Founded in the second half of the sixth century as a small monastery convent, St Davids to the eleventh century has grown into a very important place of religious worship and scholarship center. Repeatedly looted by the plundering raids of the Vikings, only with the arrival of the Anglo-Normans reached some stabilization. In 1115, they appointed a bishop (Bernard) and attempted to protect St Davids, building a earth-timber motte and bailey castle, later replaced by a stone defensive wall surrounding the entire cathedral complex. At that time, the bishops of St Davids were not only spiritual leaders who appointed priests and supervised church affairs, but also had to settle disputes and manage vast estates. The diocese took over the border regions, so the bishop was also the Lord Marcher responsible for maintaining peace and acting as a military commander if necessary. The Marcher Lords were trusted allies of the English monarch and in exchange for their military assistance, they received extraordinary permissions in their regions. Among other, the bishop organized the weekly and annual fairs in his estates, the fees of which were the main source of income for the diocese.
The construction of the palace began in the eighties of the thirteenth century by bishop Thomas Bek. On his initiative, a corner chapel and a west and eastern range were erected, with a hall and private chambers. At that time, a gatehouse was also created along with a defensive wall. Work on a much larger scale was carried out in the first half of the fourteenth century by bishop Henry de Gower. He erected the building of the great hall in the south range and completely rebuilt the two older ranges.
Probably, since the death of bishop Gower in 1347, no major construction works were carried out, except for the repairs of bishop Adam de Houghton in the years 1362-1389. Bishops spent less and less time in St Davids and in the middle of the 16th century their main residence was already in Abergwili. In 1536, bishop William Barlow demolished the lead roofs of the building, to pay for his five daughters’ dowry. Apparently he made so much money on it, that more than twelve-year episcopal income would be needed to cover the cost of repair. Unfortunately, due to the demolition, the palace fell into total ruin. In 1616, bishop Richard Milbourne submitted for the dismantling of some buildings, and although the works were not carried out, the buildings were considered unrepairable and remained as a ruin.
The palace complex, after the expansion of the bishop Henry de Gower in the first half of the 14th century, consisted of three main ranges: on the south, east and west sides, which marked a spacious inner courtyard, enclosed by the defensive wall from the north. The entrance to its area led through the northern, four-sided gatehouse from the end of the 13th century.
The eastern range was originally built at the end of the 13th century, but bishop Gower has made a thorough reconstruction. Originally it consisted of a rectangular building with a great hall on the south side and a private chamber on the north side. Gower changed the layout of these rooms and placed private bishop apartments in them. The building was crowned with arcades running through its entire length and decorative crenelage and corner turrets. On the south side, a kitchen and a porch with a gallery from the side of the courtyard were added, which was the main entrance to the building and at the same time led to the southern range. On the northern side, in the middle of the 14th century, a rectangular building of a private bishop’s chapel was erected, next to the entrance gate. The last addition was the eastern building built around 1500, which was added perpendicular to the east range.
Built in 1327-1347, the southern range was the most magnificent and the largest in the palace complex, serving ceremonial, representative and entertainment functions. It consisted of a rectangular in the plan, a two-story building and a large entrance vestibule from the side of the courtyard. Around 1350, a small latrine block was added to it in the south-western part. The ground floor of the building was divided into six rooms with economic functions. On the first floor there was a great hall and a large chamber in the western part. Like the east range, the southern building was crowned with arcades running through its entire length, ornate crenellation and corner turrets.
The smallest western range was a one-story, long and narrow building, probably carrying out economic functions. It is possible that its beginnings date back to the 12th century. On its southern side, bishop Thomas Bek built a rectangular building of the Great Chapel with the sacristy, at the end of the 13th century.
The bishop’s palace in St Davids is one of the most valuable monuments of medieval, not defensive, secular architecture, not only in Great Britain, but also throughout Europe. To this day, it has been preserved practically in its entirety, but in the form of a unroofed ruin. It remains under the protection of the governmental agenda Cadw, which makes it available to visitors from March 1 to June 30, daily from 9.30 to 17.00, from July 1 to August 31 daily from 10.00 to 18.00, from September 1 to October 31, daily at 9.30-17.00 and from November 1 to February 28 from Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 16:00 and on Sunday from 11:00 to 16:00.
Website castlewales.com, St Davids Bishop’s Palace.
Website gatehouse-gazetteer.info, St Davids Bishops Palace.
Website wikipedia.org, St Davids Bishops Palace.