On the first of September, I left Cardiff and headed toward the most westerly portion of Wales. Since there weren’t any hostels available around there, I rented a room for 3 days from a very nice woman in a private home in the town of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire for 3 days. What a ‘comfy-cozy’ place that was!
A friend of mine, Meinir, who also loves to travel and who I first met at the Eiffel Tower a couple of years ago, lives nearby. This was the perfect opportunity for the two of us to reconnect and to get to go exploring together in her neck of the woods. She took me to St. David’s where we saw the beautiful and ornate cathedral and the ruins of the Bishops’ Palace. She travels all over the place but hadn’t visited this place since she was a young school girl and was excited to see it again after all these years.
We travelled to the tip of Wales, seeing coves and small harbours along the way,
until we arrived at the center of town where all sorts of delightful tastes are to be found!
We enjoyed a really yummy sandwich and salad combination for lunch at an outdoor cafe. Afterward, we were fueled up and ready for some exploring within the confines of the cathedral grounds.
Since the 6th century, there has been a church on this site. For the past 1500 years, prayer and worship have been offered here and continues to this day. The monastic community was founded by Saint David, Abbot of Menevia, who died in 589. This cathedral is quite large and the grounds surrounding these enormous buildings are also quite extensive!
From the car park, we started out with a bit of a stroll down to the backside of the cathedral working our way around to the front of the building…
Quite a piece of construction; very impressive! From the view above, I turned to the left, and on the other side, I saw the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace as shown below…
We headed toward the entrance admiring the soaring tower and the many turrets and ancient windows.
Once inside, the cathedral begins to reveal its many treasures starting with the Nave.
The nave is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral and built in a Transitional Norman style. Originally it didn’t have seats and was used for indoor processions. Each of the rounded arches is carved with a different pattern.
The stone screen, or ‘pulpitum,’ which divides the nave from the choir is quite unique. The stone carvings were beautiful.
As luck would have it, a wedding had just taken place and we were lucky enough to get a picture of the lovely bride and her attendants.
Inside the ‘pulpitum’ is skeleton vaulting decorated with murals, it is thought that these are remnants of an earlier screen absorbed by the present one.
As we wandered around the vast interior, around a corner we discovered the cathedrals’ Treasury! “There ought to be some very interesting things to look at within its confines,” I thought.
Sure enough! I was right. According to the Cathedrals’ very well-written interpretive signs and brochures:
“Treasures of the Bishops
A variety of objects, reflecting the power and status of the Bishops of St Davids, were discovered in the Cathedral graves of four early Bishops. Amongst these were rings which are now on display in the Treasury – rings decorated with amethysts which belonged to Bishop Beck and Bishop Carew and a plain gold ring with five notches on it, perhaps intended to remind the wearer of the five wounds of Christ. Silver Chalices on show were also buried with Bishops Beck and Carew and date back to the 13th century.”
“The croziers or Bishops’ staffs of office are perhaps the greatest of the treasures on display. They are made of copper and gilded and would have been carried by bishops during services 800 years ago. One found in the grave of Bishop Gower is much plainer than the others on display, made of latten, an alloy of copper, zinc, lead and tin, and was specifically made to be buried with the bishop. Medieval coins were found in the grave of Bishop Beck. They date from the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377).”
Once again, according to the cathedrals’ sources:
“David was born in the year 500, the son of St Non and a prince of Ceredigion. Legend states that Non gave birth to him on a cliff top during a violent storm. The present cathedral stands on the site of the monastery he founded in the inhospitable area known as ‘Glyn Rhosyn.’ David and his followers lived a simple life; they refrained from eating meat or drinking beer. David’s symbol, now a national symbol of Wales, is the leek.
David rose to become a bishop in the church and made several pilgrimages including one to Jerusalem during which, tradition states, he brought back with him a stone which now sits in an altar in the south transept of the cathedral.
The best-known miracle associated with David is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. When those at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. A white dove settled on his shoulder, a sign of God’s grace and blessing.
David died in the year 589.”
Right next to St. David’s Shrine and in the middle of the room, is another famous grave, that of Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond (father of King Henry VII) who died in 1456 at the young age of 26.
Nearby was yet another really old stone effigy of Rhys Ap Gruffydd, one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes.
We wandered around all the nooks and crannies of that multi-faceted building. The ceilings above in each chapel were amazingly intricate. I especially enjoyed the fan-vaulting.
So many interesting carvings and stonework to admire along with heraldic symbols.
After that interesting tour inside the cathedral, we headed back outside and proceeded to cross a very old footbridge as we made our way over to the Bishop’s Palace.
The Bishop’s Palace is as big, if not bigger, than the cathedral! With all it’s many floors and stairwells to follow, it took a lot longer to tour!
According to CADW (the historic environment service of the Welsh Government);
“The whole site sends shivers down the spine. It evokes a period when religion was the order of the day and bishops were powerbrokers par excellence. Lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking chequerboard stonework are all testament to the wealth and status of these medieval men of religion.
Bishop Thomas Bek undertook significant new building work on the site but it was Bishop Henry de Gower who was responsible for virtually the entire palace we see today. His legacy consists of two great ranges. The east range – the simpler of the two – was the first to be built. This was his private domain. The second, the south range, was much grander and built for stylish entertaining. The great hall, the most impressive chamber in the palace, created the perfect backdrop for banquets.”
I headed into the east range first.
After exploring the lowest levels of the east range, I then turned my concentration to the newer and more opulent south range where all the stylish entertainment occurred.
When I went back downstairs below the Great Hall, there was a very interesting wooden model of the Palace with intricately carved figures and cute little scenes depicting life at the time that you could walk all the way around and look into each room.
Elsewhere on the bottom level were huge rooms where a lot of activity used to take place.
What a fantastic tour of both places. Rich with history, outstanding architecture, art and historical figures burial sites.
We headed up the hill to the Gatehouse above to exit the grounds to start making our way back to Meinir’s house about 40 minutes away.
When we got to her house, her father had prepared a wonderful typical Welsh supper for us and we really enjoyed our last bit of time together in the comfort of their home. What hospitality!
It was a great day spent with Meinir and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to explore with her, learn about her home, meet her family. It’s so much fun to be with a “local” and get the feel a place through their experience. Thank you Meinir!
I stayed in the quaint town of Haverfordwest for a couple more days, but it began raining so I took the opportunity to take care of some domestic chores that were much needed. Things like watching my clothes after travelling constantly for 2 weeks was a good start, also went grocery shopping to restock my stores, and sat inside with the fireplace warming me while I got caught up with blog posts.
When it cleared my host took me around her town while she shopped pointing our many of its charms as we went. We also enjoyed a nice lunch and a yummy coffee at a cafe on the river’s edge in centre of town.
The town had all kinds of interesting shops with unique Welsh ware…
To the top of the town we went to visit the ruins of a small castle.
Inside the main building within the castle walls was the museum, so we ducked in just before closing and were able to see old pictures and relics from days long ago.
It was a fun day and an interesting little town and I really enjoyed getting to know some of the local people and how and where they live. The next morning, however, I gathered up my clean clothes, packed my groceries neatly before stashing them in the car, and started heading north. In my next entry, we’ll be visiting scenic Northern Wales, exploring a couple of more castles, traipsing in the mountains and taking a ride or two on the Welsh Steam Train Railways!