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St Davids, Pembrokeshire

Historical Description

David's, St, a city and a parish in Pembrokeshire, and a diocese containing most of South Wales. The city stands in a tract of country of great geological interest, at the end of the Via Julia, on the river Alan, within a mile of St Bride's Bay, 16 miles WNW of Haverfordwest station on the G.W.R., which is 276 miles from Paddington. It took its present name from the founding of its see by David, the patron saint of Wales, son of Sandde, prince of Ceredigion. It acquired great consequence from its prelates, and high religious repute from its shrines, was burned or pillaged in 808, 911, 982, 1077, and 1087 by the Saxons and then-successors, and was visited by William the Conqueror, Henry II., Edward I. with Queen Eleanor, and Edward III., and for ages by multitudes of pilgrims. Two visits to it were declared by Pope Calixtus equivalent to one visit to Rome, and the road at it, leading to St David's shrine, was long known as Meidr-Saint, " the sacred way." The town is but a small village, consisting of one principal and two cross streets, but it still possesses attractions in its cathedral and its antiquities. It has a post, money order, and telegraph office (R.S.O.), an ancient cross in the market-place, restored by Bishop Thirlwall in 1873, and Congregational, Baptist, Wesleyan, and Calvinistic Methodist chapels, and National and Board schools. The cathedral stands in a deep hollow, apart from the village, within a walled Close, with a compass of nearly a mile. To the north is the ruined College of St Mary, built in 1377 by Bishop Houghton, with a tower 70 feet high, and a chapel 69 feet by 45; on the east hill is the Tower Gate, 60 feet high, flanked on the north by an early unfinished tower, and on the south by a bastion of later date. To the south-west are the remains of a magnificent palace built by Bishop Gower. This palace was one of six which belonged to the see; the quadrangle of it was 120 feet square, one hall of it 67 feet by 25, and another hall 96 feet by 24. Its eastern and southern walls still retain a beautiful arcade surmounted by a parapet. The present cathedral was built about 1180 by Bishop Peter de Leia. It consists of a central tower, a cleres-toried nave of six bays with aisles, a south porch with a parvise, a south transept of three bays with a small building eastwards converted into a chapter-house, a north transept of three bays with St Thomas's chapel, above which is the library, formerly the treasury, a choir under the tower, bays with aisles, a presbytery of four bays with clerestory and aisles, containing St David's shrine on the north. Immediately behind the eastern triplet stands Trinity Chapel, with a good fan-tracery ceiling. Eastward of which is a cross aisle giving access by twin arches to the Lady Chapel, built by Bishop Martyn early in the 14th century, and furnished with good Perpendicular windows by Bishop Vaughan. The central tower is 124 feet high, the nave is 127½ feet long, 76 wide, and 45¼ high, the transepts are 120 feet long and 27½ wide, the choir and presbytery are 80 feet long, and the entire edifice is internally 290 feet, externally 306 feet long. The tower is of three stages-Norman, Decorated, and Perpendicular. The nave is highly ornate and massive, Late Norman or Transitional, with Decorated windows in the aisles, inserted by Bishop Gower, who built the beautiful rood-screen, under which his remains lie, and has a rich Perpendicular ceiling of oak, said to be L-ish, erected about 1508; the transepts are Transition-Norman. The choir contains some grotesquely carved misereres. The cathedral has undergone various restorations. In 1220 the tower fell and seriously damaged the choir and transepts, and in 1248 an earthquake did great damage, shaking the arcades in the naves. In 1877 and following years the west front was rebuilt, after a design of Sir Gilbert Scott's, in memory of Bishop Thirlwall, an effigy of whom stands in the niche over the western door. In 18o3 the work of almost rebuilding the tower, which was insecure, was commenced by Sir Gilbert Scott, and since that date the greater part of the cathedral has undergone careful restoration. The chief monuments are, the shrines of St David and St Caradoc, effigies of Bishops Anselm, Gervase, and Fastoife, altar-tombs of Bishops John Morgan and Gower, and a Purbeck marble altar-tomb of Edmund Tudor, earl of Eichmond. father of Henry VII. His tomb and remains were removed hither by Henry VIII. from the church of the Grey Friars at Carmarthen, where the earl was buried. "Most beautiful, most desolate, It was St David's ancient pile, Nave, chaucel, tower, and windowed aisle; And skirting all the western side, A palace fair in ruined pride; With storied range in order set, And portal, arch, and parapet; There hiding from the haunts of men, In hollow of the mountain glen.''

The parish extends miles along the coast of St Bride's Bay and St George's Channel, is cut into the divisions of Cylch-Bychan, Cylch-Gwaelod-y-Wlad, Cylch-Mawr, and Cylch-y-Dre, and includes JRamsey Island. Acreage, 11,228 of land and 270 of water and adjacent tidal water and foreshore; population, 1840. The surface generally is wild, bleak, and barren. St David's Head, projecting westward, 2½ miles north-west of the city, rises from a plain to the height of about 100 feet, and declines precipitously to the sea. An ancient fortification, a stone rampart from 75 to 100 feet broad, called Clawdd-y-Milwr, goes across the neck or isthmus of the headland. A range of rocks to the north has a picturesque appearance, and a summit on them, called Carn-Llidi, commands a very extensive and magnificent view. A cromlech is on St David's Head, a rocking-stone, now dismounted, is at the foot of Carn-Llidi, and several other Druidical antiquities and ancient British remains are in the neighbourhood. Traces of walls occur on the coast of Whitesand Bay, south-east of St David's Head, and are thought by some to be vestiges of a church which existed before the times of the cathedral, but have been pronounced by most antiquaries to be Roman, and probably mark the position of the Poman station Menapia. A remarkable old fort, called Penllan, overlooks the Alan, a quarter of a mile from the cathedral. A ruined chapel, called Capel Stinian (St Justinian), is on the coast opposite Ramsey island, and another, midway between Porthdais and Caerfai, called Non's Chapel (dedicated to St Non or Nonita, the mother of St David). The purple sedimentary rock which furnisheA the stone for the cathedral is quarried at Caerbwdy. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of St David's; net value, s£270 with residence. Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of St David's. Carausius the Roman general, Asser the friend of Alfred, and Fenton the author of a '-Tour in Pembrokeshire," were natives. The cathedral close is extra-parochial.

The see of St David's took its rise in removal hither about 540 by St David from Caerleon, and was originally archi-episcopal. It had jurisdiction over all the sees of Wales, and over those of Hereford and Worcester; and though it lost the archiepiscopal dignity in 930, it continued to exercise the jurisdiction till the time of Henry I. The dignitaries include the bishop, the dean, four canons (one of whom is chancellor and another treasurer), four archdeacons, eleven. prebendaries, three vicars choral, and two lay vicars. The bishop's income is £4500, and his residence is Abergwili Palace. The diocese comprehends the counties of Pembroke, Carmarthen, and Cardigan, most of Brecon and Radnor, and part of Glamorgan, and is divided into the archdeaconries of St David's, Brecon, Carmarthen, and Cardigan. Population, 496,009.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Pembrokeshire is available to browse.

Newspapers and Periodicals

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