The destination for history

St Davids Cathedral’s famous faces


St Davids Cathedral is one of the UK’s most famous cathedrals, right at the heart of its smallest city, but did you know it’s the resting place for some of Welsh history’s most well-known figures?

St David

The son of St Non and a prince of Ceredigion, St David is said to have been born on a cliff top during a violent storm in 500 AD. By the time of his death, which is believed to have been 1 March in 589 or 601 AD, having lived a simple life wherein he refrained from drinking beer and eating meat, he was a bishop and had founded a monastery in an inhospitable area known as ‘Glyn Rhosyn’ on the site where St Davids Cathedral now stands.

His shrine was a popular pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages; in fact Pope Calixtus II decreed: ‘Two pilgrimages to St Davids is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem.’ In 1089 St David’s shrine was vandalised and stripped of its precious metals during a Viking raid – a regular occurrence for St Davids during the 10th and 11th centuries – and a new shrine was constructed in 1275, the base of which survives in the cathedral to this day.

A restored shrine was unveiled on St David’s Day 2012, with three icons depicting St Patrick, St David and St Andrew, and reliquaries believed to hold the remains of St David and St Justinian.

Gerald of Wales

The Cambro-Norman historian and archdeacon of Brecon Gerald of Wales, also known by his Latin name Giraldus Cambrensis, was born in Pembroke’s Manorbier Castle in 1146. His uncle, David fitzGerald, was Bishop of St Davids Cathedral and Gerald was the popular choice to succeed him after his death in 1176.

To become Bishop of St Davids was a dream that Gerald would never realise, however, despite living until he was in his 70s. St Davids Cathedral’s long-term aim was to become independent of Canterbury and Gerald was believed to be the man to take up that cause. Unfortunately for Gerald, Henry II of England had only recently struggled with Thomas Becket, so Gerald was rejected in favour of one of Henry’s Norman retainers, Peter de Leia. According to Gerald, the king’s response to his nomination for the bishopric was, ‘Such an appointment would only give strength to the Welsh and increase their pride.’

Despite this, Gerald became Henry II’s royal clerk and chaplain in 1184, and the following year he was chosen to accompany the future King John of England on his first expedition to Ireland. It was from here that Gerald’s impressive literary career began, and through his work with the royal family and the Archbishop of Canterbury he witnessed several significant political events first hand, leading him to become one of the most well known historians of the Middle Ages.

Having devoted much of his later life to academic work, he died in 1223, at around 77-years-old, and is believed by many to have been buried in St Davids Cathedral – perhaps a final show of respect for the Bishop who could have been.

Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Edmund Tudor’s tomb is that he wasn’t originally buried in the cathedral at all!

The son of Catherine of Valois, Queen consort of England as Henry V’s wife, and her second husband, Owen Tudor, Edmund and his brother, Jasper Tudor, were half-brothers to Henry VI of England, who took interest in their upbringing and granted them lands and titles when they came of age. Edmund, Jasper and their father were eventually taken into Henry VI’s household and the king seemed to be genuinely fond of his brothers, whom he ennobled, with Edmund becoming Earl of Richmond and Jasper becoming Earl of Pembroke.

On 24 March Edmund was given the wardship of nine-year-old Margaret Beaufort, a descendant of Edward III of England through John of Gaunt’s bastard son, John Beaufort, who would later become his wife. By the time Edmund died in 1456 – he is believed to have become infected with the bubonic plague while imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle during the Wars of the Roses – Margaret was a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with Edmund’s child. Their son was born in Pembroke Castle in January 1457, and would later ascend to the throne as Henry VII of England, thus beginning the Tudor dynasty.

Edmund himself was initially buried in a Franciscan church near Carmarthen Castle, but following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries the king moved his grandfather’s remains to St Davids Cathedral, where they still lie today.

You might also be interested in:

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books