St David's Cathedral
St David's Cathedral
St. David, patron saint of Wales, founded a 6th century monastery here and trained missionaries to spread Christianity to Ireland. The present cathedral was built under the Norman bishop Peter de Leia in 1180. The shrine to St. David was a popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages; two trips here were worth one trip to Rome!
The cathedral lies low on a terrace of land beneath the crest of a hill on which the surrounding city is built (it seems frankly absurd to call the lovely, picturesque village a city, but since this is a cathedral then technically St David's is a city). From the centre of St David's the cathedral seems to appear from below ground, its tower poking up like the stalk of a flower poking its nose above the earth.

History
Here, on the top of the westernmost peninsula of mainland Wales, the Welsh saint Dewi, or David to give him his English name, established a monastery and served as Bishop of Menevia from the late 6th century until his death in 601AD. David's foundation became an important centre for training missionaries for work in Ireland. One of those missionaries was St Patrick, who set off for Ireland from nearby Whitesands Bay.

Over the next 4 centuries the monastery was sacked by Norse raiders at least 10 times. Life was never dull for the monks!

15th century nave ceiling
15th century nave ceiling
The cathedral we see today is thought to be the 4th to stand on the site of David's original monastery. When south Wales fell under the control of the Normans in the 11th and 12th centuries the new Norman bishops began a concerted program of rebuilding the earlier Welsh monastery. The third Norman bishop was Peter de Leia, who began rebuilding the nave and west end of the church around 1180. He also began a tower, but that fell down in the 13th century, damaging the choir and transepts. The current tower is 14th century at the lowest stage, but was raised to its current height in the early 15th century.

Architecture
The Norman architects had trouble with the swampy ground, and even today you can see the nave pillars leaning at an alarming degree both outwards and at an angle. One of the most striking features of the interior is not the drunken pillars, but the lovely colour of the nave, built of beautiful rose-coloured sandstone. The style is firmly Romanesque, with rounded pillars and massed shapes. Even so, you can see the beginnings of the Gothic transition to pointed arches and wide spans. It seems possible that the same masons who worked at Wells Cathedral also worked here at St David's, for there are huge similarities in the styles of both buildings.

The Quire screen
The Quire screen
The ceiling over the nave is a later addition, begun in 1472 and carved in wonderful detail from Irish oak. Near the high altar is a brass memorial to Edmund Tudor, the father of Henry VII. It originally stood in the monastery of Carmarthen, but when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries he had his grandfather's tomb moved to St Davids. To the left of the Tudor memorial is the shrine of St David, and on the great stone screens flanking the altar steps are mortuary chests holding the bones of early Welsh saints.

Sacred Bones
Behind the choir is the Lady Chapel and retrochoir. This area was heavily damaged in the Reformation and subsequently restored by Gilbert Scott in the Victorian period. One of the most interesting features of the east end is the Holy Trinity chapel, built by Bishop Vaughan from 1509-1522. This delightful chapel is a wonderful example of Perpendicular architecture, with marvellous fan tracery. In the east wall of the chapel is a small recess containing a casket. The casket is said to house the relics of St David and St Justinian. The bones were discovered during Scott's restoration work. Positive identification of the bones is impossible, but one of the skeletons discovered by Scott was that of a large man, and since David was said to be a very big man, it seemed reasonable to assume that here were the bones of St David himself.

Other notable tombs - and there are many - include that of Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys), and Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) the 13th century monk whose accounts of his travels through Wales remain one of our best records of medieval Wales to this day.

St David's reliquary
St David's reliquary
Immediately beside the cathedral are the sizeable remains of the 14th century Bishop's Palace, built by Bishop Gower around 1340 and one of the most impressive examples of a medieval ecclesiastical palace in Britain.

Visiting
St David's is a delight. The village - really, you can't think of it as a city - is wonderful, and the setting is superb. History seems to cling to every stone, and the combination of the cathedral and bishop's palace makes this an unforgettable place to visit. Don't miss St Non's holy well, just outside the village. Non, or Nona, was St David's mother, and there is a ruined chapel near an ancient stone well head in the middle of a field overlooking the rocky coastline.

Green man misericord in the quire
Green man misericord, quire
The nave arcades
The nave arcades
Tomb of Geraldus Cambrensis (d. 1223)
Geraldus Cambrensis tomb
Holy Trinity chapel fan vaulting
Holy Trinity chapel fan vaulting
St David's Shrine (1275)
Rear of St David's Shrine (1275)
The crossing tower
The crossing tower
The Quire
The Quire
Entrance to St David's shrine
Entrance to the shrine
Rhys ap Gruffydd effigy (d. 1197)
Rhys ap Gruffydd
effigy (d. 1197)