St Davids Cathedral
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Refectory at St Davids
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St Davids Cathedral information
Hidden in a hollow and behind high walls, St Davids Cathedral is intentionally unassuming. The valley site was chosen in the vain hope that the church would be overlooked by Viking raiders, but it was ransacked at least seven times. Yet once you pass through the gatehouse separating it from the town and its stone walls come into view, it's as imposing as any of its contemporaries.
Built on the site of a 6th-century chapel, the building dates mainly from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Extensive works were carried out in the 19th century by Sir George Gilbert Scott (architect of the Albert Memorial and St Pancras in London) to stabilise the building and repair damage caused by an earthquake in 1248 and the sloping, boggy ground on which it sits. The distinctive west front , with its four pointed towers of purple stone, dates from this period.
The atmosphere inside is one of great antiquity. As you enter the nave , the oldest surviving part of the cathedral, the first things you notice are the sloping floor and the outward lean of the massive, purplish-grey pillars linked by semicircular Norman Romanesque arches, a result of subsidence. Above is a richly carved 16th-century oak ceiling, adorned with pendants and bosses.
At the far end of the nave is a delicately carved 14th-century Gothic pulpitum (the screen wall between nave and choir), which bears a statue of St David dressed as a medieval bishop, and contains the tomb of Bishop Henry de Gower (died 1347), for whom the Bishop's Palace was built.
Beyond the pulpitum is the magnificent choir ; check out the mischievous carved figures on the 16th-century misericords (under the seats), one of which depicts pilgrims being seasick over the side of a boat. Don't forget to look up at the colourfully painted lantern tower above (those steel tie rods around the walls were installed in the 19th century to hold the structure together).
In a recess in the Holy Trinity Chapel at the east end of the cathedral is the object of all those religious pilgrimages: a simple oak casket that contains the bones of St David and St Justinian. The chapel ceiling is distinguished by superb fan vaulting dating from the early 16th century.
Accessed from the north wall of the nave, the Treasury displays vestments and religious paraphernalia crafted from precious metals and stones. Just as valuable are the treasures in the neighbouring Library , the oldest of which dates to 1505.
Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd, the greatest of the princes of South Wales, and his son Rhys Gryg are known to be buried in the cathedral, although their effigies in the south choir aisle date only from the 14th century. Gerald of Wales, an early rector of the cathedral, has a gravestone here, but scholars suggest he is actually buried at Lincolnshire Cathedral.
In August there are hour-long guided tours at 11.30am Monday and 2.30pm Friday; at other times, tours can be arranged in advance.