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St Davids Cathedral, St Davids

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Map ReferenceSM72NE
Grid ReferenceSM7515625430
Unitary (Local) AuthorityPembrokeshire
Old CountyPembrokeshire
CommunitySt Davids and the Cathedral Close
PeriodPost Medieval

St David's Cathedral is situated within a large rectilinear walled enclosure known as The Close, dissected by the River Alun which is fed by a number of streams and springs to the north and east of the site. The close, its present form dating chiefly to the 13th and 14th centuries, may at least partially reflect an earlier enclosure ? the names of some of its entries possibly preserving the locations of early medieval entries. A number of springs and wells lie close to the walls, including the now-destroyed St Mary's well (NPRN 423503), whose site is some 20m east of the external east wall, and Pistyll Dewi (NPRN 423501), which reportedly lay close by, within the east enclosure wall. The site has a tradition of `nawdd? (sanctuary) and is thought to have been the location of the location of the early medieval St Davids Monastery, dating from from at least the 7th century. Latin annals were compiled at St Davids from the 8th century onwards. In 885 King Alfred of Wessex invited Asser of St Davids to join his intellectual circle, testifying to the importance of St Davids as a place of learning. The cult of St David became known in Wessex around that time. Evidence for the cult in Wales is seen in the vernacular poem of around 930, Armes Prydein, and in the late 11th-century Life of David. By the 11th century St Davids was an established pilgrimage centre. The church was subject to 11 Viking attacks between 907 and 1091, seven of which occurred between 1070 and 1090. The clergy were described as `claswyr? (a hereditary group of canons) in 1081. Nine early medieval stones (NPRNs 401305, 423491 - 423498) are housed at the cathedral and attest to its importance during the latter part of the early medieval period. St Davids was described as an `archbishopric? in a 9th century source and had become the head of a monastic bishopric by the later post-Conquest period. The post-Conquest cathedral possessed numerous prebendal churches and dependent churches and chapelries.

The present St David's Cathedral building mostly dates from 1180 to 1220, although alterations and additions were made between the twelfth and sixteenth centuries. The west front is a nineteenth century restoration intended to recreate the original Norman front following an unsympathetic rebuilding by Nash. There is a fine early sixteenth century roof to the nave. The cathedral is one of the earliest British examples of a combined triforium and clerestory. It is the most important medieval ecclesiastical building in Wales. The Cathedral stands at the centre of a complex of medieval and later structures and buildings, enclosed by the precinct wall (NPRN 402321), these, with the associated borough without, comprising the medieval and later city (NPRN 268104).

Additional: Tree-ring dating commissioned by RCAHMW and reported in Vernacular Architecture, vol. 39 (2008), pp. 142-3:

St David's Cathedral (SM 7515 2543)
(a) Tower Felling date ranges: 1248-1278; 1273-1303; 1286-1316; 1287-1317; 1303-1333
(b) Bellframe Felling date: Spring 1386
(c) Nave roof ceiling boards Felling date ranges: 1434-1474; 1445-1475
(d) Nave roof-trusses Felling date ranges: 1501-1531 to 1544-1574

St David's is a complex multi-period cathedral best appreciated through the detailed account by Roger Worseley in The Buildings of Wales: Pembrokeshire (2004 ) and the lavishly illustrated St Davids Cathedral 1181-1981 (1981) by Wyn Evans & Roger Worsley. Three major elements were sampled; elements not sampled included the screens and stalls, the timber vault at the tower crossing, and a currently inaccessible fragment of early roof (ex inf. Jerry Sampson). The dating was commissioned by RCAHMW as a centenary project with the support of the Dean, the Very Rev. J. Wyn Evans.

(a) The three-stage tower is of several builds. The original tower partly collapsed in 1220 (?) and was rebuilt in at least two phases, the second stage with ballflower ornament is 14th Century and the upper stage with belfry, parapet and pinnacles dates from circa 1500. The ceiling bracing of the clock chamber below the belfry was sampled. Jowled posts rising from corbels with large curved timber braces support the main beams of the bell-chamber floor; the joists pass over the beams. The braces are apparently in situ (though many of the joists are reused) and date from between 1300-1325. This presumably dates the initial reconstruction of the tower.

(b) The bellframe in the chamber above was adjusted and expanded in the 19th Century (painted date of 1852) but incorporates much material from an earlier bellframe constructed from timber felled shortly after 1385. The bellframe is earlier than the bellfry in its present form and must have been reframed more than once, as redundant mortices confirm. The bellframe, which requires further study, is the earliest known in Wales and one of the earliest identified in Britain.

(c) The nave roof is an important 'pendant ceiling', the object of much admiration since the later 16th century. It is secular in type (appropriate for a great hall) with a strongly marked Renaissance character, especially in the detailing of the pendants and in the innovative structural form of the trusses. The ceiling of twelve bays, each with ten boarded panels, is suspended from the tie-beams of low-pitched king-post trusses numbered I-IIX on the ridge-beam. The king-posts are 'joggled' to receive the principal rafters but are not braced. These may be the earliest king-post trusses of Italian type surviving in Britain. It has been suggested that the roof is of Flemish workmanship, made from Irish oak; however, cross-matching showed that the roof was made from Welsh rather than Irish oak, although the roof certainly has a Continental (Renaissance) character.. A more detailed account of this roof is in preparation.

Sampling gave an unexpectedly complex series of dates ranging from the mid-15th Century to the mid-16th Century. The timbers had been defrassed (probably in the 19th Century) and felling dates were estimated from the heartwood-sapwood boundary. The felling-date ranges indicate three phases: (1) a stockpiling phase in the first quarter of 16th Century; (2) a construction phase in the second quarter of the 16th Century; (3) a phase of repair and consolidation in the mid-16th Century. This complex sequence is consistent with the documentary sources; these indicate that the roof was commissioned before 1509, was partly constructed by the 1530s, but that work stopped between 1536 and 1548.

(d) Unexpectedly, tree-ring dating shows that the ceiling boards (feather-and v-edged, and numbered) are earlier than the ceiling beams, and had been reused from an earlier ceiling or timber-vaulted roof of circa 1450, possibly the predecessor nave roof.

Painted features include figures, symbols and decoration in tomb-recess and passage of Bishop Gower’s pulpitum (c.1340), ‘ghost’ figures on piers, and also paint work on the back of the stalls and on the bishop’s throne. These  are also painted ceilings to the crossing and in the chancel.

Richard Suggett, Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800, (RCAHMW 2021), pp. 31, 32, 46, 64, 78, 83, 98, 99–101, 118, 121, 125–6, 229, 258, 282.



application/pdfPTWRC - Painted Temples Wallpaintings and Rood-screens CollectionPlan of the pulpitum at St David's Cathedral, with location of drawings, produced by R. Suggett/ C. Green, 2021. As published in RCAHMW volume, 'Temlau Peintiedig: Murluniau a Chroglenni yn Eglwysi Cymru, 1200–1800 / Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood-screens in Welsh Churches, 1200–1800,' Figure 3.15, page 100.
application/pdfADAHS - ArchaeoDomus Archaeological and Heritage Services CollectionReport on Library Wall Investigations at St David's Cathedral (Archaeological Record), produced by ArchaeoDomus in 2021. Project No. AD-SCD-006.