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Llandaff Cathedral


After the conquest of Glamorgan, the Normans proceeded to exercise a growing influence over the affairs of the Church at Llandaff. Little is known about Urban, who was consecrated Bishop of Llandaff at Canterbury in 1107, but he may have attracted the attention of Robert Fitzhamon while serving in the Diocese of Worcester. His appointment transformed a tribal Church into an organised diocese, owing "canonical obedience to Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury and primate of the whole of Britain, and all his successors canonically succeeding him'. This allegiance to Canterbury was to continue until the Welsh Church was disestablished in 1920.

Urban's ambition was to make Llandaff the pre-eminent diocese of Wales. He claimed jurisdiction over a territory ranging from the Towy to the Wye and, in so doing, provoked a clash with the bishops of St. David's and Hereford. In order to strengthen his case, Urban falsified entries in the Book of Llandaff, stressing the antiquity and prestige of the cathedral. For the same reason, the bones of St. Dyfrig were removed from Bardsey Island to Llandaff, the inference being that he was the first bishop of the diocese. Thus the cathedral was dedicated to three Celtic saints: Teilo; Dyfrig; and Euddogwy, the Episcopal Abbot who succeeded Teilo. In addition, to unite Roman power with Celtic tradition and to curry favour with the Pope, Llandaff Cathedral was also dedicated to Peter and Paul. All these intrigues proved to be in vain. Despite appeals to the Pope and two visits to plead his cause personally in Rome, the judgement went against Urban and the boundaries of Llandaff were curtailed.

This was not the only setback suffered by the diocese. The endowments, made by the lords of Glamorgan in favour of monastic houses elsewhere, added to the poverty of Llandaff until, in the fifteenth century, it was regarded as the poorest see in the realm. Even so, the demesne of the mediaeval bishops of Llandaff extended over a wide area. They possessed a number of scattered episcopal manors at Mathern, Bishton and Basseleg in Gwent Nearer Cardiff, the episcopal lands included a pre-conquest gift; Worleton, Nash and Llysworney in Glamorgan; and Bishopston in Gower. from the King of Morgannwg at Splott, a name perhaps derived from "God's Plot', and the hamlets of Llandaff North and Gabalfa. The Bishop's main estates were to be found at Llandaff itself and the surrounding districts of Fairwater, Caerau, Ely and Canton.

The church inherited by Urban at Llandaff was no more than an aisled nave with an apse at its east end. He decided to build a more impressive cathedral which incorporated part of the existing structure but, owing to a lack of money, work did not commence until April 1120. On 23 May, with great ceremony, the bones of St. Dyfrig were washed and, according to legend, the water began to bubble as though red hot stones had been tossed into the basins. The holy relics of St. Teilo were carried in procession behind the high cross and the remains of both saints were re-interred near the altar. Throughout the Middle Ages, the swearing of an oath upon the bones of these saints was regarded as a solemn and binding act.

The Norman Cathedral was cruciform in shape and some of this Romanesque work survives. A magnificent rounded arch, with a rich medallion decoration, separates the Presbytery from the Lady Chapel, and another Norman arch leads into St. David's Chapel. The Norman stonemason's craft can be seen at its best on the south side of the cathedral where a splendid doorway, crowned with an ornate chevron pattern, was fortunately undamaged in the Blitz of 1941.

About 1170 the cathedral was extended westward in the new Early English or Gothic style. The West Front, constructed by 1220, rises gracefully in three layers and is regarded as one of the finest examples in Wales from this period of architecture.

The Chapter House, completed about 1250, was a small building where a chapter from the scriptures was read each day, before the daily business of the cathedral was discussed in the presence of the Bishop or Archdeacon. Its upper room was to become the treasury of the cathedral.

The cathedral was dedicated on 23 November 1266 in a double celebration which also saw the enthronement of a new bishop, William de Braose. He commissioned the building of the Lady Chapel and, when he died in 1287, it was appropriate that this became his resting place. Until the Reformation, a silver gilt shrine of St. Teilo in the Lady Chapel was a place of worship for mediaeval pilgrims.

The West Front was flanked by two thirteenth century towers, neither of which now exists. The South-west Tower collapsed in 1723, while its twin was replaced by the Jasper Tower at the end of the fifteenth century. Jasper Tudor is said to have commissioned this work when he became Lord of Cardiff Castle after the Battle of Bosworth. The tower has similarities to that of St. John's Church and houses the bells of the cathedral. The original thirteenth century Bell Tower has probably been a ruin since the assault of Owain Glyndwr on Llandaff in 1404.

 

Not far from this ruin stands the Cross. Near here, in 1188, Archbishop Baldwin and Giraldus Cambrensis exhorted Welsh and English alike to join the Third Crusade as brothers-in-arms, setting aside their customary animosity. Gerald wrote at the time, "The business of the cross being publicly proclaimed at Llandaff, the English standing on one side and the Welsh on the other, many persons of each nation took the cross'.

The manor of Llandaff stretched south through Llandaff Fields to the Canton Common and the Canton Cross, from which a nearby public house takes its name. The Bishop owned a manor house to the west of the common, together with another in Llandaff. A short distance away from the manor at Llandaff, on land now occupied by the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, stood a water mill which was demolished when Western Avenue was constructed. In all, the Bishop possessed six mills, the others being located in Ely and Canton.

The Bishop's main residence was his castle, the ruins of which can be observed near Llandaff Green. The thirteenth century buildings were probably destroyed by Owain Glyndwr, and only the gateway, the towers and the courtyard to the rear have survived the passage of time. Originally the castle was probably intended to bolster the prestige of the Bishop but its somewhat uninviting appearance led a nineteenth century writer to comment, "the remains have nothing distinctively episcopal about them; they might as well have been the stronghold of any Norman robber, the lair of the wolf of the fold, rather than the dwelling of its shepherd.'

In his defence, it must be remembered that the Bishop of Llandaff was a lord in his own right, aware of the presence of a powerful neighbour. Robert the Consul sought to ease relationships and create harmony between the lordships of Glamorgan and Llandaff by making a concordat with Bishop Urban in 1126.

In this concordat, Robert granted the Bishop 100 acres of land "to plough or meadow' between the Taff and the Ely rivers; a fishery on the Ely; the chapel of Whitchurch; and the right to take timber from certain forests for the repair of the church at Llandaff. In return, Bishop Urban promised to adjust the sluice of his mill at Llandaff, so that the flow of the river was not impeded. This concession was significant since the ford at Llandaff was an important crossing point, especially when the bridge at Cardiff was impassable because of flooding.

The agreement clarified the legal jurisdiction of the two lords. If the outcome of a trial was to be determined by personal combat, duels were usually held at Cardiff Castle though, if a dispute concerned the Bishop's tenants only, the duel could be fought at Llandaff. Trials by ordeal were regarded as within the Bishop's prerogative. If the accused carried a red hot iron, and the wound disappeared in three days, he was adjudged to be innocent. When ordeal by water was prescribed, the prisoner was bound and tossed into a pit which was dug on the Bishop's lands near Cardiff Castle. If he floated he was considered guilty. If he sank he was pulled out of the water, hopefully still alive, and pronounced innocent.

The lordship of Llandaff acquired additional privileges in the reign of King John. In 1205, as Lord of Glamorgan, the King granted the right to stage a weekly Sunday market after divine service. He also gave permission to hold an  annual fair at Whitsun, the tolls from which gave the Bishop a further source of income.

It would, however, be a mistake to believe that the bishops of Llandaff enjoyed equality with their secular counterparts. For example, in the interval pending the appointment of a new bishop, the Lord of Glamorgan became entitled to the rents from the estates in the diocese, a lucrative source of income which the King succeeded in transferring to his own advantage before the end of the thirteenth century.