St David's Cathedral

St David's Cathedral

St David's Cathedral (Welsh: "Eglwys Gadeiriol Tyddewi") is situated in St David's in the county of Pembrokeshire, on the most westerly point of Wales.

Early history

The monastic community was founded by Saint David, Abbot of Menevia, who died in AD589. Between AD645 and 1097, the community was attacked many times by raiders, including the Vikings, however it was of such note as both a religious and intellectual centre that King Alfred summoned help from the monastic community at St David's in rebuilding the intellectual life of the Kingdom of Wessex. Many of the Bishops were murdered by raiders and hoarders, including Bishop Moregenau in AD999, and notably Bishop Abraham in 1080. The stone, which marked his grave, known as ‘The Abraham Stone’, is intricately carved with symbols of the early Celtic Church, and now is on permanent display within the Cathedral Exhibition at Porth-y-Tŵr.

In 1081, William the Conqueror visited St David's to pray, and thus recognised it as a holy and respected place. In 1089, the shrine of David was vandalised, and stripped of its precious metals. In 1090, the Welsh scholar Rhigyfarch wrote his Latin “Life of David”, highlighting David’s sanctity, thus beginning the almost cult-like status he achieved.

In 1115, with the area under Norman control, King Henry I of England appointed Bishop Bernard as Bishop of St David's. He began to improve life within the community, and commenced construction of a new Cathedral. In 1123, Pope Calixtus II granted Bishop Bernard’s request to bestow a Papal “Privilege” upon St Davids, making it a centre of pilgrimage for the Western World, the Pope decreeing “Two pilgrimages to St Davids is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem!”. The new Cathedral was quickly constructed. Bishop Bernard consecrated the new Cathedral in 1131. Henry II of England’s visit in 1171 saw the following of David increase – and the need for a larger Cathedral.

The present Cathedral was begun in 1181, and completed not long after. Problems beset the new building and the community in its infancy; the collapse of the new tower in 1220, and earthquake damage in 1247/48.

Under Bishop Gower the Cathedral was modified further, with the rood screen and the Bishop’s Palace, intended as permanent reminders of his episcopacy. (The Palace is now a picturesque ruin, and rood-screens are considered an inappropriate division between the clergy and laity, and where they remain, they do so merely as items of historical architectural value.)

The episcopacy of Edward Vaughan saw the building of the Holy Trinity Chapel, with its fan vaulting which some say inspired the roof of King’s College, Cambridge. This period also saw great developments for the nave, whose roof and Irish Oak ceiling were constructed between 1530-40. Bishop Barlow, unlike his predecessor as Bishop, wished to suppress the following of David, and stripped St David's shrine of its jewels and confiscated the relics of St David and St Justinian in order to counteract "superstition" in 1538. In 1540, the body of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond and father of Henry VII, was brought to be entombed in front of the High Altar from the dissolved Greyfriars’ Priory in Carmarthen.

The dissolution of the Monarchy and the establishment of the Puritan Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell had great effect on many Cathedrals and Churches, particularly felt in St Davids. The Cathedral was all but destroyed by Cromwell’s forces, and the lead stripped from the Bishop’s Palace roof.

The present cathedral

between 1862-70. The Lady Chapel was restored by public subscription in 1901, and the eastern chapels were restored through a legacy of the Countess of Maidstone between 1901-10.

The Cathedral suffered the pains of Disestablishment in 1923, as did the whole Church in Wales. The Diocese being made smaller, by the removal of the Archdeaconry of Brecon to form the new Diocese of Swansea and Brecon. However, this left a large area as a Diocese to govern, and St David's began to deteriorate as the centre of the diocese, being nowhere near the centre – the Bishop’s residence had been at Carmarthen since the 1500’s, but administration and the focus moved from the Cathedral to the Diocese’s now largest town.

The 1950s saw the appointment of the Reverend Carl Witton-Davies as Dean; appointed in his 30s, his driving vision and energy was short-lived, as he was offered what some was believed as a preferment as Archdeacon of Oxford, but did not leave that position for the rest of his service in the Church. The Cathedral began to have life again, and the famous Welsh Youth Pilgrimages to St Davids led many to a life of service in the Church.

The 1960s saw the restoration of St Mary’s College as the Cathedral Hall, for the use of the Cathedral Parish, and for use as an area for art exhibitions and poetry readings. It was dedicated by Archbishop Edwin Morris in 1966, and the inaugural event was a poetry reading by the renowned poet, R. S. Thomas, who served as a Vicar in the Bangor Diocese.

During the 1980s a number of official events in Cathedral life took place: in 1981, the Prince of Wales visited to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Consecration of the Cathedral; and on Maundy Thursday 1982, Queen Elizabeth II distributed the Royal Maundy at the Cathedral. This was the first occasion that the ceremony had taken place outside England. 1989-90 saw the 1400th anniversary of the death of St David, presided over, rather aptly by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr George Noakes, who was also Diocesan Bishop of St David's.

The decades leading to and immediately following the Millennium, have been the most notable in the cathedral's history since its construction. Firstly, the British Government decided to re-instate the title of "city" to St Davids, and this was formally conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 1 June 1995. The task that lay before the Dean, the Very Reverend Wyn Evans on his appointment in 1994 was huge - a new organ was badly needed, and the west front needed extensive restoration. It was also thought time that the Cathedral invested in its future, by creating a visitor centre within the bell tower, enlarging the peal of bells from eight to ten, and by the ‘re-construction’, or completion, of the cathedral cloisters to house the cathedral choir, vestries, an education suite, rooms for parish use, and a refectory, as a reminder of the monastic beginnings. The first project was the restoration of the west front, with the original quarry that was used for stone at Caerbwdi Bay being reopened. This phase was completed in 1998, in time for the organ to be dismantled and re-built by the organ builders Harrison and Harrison of Durham. The organ was completed in the summer of 2000, and dedicated on 15 October of that year. The ring of bells was cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry of London, and presented as a gift by the American Friends of St Davids Cathedral. The substantial task of re-building the cloisters as an education centre and refectory began in 2003 and was completed in May 2007.

Cathedral life

There are at least three services said or sung per day, each week, with sung services on five out of seven days.

The cathedral choir at St David's were the first Cathedral choir in the United Kingdom to use girls and men as the main choir, rather than boys and men.Fact|date=January 2008 Many inaccurately attribute this to Salisbury Cathedral, however they introduced boys and girls on an equal basis, whereas St David's used girls as their ‘main’ cathedral choristers.Fact|date=January 2008 There is also a boy’s choir whose weekly evensong is a major event within the cathedral week. They sing with the Vicar’s Choral and lay clerks regularly.

The St Davids Cathedral Festival runs through the Whitsun school holiday each year, and showcases some of the world’s best performers. The week sees performers, both professional and young, play in front of thousands. The Cathedral Choir serve as a highlight each year, being a very popular concert, as well as the Festival Chorus and Orchestra who perform a major work on the final night of the Festival.

Local legends

Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) in the 13th-century relates the strange story of a marble footbridge leading from the church over the Alun rivulet in Saint Davids. The marble stone was called 'Llechllafar' (the talking stone) because it once spoke when a corpse was carried over it to the cemetery for interment. The effort of speech had caused it to break, despite its size of ten foot in length, six in breadth and one in thickness. This bridge was worn smooth due to its age and the thousands of people who had walked over it, however the superstition was so great that corpses were no longer carried over it. This ancient bridge was replaced in the 16th-century and its present whereabouts is not known.

Another legend is that Merlin had prophesied the death on Llechllafar of an English King, conqueror of Ireland, who had been injured by a man with a red hand. King Henry II on a pilgrimage to Saint David's, having come over from Ireland, heard of the prophecy and crossed Llechllafar without ill effect. He boasted that Merlin was a liar, to which a bystander replied that the King would not conquer Ireland and was therefore not the king of the prophecy.Hoare, Sir Richard Colt (1806). "The Itinery of Archbishop Baldwin through Wales" MCLXXXVIII by Giraldus de Barri. Pub. William Miller, London. P. 6 - 8.] This turned out to be true, for Henry never did conquer the whole of Ireland.Phillips, Rev James (1909). "The History of Pembrokeshire." Pub. Elliot Stock, London. P. 205 - 206.] Citation
first=William Basil
first2=Edward Augustus
author2-link=Edward Augustus Freeman
title=The History and Antiquities of Saint David's
publisher=J. H. & J. Parker


External links

* [ Cathedral Website]
* [ Cathedral Festival Website]

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