Sacred Places of Wales

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Llandaff (Thlan daff) Cathedral

LLandaff Cathedral, Llandaff Wales Most visitors to Wales eventually find themselves in Cardiff (Caerdydd: Kire deethe) the nation's attractive and fast-growing capital city. In addition to its magnificent Civic Centre, imposing Norman castle and redeveloped dock areas at Cardiff Bay, you will find the National Museum of Wales as well as the Welsh Folk Museum. Just two miles northwest of the city centre complex, is the restored cathedral of Llandaff, situated in the village of the same name.

Unlike most Welsh churches, Llandaff is not named after a saint, but rather the area in which it is located. The name translates as "Church on the River Taff." Situated on one of the oldest Christian sites in the British Isles, the cathedral was begun in the 12th century but rebuilt and modified over and over again throughout its history. During a bleak, terrible night in January, 1941, a huge German mine exploded, destroying much of the cathedral and it was not until the 1960's that restoration was completed. Llandaff Cathedral once again took it all in stride; its whole history is one of destruction and reconstruction, of tragedy and triumph.

The cathedral is built in a hollow on a site that was probably the scene of ancient Celtic worship, for Romano-British burials have been found here. The first Christian edifice to occupy the site may have been founded in 560 by St. Teilo, Bishop of South Wales who died around 580. Teilo built his church where a small Christian community, founded by Dyfrig, existed a generation earlier.

Llandaff Cathedral Norman ArchThe three saints connected with the church's early foundation, Teilo (Tielow), Dyfrig (Duvrigg) and Euddogwy (Eye-thog-wee) are commemorated by the three bishops' mitres on the coat of Arms of the diocese of Llandaff. Norman Bishop Urban began building the present cathedral in 1120 when the Normans were consolidating their rule in that part of the country, but only little remains of that early edifice apart from a Norman arch and traces of some windows.

The greater part of the present cathedral, including the nave and chancel arcades, the West front and the chapter house were completed in 1250. They were quickly followed by the Lady Chapel, which was erected during the bishopric of William de Braose. Llandaff is unique among the cathedrals of Britain as having no transepts (and for the initiated in these matters, neither does it possess a triforium). A great deal of strengthening and rebuilding then took place in the 14th century which lasted over 300 years, during which neglect and decay saw the cathedral's almost total destruction.

Pilgrimages to St Teilo's shrine helped support the church until the Reformation, when they were forbidden. During the English Civil Wars, it was reported that Cromwell's soldiers, in their usual lack of regard for the sacred, used the nave as a tavern and post office and the font as a pig and horse trough. They also burned the cathedral's priceless collection of books. And, of course, any statuary, icon, or stained glass within reach of a sword, halberd or pike were ruthlessly destroyed.

More destruction was to follow. In the early part of the 18th century, unusually fierce storms wrecked havoc on the already crumbling building, causing the roof of the nave to fall in and the southwest tower to collapse. Restoration began under John Wood of Bath in the latter part of the century and again in 1835 under John Prichard when a curious Italian temple built by Wood inside the walls was removed and much decorative work added (all of which was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941). In the 1960's the striking parabolic concrete arch that so dominates the interior of the cathedral was completed by George Pace, surmounted by a cylindrical organ case bearing a huge Christ in Majesty (The Majestas) worked in unpolished aluminum, by world-renowned sculptor Jacob Epstein. Behind the high altar, the great Norman arch built by Bishop Urban in 1120 is also dominant. The tomb of St. Teilo was restored in the 19th century.

Llandaff  Cathedral Of further interest are the Illtyd (Ithtid) Chapel, dedicated to the memory of the 53rd Welsh Infantry Division; the Rossetti Triptych; the font; a painting by Murillo Madonna and Child; the Teilo Chapel; the Lady Chapel; and the lovely stained glass windows from some of Britain's most distinguished post-war craftsmen and artists. Also on display is a relic of the pre-Norman church and the 10th century Celtic Cross that was hidden from Cromwell's soldiers but rediscovered in 1870 as part of a wall and now situated in the south aisle. In 1992 a new peal of thirteen bells was placed in the northwest tower with each bell named after a Celtic saint.

The survival of Llandaff is a miracle indeed. Visitors of today can only marvel at what has remained and been restored. Twelfth century visitors included such notaries as Geoffrey of Monmouth, who died here in 1154 and Archbishop Baldwin, who came here in 1188 to preach the Third Crusade accompanied by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales). Legend has it that one saint buried here, Dyfrig (Duvrigg or Dubricius), is the bishop who crowned Arthur as King of Britain.

When Dyfrig's bones, which were brought here by Bishop Urban after being exhumed from Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli: Uniss Enthllee), were washed by the monks, the water bubbled as if a red-hot stone had been thrown into it. St. Teilo, the cathedral's founder, is also buried here; to swear upon his tomb was considered to be an extremely solemn oath upon which, over the centuries, many a contract was sealed. In 1736 one of the architects helping to restore the cathedral opened St. Teilo's coffin and saw the corpse wrapped in leather, still sound, with his pastoral staff, pewter cross and chalice safely in place by his side.

Llandaff is indeed a sacred spot and a veritable treasure trove of Welsh history. We now continue our journey to Tinkinswood. To get to Tinkinswood, which is not clearly signposted, leave Cardiff by the Cowbridge Road (A48) and turn off at the village of St. Nicholas.

Next Stop: Tinkinswood
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