Instead of going to Attingham Park on Saturday, Kate invited me to join her on an impromptu trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales, with her sister. Knowing my love for anything worth blogging about, Kate convinced me by suggesting we go visit St David’s Cathedral in St David’s, the smallest city in Great Britain.
The city of St David’s is named after the Welsh patron saint, Saint David (Dewi), a sixth century bishop. St David’s was granted city status in 1994 as part of the fortieth anniversary of the Queen’s reign. The papers designating it as a city were presented by Her Majesty in 1995 at the Cathedral.
A Little History
In the sixth century, Saint David set up a monastery on the site of the Cathedral, where he died in 589. The monastery was attacked and destroyed many times during the next four centuries until William the Conqueror visited St David’s to pray in 1081 following the Norman Conquest of 1066. Under Norman rule, St David’s as a religious centre grew, leading to King Henry I appointing the first Bishop of St Davids and the need for a cathedral. The first cathedral was completed in 1131 however over the next fifty years, religious following of St David increased and after King Henry II’s visit to the area in 1171, a larger cathedral was needed.
Construction of the current cathedral began in 1181, however during the mid thirteenth century, the Cathedral was damaged as the tower collapsed in 1220 and an earthquake struck the area in 1247/48. Over the course of the fourteenth century, the Cathedral was substantially modified; the construction of the rood screen (an ornate partition between the chancel and nave), the construction of the Bishop’s Palace (now a ruin next to the Cathedral), the chantry and the cloister.
In 1540 during the reign of King Henry VIII, the remains of Edmund Tudor, the King’s grandfather were entombed at St David’s Cathedral after being removed from the Greyfriars Priory in Carmarthen, following its dissolution during the Reformation. Edmund Tudor’s tomb is still housed in the Cathedral today.
After the dissolution of the Monarchy after the English Civil War, St David’s Cathedral was badly damaged by Oliver Cromwell’s forces and the Cathedral would remain in a state of severe disrepair for the next two hundred years.
Starting with the west front in 1793 by Welsh architect John Nash, the Cathedral began a period of reconstruction and restoration which would last until 1910. Between 1862 and 1867, the whole building was restored by George Gilbert Scott, a Victorian architect who also designed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. John Nash’s earlier work proved to be substandard and G. Scott’s restoration was required after the Cathedral became unstable.
During the twentieth century, with the exception of the Lady chapel and easter chapels, little restoration occurred until the 1990s. St David’s newly granted city status meant the Cathedral needed to invest in its future and comprehensive restoration project began with the restoration of west front. A visitor centre was created along with a refectory and the building of new cloister housing an educational centre was completed in 2007. Whilst the Cathedral has been widely restored, the Bishop’s Palace situated next to the Cathedral lies in ruin open to the public and regularly hosts open air theatre performances.
Arriving at the Cathedral it is free to enter, however as the Cathedral costs two thousand pounds per day to maintain, they recommend a donation of three pounds per person. To take photographs or record videos inside the Cathedral, a permit must be purchased from the shop at a cost of one pound fifty for photographs and three pounds for video recording.
The nave is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral, built in a Norman style. The ceiling is an ornate wooden ceiling rather than a stone vaulted ceiling due to inadequate foundations and damage from an earthquake in the thirteenth century.
The pulpit separates the nave from the choir and was built during the fourteenth century by Bishop Gower (who also built much of the Bishop’s Palace). The Bishop Gower’s tomb is located in the pulpit at St David’s Cathedral.
Behind the pulpit is the choir, constructed in the later fifteenth-early sixteenth century. On some of the stalls embroidered cushions display musical notes and lyrics to hymns such as Jerusalem.
Looking up when stood in the choir and you can see the ornate ceiling of the tower.
Next to the choir is St David’s shrine and the high altar. The high altar area underwent major reconstruction during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at which time the ornately painted ceiling was added.
Located in front of the high altar is the tomb of Edmund Tudor, father of King Henry VII and grandfather of King Henry VIII.
Next to the tomb is the newly restored shrine of St David with depictions of St Patrick, St David and St Andrew on the front, which were added this year.
The Chapel of St Edward the Confessor contains an altar, tomb and various fittings made of alabaster, entombed in the chapel is the Countess of Maidstone who donated a large amount of money to the restoration of the south aisle and chapel. The chapel was badly damaged by Cromwell’s Parliamentary soldiers, who stripped the lead from the roof in 1648.
After walking around the inside and outside of the Cathedral, we crossed the bridge to view the Bishop’s Palace.
The Bishop’s Palace
The Bishop’s Palace was built in two parts by Bishops Thomas Bek between 1280 and 1293, and by Henry de Gower between 1328 and 1347. The palace was built as a residence for the Bishop, who during the medieval period would have been a major state figure.
The palace boasted a great hall measuring thirty metres, two sets of staterooms for the private use of the Bishop and for ceremonial occasions, as well as private chambers and kitchen rooms and would have been a very imposing and decadent building.
Admission to the Bishop’s Palace costs three pounds per person as it is maintained by Cadw, the Welsh government’s heritage & historic environment service.
After exploring St David’s and eating lunch we drove to Newgale beach then later to Broad Haven. Walking along the sandy beach at Broad Haven, I soon saw something in the further down the beach that reminded me of the Sphinx in Egypt.
Unfortunately due to our trip to Pembrokeshire lasting one day only, we soon began the four-hour journey home. There is something so calming about being in Wales and by the sea, I honestly did not want to come back home.
I am unsure what my next blog post will be about, there are three possibilities; Attingham Park near Shrewsbury, Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire or an attempt at lavender shortbread. The National Trust options depend on the weather, which isn’t looking too good at the moment.
- http://www.stdavidscathedral.org.uk – St David’s Cathedral website
- http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/stdavidsbishopspalace/?lang=en – Bishop’s Palace
- http://www.stdavids.co.uk – St David’s city website
- http://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk – Pembrokeshire County website