Thursday, 11 January 2018
The Struggle for St Davids
St Davids is officially a city, because it has a cathedral, but in reality it is a village in the far south west of Pembrokeshire. The reason a lot is made of it is because St David is the patron saint of Wales. St David is the only patron saint in the British Isles who was born in the country he represents. St David was the son of Sant or Sanctus a king of Ceredigion and Non a Pembrokeshire noblewoman. He was born in a storm on the site of St Nons chapel on the outskirts of St Davids in the 6th century and miraculous events occurred around him throughout his life.
He had inherited the celtic Christian culture from the early roman church and preached throughout south Wales and what is now western England, for instance founding Glastonbury as a Christian religious centre. He made a pilgrimage to the holy land where he was ordained a bishop by the patriarch of Jerusalem. The most noted miracle associated with St David occurred whilst he was speaking in defence of church doctrine at the synod of Llandewibrefi where the ground rose beneath him and a dove settled on his shoulder. The dove became the sybol most closely associated with him. His final piece of advice to his monks was to ‘Be joyful, keep the faith and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.’
Because St David founded the monastery and church at St Davids, and was considered to be archbishop of the whole of Wales, a controversy sprang up in the 11th and 12th centuries about governance in the church. Both he and his successors were believed to have been the heads of an independent Welsh Church, owing no allegiance whatever to the English archbishops of Canterbury. They had retained their special position until the invading Normans had forcibly and illegally subjugated the Welsh clergy to English domination, reducing St Davids to the status of an ordinary bishopric. If right were done, however, the archbishops of St Davids would once again rule a free Welsh Church.
Historically, this claim rested on extremely shaky ground, but its implications were enormous – especially if the Pope could be persuaded to support it. For if the highest authority in Christendom liberated the Welsh Church from the rule of English archbishops, might not the next stop be the liberation of all Wales from the rule of English kings? Alarmed by this spectre, the English authorities resolved to keep a tight rein on the bishops of St Davids, forcing them to swear never to raise the claim and always preferring candidates with few Welsh connections.
Having entered the church as a career, Gerald struggled for most of his life to be appointed Bishop of St Davids. His most implacable opponent was Archbishop Hubert Walter, who swore that neither he nor any other Welshman would be a bishop in Wales. I’ll be looking at Gerald’s struggle next week.
[adapted from the St Davids website and A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz