St Davids, Pembrokeshire

I started the day off getting breakfast at Whitesand’s Bay, which hugs the Ramsey Sound, typically a particularly violent stretch of water, though thankfully today we were blessed with seemingly calm seas and warm, brilliant sunshine.

A short walk up the cliffs, towards St David’s Head, further opened up the view out to Ramsey Island, known as Ynys Dewi in Welsh, and St George’s Channel beyond. The headland sits within the shadow of Carn Llidi, meaning the Cairn of Wrath, likely named for the Ramsey Sound where the Celtic and Irish seas collide.

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However, while the photos may present an image of a peaceful and slow moving ocean, beneath the surface numerous undercurrents flow thick and fast, and when one looks closely at the scattered rocks and islands, it is little wonder why this place is home to so many shipwrecks.

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The scattered rocks in the near centre of the picture are named ‘The Bitches’, one can perhaps easily imagine why.
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The Ramsey Sound and St David’s Head to the right.

After that morning walk, we headed into St Davids, the UK’s smallest city. Despite being home to less than 2000 people, St Davids has held the title of city since the 1500’s, and though it was revoked in 1888, it was restored at the behest of Queen Elizabeth in 1994.

St Davids status as a city is due to it sharing the land with a towering cathedral, which serves not only as it’s main attraction, but also as perhaps the most important cultural and ecclesiastical site in all of Wales.

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The cathedral sits on the site of the monastery, which was originally established by David, Wales’s patron saint, in the 6th century. From these humbled beginnings, and long after David’s death, the monastery developed into this magnificent cathedral and the nearby ‘city’, which grew around it, was named after the ancient saint.

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After Vikings torched the original cathedral, Norman settlers arrived in the 11 century and built the stone structure which largely remains today. Overtime, the site grew in prominence, with Pope Calixtus II, declaring that two trips to St Davids were equal to one to Rome, thus making the cathedral a hugely popular pilgrim destination. The position of the Bishop of St Davids quickly became the most coveted and lucrative clerical position in Wales, and eventually a massive Bishop’s Palace was developed next to the cathedral, a testament to the power and riches this appointment brought (and still does considering you have to pay to enter the Bishop’s Palace, thank goodness for my trusty student card).

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The ruins of the Bishop’s Palace

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While pictures are not typically allowed inside, unless you’re willing to pay a fee, the grounds are extensive and give a good sense of the extraordinary wealth and prestige that once followed through this place. Not bad for a small village-city situated on the near edge of Britain.

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St David’s site

Inside the cathedral, you can find numerous tombs of bishops and local lords along with some more prominent historical Welsh figures that I know from my courses up in Bangor, such as the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth, one of the most famous of the Welsh Princes; and Gerald of Wales, who’s book, A Description of Wales, has served as the bases for numerous essays of mine, and remains one of the most insightful contemporary sources of the 12th century. Also located here are the bones of Edmund Tudor, father of Henry VII, and progenitor of the Tudor Dynasty who ruled England and Wales through the 1500s.

Of course, the cathedral’s final centrepiece is the shrine to St David himself. The saint was buried within the original cathedral though I’m not sure if his remains are still there or whether they were carried off by Vikings along with his decorative shrine and much of the old cathedral. A newer and humbler shrine now sits in it’s place, built atop St David’s resting place.

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