St David's Cathedral, South Wales

Although nothing survives of the monastery founded by David in the 6th century, St David's Cathedral is a magnificent memorial to this ascetic saint. Dating from the late 12th century, this splendid building remains a place surrounded by the natural beauty and solitude of the rugged West Wales coastline. Built using the local Cambrian sandstone, and following the Norman Transitional style, St David's Cathedral began life under the Bishops Peter and Gerald. Less than 40 years after building had started the tower collapsed due to inadequate foundations, and in the mid 13th century more damage resulted from the effects of an earthquake. For the next 300 years St David's Cathedral was extended, altered and transformed under successive Bishops, but it was most influenced by the work of Bishop Gower in the 14th century. He was responsible for the building of the Bishops Palace, and a major remodelling of the cathedral that included an amazing stone pulpitum.

Perhaps the most unfortunate feature to have disappeared from St David's Cathedral is the stained glass that once filled the huge perpendicular windows. Although the clear glass replacement has flooded the old cathedral with light, it must have been an awesome sight to have witnessed the multi-coloured refractions thrown across the ancient interior by the sunlight. The splendid nave arcade, made up of alternating round and octagonal piers, must surely represent one of the miracles of St David's Cathedral because it appears to be in the final stages of falling over. Having survived for the last six centuries with the aid of external props, flying buttresses and a suspended ceiling, as well as providing some of the most delightful decorative work, the probability is that it will continue to stand in all its glory for many more centuries yet.

Looking down the aisle to the altar, the floor is noticeably rippled and has a quite serious slope, partly due to the nature of the site itself but undoubtedly made worse by the earthquake. In the latter half of the 19th century Sir George Gilbert Scott began a significant restoration of St David's Cathedral, encompassing the provision of new foundations, rebuilding of the tower, and recreating the 15th century roof. Using methods and authentic materials as far as possible from the correct medieval periods, Scott gave this lovely Welsh cathedral a remarkably sympathetic new lease of life.

Used today as the parish church of St David's, the local community take pleasure in enhancing the cathedral with flowers and artwork for their own enjoyment, as well as ensuring that the many visitors see it as the beautiful treasure it is. Full of skilfully carved oak features, medieval and Renaissance motifs, stone bosses and statues, and the Abraham Stone displaying a fine Celtic design. Discovering St David's Cathedral is truly a walk through the ages, and one that must not be rushed for fear of missing any of its unique features.

With a building as visually enticing as this cathedral, it hardly needed the added attraction of a wildly pretty garden and graveyard. But it has one. When we visited in late spring, our first sight of St David's Cathedral was across a thick carpet of bluebells that both looked and smelled quite amazing. Adjacent to the cathedral, and crossing over the River Alun by the little stone bridge, it is possible to visit the Bishops Palace. Despite its now ruinous state, there remains much evidence to show the grandeur of the old palace, and it is a most serene setting to spend a while.


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