Difficult Times for Llandaff Cathedral


Even before the Reformation, the Bishops of Llandaff were compelled to lease or sell Church assets to meet the everyday requirements of the diocese, and in the sixteenth century this short-sighted policy gathered momentum. Prior to the Reformation, the cathedral had possessed a number of beautiful treasures but these were now plundered as ruthlessly as the riches of the monasteries. By 1539, silver apostles, crosses and jewels of precious metal, gilded plate, and saddest of all the silver gilt shrine of St. Teilo, were confiscated on behalf of the King.

Anthony Kitchin was appointed bishop in 1545 and his tenure for the next eighteen years proved to be a disaster for the diocese. Perhaps he could be forgiven for being a time-server who renounced the Papacy under Henry VIII, accepted it again in the reign of Mary Tudor and, when Elizabethascended the Throne, found no difficulty in renouncing the Roman Catholic Faith once more. Kitchin was not alone in spurning martyrdom, but it is less easy to exonerate him for the manner in which he disposed of the cathedral's wealth, often for derisory sums. In 1601, more than thirty years since Kitchin had died, Bishop Godwin described him as "the calamity of the see ... (who) ... sold in parcels all the episcopal farms with the exception of a very few, and let out the rest on very long lease, receiving small payments.

During the fifteenth century, the Manor of Llandaff was leased to the Mathew family, but in 1553 Kitchin sold the manor outright to Miles Mathew and also released the outlying estates of Canton, Ely, Penhill, Fairwater and Gabalfa. The Bishop's Palace was removed to Mathern, near Chepstow, and Rice Merrick attributes the ruinous state of Llandaff in 1578, at least in part, to "the absence of the Bishops, dwelling at Mathern'. The houses of the canons and prebendaries, as they too became non-resident, lapsed into "utter decay'. Even Llandaff House in the Strand, the Bishop's London home, was sold at this time.

Kitchin's follies were mainly the result of weakness and a failure to resist the pressure from a powerful local gentry. The Spanish ambassador contemptuously condemned him as "a greedy and little learned man', and it became fashionable to blame Kitchin for all the troubles which impoverished the diocese. Bishop Bleddyn, who was appointed in 1575 to carry out belated reforms, castigated the canons as well as Kitchin for their profligacy. "To whom have you not granted large manors, many lordships and farms? ... you have wasted everything; sweet-toned bells, books, precious vestments, golden vessels, unknown treasures. They are all reduced to nothing'. He went on to rebuke them for the state of their building which was, "untidy, full of dirt and almost beyond repair'. Bleddyn, for all his scolding,  does not seem to have achieved much success in rectifying matters, and in 1603 Bishop Godwin was gloomily predicting that the cathedral would "in a short time fall to the ground without some extraordinary relief'. Both Bleddyn and Godwin have been accused of rapacious behaviour in selling lands or gifts of the cathedral to provide for their children. In an age which was becoming more materialistic, it appears that the occupants of the Bishop's throne at Llandaff either exploited the diocese themselves, allowed others to exploit it, or regarded their position as a stepping stone to a better living elsewhere. For all their fine words, none of them halted the decay and neglect which continued to undermine the Church of Llandaff.

The fortunes of the cathedral continued to decline in the seventeenth century and the Civil War proved to be another traumatic experience for the clergy and their flock. The cathedral was protected by the Royalist presence in the early years of the war, but after 1646 Parliament's soldiers controlled the area and frequently abused local churches.

Christopher Reynolds, the Vicar of Llandaff, was administering Holy Communion on Easter Day 1646, when Roundhead troops broke into the cathedral. They drank the communion wine before marching Reynolds and his congregation to the gaol at Cardiff. David Walter, a Puritan weaver, entered the pulpit and preached against "Popish ceremonies' for three hours. The cathedral's books were collected and taken to Cardiff, "whither the Cavaliers of the county, and the wives of several sequestered clergymen, were invited to the castle on a cold winter's day to warm themselves by the fire which was then made of the books that were burnt'.

The cathedral itself was used by the Puritans for a variety of degrading purposes. The Choir became a calf pen, the font was turned into a pig trough, and the rest of the building served as a stable, an ale-house and a post office. Further deterioration to the fabric of the church occurred after the Restoration, and it is remarkable that the structure was not completely destroyed as a result of such vandalism and neglect.