Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Struggle for St Davids

This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.
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.’
Saint David
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 head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn 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


  1. You remembered in the article many interesting facts. Hope some of them will help me to write good post at (sometimes I make a contribution to this website's blog). My last post will be about saints who helped and develop the UK.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. The following post, about Gerald's involvement, is already up. Hope it helps you.

  3. Hello, Ann! How are you?
    Tell me please, are you a historian? I post an article about St Davids and want you to read it and then expressed your opinion

  4. As you will see if you look at the Start Here and About Me pages of this blog, I am only an amateur historian, interested principally in medieval Gower.

  5. Thanks for an interesting post. I need do a project with about Bishop of St David's (he help St Davids). Can you post next article about him?

    1. There is a new post about Gerald of Wales every week