Travels – St Davids – Britain’s smallest city, a saint and some swifts

 

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St David’s, located at the Western edge of Pembrokeshire in Wales, is Britain’s smallest city in terms of size and population.  Home to around 1600 people it is smaller than many villages!

Saint David, patron saint of Wales was born to Saint Non just south of the city around AD500. St David founded a strict brotherhood and fed and clothed the poor and needy. The settlement that grew up round the monastery was called Tyddewi (David’s house). An original cathedral built on the site was often plundered by the Vikings and finally burnt and destroyed in 1087. The present impressive cathedral was build by the Normans and contained many relics including the remains of Saint David. The town was recognised as a city by the English crown in the 16th century but this right was removed in 1888 until Queen Elizabeth II finally restored it in 1994!

The cathedral  is pretty impressive inside and outside, although it is built into a valley in the land, as a vain attempt to hide it from raiders! The notable features include the sloping floor and magnificent ceilings, oak in the Nave and painted in the Quire and Presbytery.

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You can also visit the atmospheric ruins of the Bishop’s Palace next door which evokes the day when the bishops were some of the most powerful men in the land. Lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking stonework are testament to the wealth and status of these medieval men of religion. It was Bishop Henry de Gower (1328-47) who was responsible for the most of the building remaining today. The east range was his private domain, but  the south was much grander  and built for impressive entertaining.

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It doesn’t take long to walk round this “city”. Well worth a visit too is the Oriel y Parc, a landscape gallery and visitor centre. Current exhibitions included Constables “Salisbury Cathedral” and paintings by Graham Sutherland.

I also loved the  Swifts around the Tower exhibition by father and daughter artists Peter Brown and Ellie Morgan and afterwards wished I’d bought the book of poems and a ceramic swift!

I have a real soft spot for swifts, and am so happy when they return to my town, swooping and shrieking above the high street where I work!

Fifteenth of May. Cherry blossom. The swifts
Materialise at the tip of a long scream
Of needle. ‘Look! They’re back! Look!’ And they’re gone
On a steep

Controlled scream of skid
Round the house-end and away under the cherries.
      Gone.
Suddenly flickering in sky summit, three or four together,
Gnat-whisp frail, and hover-searching, and listening

– From Swifts by Ted Hughes.

 

 

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Travels – St Davids – Britain’s smallest city, a saint and some swifts

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