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St. Davids Cathedral

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Title: St. Davids Cathedral  
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St. Davids Cathedral

Not to be confused with St David's Cathedral, Hobart.
Saint David's Cathedral
St Davids Cathedral
St David's Cathedral from the gatehouse

Coordinates: 51°52′55″N 5°16′06″W / 51.88194°N 5.26833°W / 51.88194; -5.26833

Location St Davids, Pembrokeshire
Country Wales
Denomination Church in Wales
Previous denomination Catholic Church (ended mid-16th century)
Churchmanship High church
Website papal bull 1123
Founded c. AD 589
Founder(s) St David
Consecrated 1131
Relics held St David
Architect(s) Medieval masons
John Nash (18th century)
George Gilbert Scott (19th century)
Style Romanesque Architecture, English Gothic architecture
Groundbreaking 1181
Completed mid-13th century
Length 90 metres (300 ft)
Nave width 22.5 metres (74 ft)
Height 35 metres (115 ft)
Diocese Diocese of St Davids
Bishop(s) The Right Reverend Wyn Evans
Dean The Very Reverend Jonathan Lean
Canon(s) The Reverend Canon Dorrien Paul Davies
Curate(s) The Reverend Gareth M. Reid
Assistant priest The Reverend Michael I. Plant
Organist/Director of music Daniel Cook
Organist(s) Simon Pearce
Chapter clerk Arwel Davies
Verger Barrie Webb

St David's Cathedral (or St Davids Cathedral) (Welsh: Eglwys Gadeiriol Tyddewi) is situated in St Davids 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 589. Between 645 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 marauders, including Bishop Moregenau in 999, and notably Bishop Abraham in 1080. The stone, which marked his grave, known as ‘The Abraham Stone’, is intricately carved with early Celtic symbols, 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 David's, making it a centre of pilgrimage for the Western World, the Pope decreeing “Two pilgrimages to St David's 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 (1328–1347) the Cathedral was modified further, with the rood screen and the Bishops Palace, intended as permanent reminders of his episcopacy. (The Palace is now a picturesque ruin.)

In 1365, Bishop Adam Houghton and John of Gaunt began to build St Mary's College, a chantry, and Houghton later added the cloister which connects it to the cathedral.[1]

The episcopacy of Edward Vaughan (1509–1522) 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 David's. The Cathedral was all but destroyed by Cromwell’s forces, and the lead stripped from the Bishop’s Palace roof.

The present cathedral

The Welsh architect John Nash was commissioned to restore the West Front in 1793 to repair the damage done two hundred years previously. Eclectic in style (with Gothic and Perpendicular characteristics - the latter attributed partly from his destruction of the windows of the chapel of St Mary's college in order to reuse that tracery for his west front) his work soon proved to be substandard (as had his previous work on the Chapter House). Within a century the Nash West Front had become unstable, and the whole building was restored by George Gilbert Scott 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 was 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 16th century, 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 David's led many to a life of service in the Church and provided the Church in Wales with inspired clergy for a decade following.

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, Charles, 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. In 1989-90, the 1400th anniversary of the death of St David was presided over by the Archbishop of Wales, George Noakes, who was also Diocesan Bishop of St David's.

The decades leading to and immediately following the year 2000, 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 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 David's Cathedral. The substantial task of re-building the cloisters as an education centre and refectory began in 2003 and was completed in May 2007. The translation of Wyn Evans from Dean to Bishop led to the appointment of Jonathan Lean as Dean in 2009. His role at the Cathedral since 2001 has been to reshape the liturgy to one worthy of a Cathedral, and will continue in improving the life of the Cathedral whilst Dean.

The bells are not hung in the central tower of the cathedral but in the old gatehouse, Porth y Twr. There are 10 bells with the heaviest weighing 24cwt-3qr-25 lbs in D, the back eight bells were cast in 1928 by Mears & Stainbank, London and 2 trebles added in 2000 cast by Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London. Details of the bells:-

  • Bell Weight Note Diameter Cast Founder
  • 1 5-1-3 F# 2000 Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd
  • 2 5-1-23 E 2000 Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd
  • 3 5-2-22 D 30.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 4 5-3-23 C# 31.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 5 7-0-13 B 33.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 6 8-2-3 A 35.75" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 7 10-3-13 G 39.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 8 11-2-23 F# 41.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 9 17-1-2 E 46.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank
  • 10 24-3-25 D 52.00" 1928 Mears & Stainbank

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.[2] 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. There is also a boys' choir whose weekly evensong is a major event within the cathedral week. They sing with the Vicars Choral regularly.

The St David's 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.

List of deans of St David's

Before 1840 the senior residentiary cleric was the Precentor, and not a Dean due to a complication during the dissolution of the monasteries. Since 1840 the title "Dean" has been appended to that of Precentor, hence the Dean of St David's formally being "Dean and Precentor" and his seat being upon what is normally regarded in most places as on 'Cantoris' side, with a stall 'in quire' reserved for the Bishop.

  • 1839–1878 Llewelyn Llewellin (assumed title of Dean in 1840)
  • 1878–1895 James Allen
  • 1895–1897 Evan Owen Phillips
  • 1897–1903 David Howell
  • 1904–1918 James Allan Smith
  • 1919–1930 William Williams
  • 1931–1940 David Watcyn Morgan
  • 1940–1949 Albert William Parry
  • 1950–1957 Carlyle Witton-Davies (afterwards Archdeacon of Oxford, 1957)
  • 1957–1972 Thomas Edward Jenkins
  • 1972–1984 Lawrence Bowen
  • 1984–1990 Alexander Gordon MacWilliam
  • 1990–1994 Bertie Lewis
  • 1994–2008 John Wyn Evans (afterwards Bishop of St David's)
  • 2009–present David Jonathan Rees Lean

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 St 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.[3] This ancient bridge was replaced in the 16th-century and its present whereabouts is not known.[4][5]

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.[3] This turned out to be true, for Henry never did conquer the whole of Ireland.[4][5]


The organ

A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[6]

List of organists


External links

  • Cathedral Website
  • Cathedral Festival Website

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