendant arches.
From the roof the eye falls to the magnificent fourteenth-century Rood Screen, the effect of which is increased by the gradual rise in the floor from west to east. The whole building has an unusual appearance owing to the colour of the stone. The purplish slate-coloured material came from Caerbwdy, and that which is redder, from Caerfai. The style of the Nave is Transitional-Norman, and therefore this part architecturally goes back nearly half a century beyond the date of its erection. On the fourth and fifth piers on the south side are remains of ancient paintings. On the same side is the tomb of Bishop Morgan (d. 1504).

St David's Cathedral
Above: Organ
[Photography: Venita Roylance, 10 Oct 2002]

The rood screen has been carefully restored. Beyond it are the choir stalls of fifteenth-century work. The bishop's throne also dates from the fifteenth century, but portions of it are older, being parts of Bishop Gower's stalls. Its construction was due to Bishop Morgan, who was buried in front of it. A unique feature of St. David's is that the reigning sovereign of Britain holds the first cursal prebendal stall. It is in the south-west corner of the choir, and is distinguished by a painted and carved wooden representation of the royal arms. This stall was occupied for the first time by a reigning Sovereign when the Queen visited the Cathedral on August 7th, 1955. Another unusual feature is the parclose screen separating the Choir from the Presbytery.
The large tomb in the centre of the Presbytery is that of Edmund Tudor (d. 1546), father of Henry VII. He was buried at the Grey Friars, Carmarthen, and on the dissolution of that religious house by his grandson his remains were brought to their present resting-place.
In the west bay on the north side of the Presbytery is St. Davids Shrine. Note the beautiful fifteenth-century oak sedilia on the south side of the Presbytery. In the bay eastward of these is the supposed tomb of Giraldus Cambrensis, the historian.
Eastward of the Presbytery is Holy Trinity Chapel, a somewhat unusual feature. Here is the altar of the Holy Trinity, and on either side of it are statues of Giraldus Cambrensis and Bishop Vaughan. Of great interest is the recess in the western wall, behind the High Altar. When first discovered, during modern restorations, this held certain bones, accepted as veritable relics of St. David, and these now lie within the casket in the recess.
Eastward of Holy Trinity Chapel is the Ambulatory, and eastward again the Lady Chapel, built by Bishop Martyn (d. 1328), whose tomb is on the south side. On the north side is the tomb of Bishop Beck, who died in 1293. Dean Howell restored the Lady Chapel and on the wall of its ante-chapel is a large bronze memorial of him. He was buried in the restored chapel of St. Nicholas.
In the south-east corner is Edward the Confessor's Chapel, the re-roofing of which completed the restoration of the cathedral. It has an altar and reredos of alabaster, a memorial to Viscountess Maidstone (d. 1923).
In the wall of the north transept is the shrine of St Caradoc who died in 1124. Eastward of the transept is St Thomas a Becket's Chapel, now refurnished in memory of Bishop Prosser (1927-50), third Archbishop of Wales. In the south transept is a portable altar stone said to have been brought by St. David from Jerusalem after his consecration as Bishop in the Holy City.
The Cathedral library contains many interesting volumes and other antiquities and will well repay a visit.
[Source: Complete Wales, a Ward Lock Red Guide, edited by Reginald J. W. Hammond, published by Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd, London and Melbourne,1966]

St David's Cathedral
Above: St David's Cathedral from Bishop's Palace
[Photography: John Ball ,1968: Kodak Retinette 1B 35mm compact]

Note 2: The present St David's Cathedral building mostly dates from 1180 to 1220, although alterations and additions were made between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. The west front is a nineteenth century restoration intended to recreate the original Norman front following an unsympathetic rebuilding by Nash. There is a fine early sixteenth century roof to the nave. The cathedral is one of the earliest British examples of a combined triforium and clerestory. It is the most important medieval ecclesiastical building in Wales. The Cathedral stands at the centre of a complex of medieval and later structures and buildings, enclosed by the precinct wall, these, with the associated borough without, comprising the medieval and later city. [Source: Coflein database (NPRN 306)]

Bishop's Palace, St David's
Above: Bishop's Palace, with Cathedral south porch near right
[Photography: John Ball, 2 Oct 2002: Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom digital]

Note 3: St Davids was the largest and most important medieval diocese in Wales. The cathedral housed the relics of the sixth-century saint, David, patron saint of Wales, and attracted substantial numbers of pilgrims, including King William I. Until the appointment of Bishop Henry de Gower in 1328, it is unsure where the bishops lived. De Gower erected two separate ranges of rooms, one for his own private and a second suitable for ceremonial occasions, where he could entertain important guests and distinguished pilgrims to St Davids. Both sets of chambers were built at first floor level above vaulted under crofts and entered by elaborate porches. The crowning glory, however, was still the distinctive chequered arcaded parapet, which, although faded, still has the effect of unifying the group of buildings. [Source: Coflein database (NPRN 21633)]

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