The original monastery at St Davids was founded in the second half of the sixth century by Saint David. At that time, the settlement was still called Menevia, and the present name was later taken over, by the name of the founder. Between 645 and 1097 St Davids was repeatedly attacked by invaders, including the Vikings, but it was always rebuilt. Many bishops were also murdered by aggressors, including bishop Moregenau in 999 and bishop Abraham in 1080. Despite this, St Davids became such an important religious and intellectual center that in the 9th century king Alfred called for help from the monastic community of St Davids, in rebuilding the intellectual life of the Wessex Kingdom. In 1081, king William the Conqueror visited St Davids, probably to investigate the strategic advantages of the settlement, because of its proximity to Ireland. In 1115, king Henry I appointed bishop Bernard, who in 1123 received from pope Kalickst II the privilege to establish a pilgrimage center in St Davids. He also began the reform the monastic community and began building the cathedral, which was consecrated already in 1131.
In 1171 St Davids was visited by king Henry II, who noticed the need to enlarge the cathedral. The construction of the new church began in 1181 under the patronage of Peter de Leia, the Norman bishop of St Davids. At that time, a romanesque nave was built, and in the next century a chancel, the transepts and a tower at the intersection of the naves were added. Unfortunately, it collapsed already in 1220, and subsequent destruction was caused by the earthquake of 1247. The repair of the damaged cathedral was begun immediately and completed in the 50s of the 13th century. Over the next hundred years, the chapel of St. Thomas Beckett and the Lady Chapel were added. In the first half of the fourteenth century, construction work was led by bishop Henry Gower. He raised the main nave and presbytery and transformed the lower windows in the style of late English gothic. The tower was also raised by one storey. In 1365, bishop Adam Houghton and John of Gaunt began to build the College of St. Mary and the chantry. Later, a patio was added with cloisters, which connected the new buildings with the cathedral. During the episcopacy of Edward Vaughan in 1509-1522 a chapel of the Holy Trinity was erected, with a fan vault that perhaps inspired King’s College in Cambridge.
The first Protestant bishop of St Davids was William Barlow in 1536-1548. Trying to fight superstitions, he ordered to dismantle the sanctuary of St. David, confiscated the relics of the saint and tried unsuccessfully to transfer the seat of the bishopric to Carmarthen. In 1550, bishop Farrer burned preserved medieval prayer books as the remains of the old order. During this period, however, not only destroyed. The central nave was rebuilt, which roof of the Irish oak were built in 1530-1540.
The establishment of a republic in the mid-seventeenth century influenced many cathedrals and churches in England. In 1648, the cathedral in St Davids was seriously damaged by soldiers sent by Parliament to obtain lead from its roofs. The organs and bells were destroyed at that time, and all the stained glass windows were smashed. The eastern end of the cathedral, devoid of lead, fell into disrepair and remained unroofed for over two centuries.
The restoration of the cathedral was carried out between the eighteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1793, John Nash renewed the west façade, however, he blurred its Norman character and caused it to be unstable after only a few dozen years. Again renovation was made by George Gilbert Scott in 1862-1878. Subsequent repair works, mainly at the chapels, were carried out at the beginning of the 20th century.
The earliest part of the cathedral is the nave, built in the 12th century. Poor foundations and earthquakes that took place in the 13th century caused the walls to be leaning on the western side, as a result of which a decision was made to cover it with a timber ceiling instead of a stone vault. In the 13th century, from the eastern side, a rectangular chancel was added, the north and south transepts, and the tower at the intersection of the naves.
After a partial collapse in 1220, the tower was rebuilt in at least two phases. First, it was raised in the fourteenth century, and its upper part with a parapet and pinnacles was added around 1500. As a result, the tower has reached today’s height of 38 meters. The magnificent timber ceiling of the tower dates from 1300-1325.
In the first half of the fourteenth century, the central nave was raised and side aisles were added, changing the cathedral into a basilica building. Also, the chancel received a three-nave form. The large ogival windows of the side aisles were created in the style of late English gothic, decorated with elaborate tracery. The main building material was a light purple sandstone from the local quarries, while the tracery was made of a yellow-cream stone. The upper windows of the clerestorium have preserved the romanesque form.
On the eastern side of the northern transept, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, a chapel of St. Thomas Becket was built. In the fourteenth century, it was thoroughly rebuilt by bishop Gower, but from the original chapel an early-gothic double piscine has been preserved. A cathedral library is located above the chapel.
At the end of the 13th century, a rectangular Lady Chapel was erected at the east wall of the presbytery. Its construction was completed by bishop Martin, in the fourteenth century bishop Gower added sedilia and tombstones. In the sixteenth century, bishop Vaughan rebuilt the chapel by adding its vault. At its southern corner there is a small chapel of St. Edward the Confessor
The interior of the nave at the end of the fifteenth century obtained a new ceiling, made of Irish oak. It is flat and divided by carved rafters on coffers. In the nave there is also valuable stone rood screen from the 13th century. Inside, it is covered with a rib vault and covered with wall polychromes.
On the north side of the nave, in the 14th century, a square patio was created, surrounded by cloisters. Originally, the western range of the cloisters consisted of two storeys, while the eastern gallery was three-storey. It was possible to get there to the building of of the College of the St. Mary, founded in 1365 , which served the master and seven priests serving the cathedral.
Wooding J., Yates N., A Guide to the churches and chapels of Wales, Cardiff 2011.
Website wikipedia.org, St David’s Cathedral.