One castle a day – Brecon Cathedral

Welcome, welcome!

Do you remember the ending of our last post? We promised to introduce something new and fresh to our good, old blog. The time has come to present you a brand new category: One castle a day.

Brecon cathedral   - A view from The King's steps. Photography by Joyce Jenkins. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – A view from The King’s steps. Photography by Joyce Jenkins. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - The east end of the Cathedral. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – The east end of the Cathedral. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

You might be wondering what is hiding under this fancy title. Tourism would be probably the best short answer we can come up with, but you know us, we do not like short descriptions! The preferred explanation is:  One castle a day is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce our readers to all wonderful and unique places that we have visited during our travels. Those magical places are full of history, art, culture and are extremely picturesque! We are talking about anything that humanity can be proud of: castles built on mountain tops and dramatic cliffs, beautiful mansions that once belonged to the nobility, temples, cathedrals and other places of worships, architectonic wonders, open spaces and town markets, gardens, pubs and museums with an interesting past. Malta and United Kingdom are beautiful and deserve a wide spread recognition. If you love traveling as much as we do, discovering local gems and going against the travel industry dull and predictable standards – this is a place for you. We have always considered following a tour guide to be a cultural suicide. Have you ever felt the same? Are you asking too many questions that nobody can answer? Is the group waiting for you, because you got lost following a secret path? Is your resident at the hotel getting a heart attack that you discovered a shortcut to some ancient tomb that only local archeologists knew about? Do you carry your camera everywhere you go and you put all Japanese tourists to shame? Welcome to the club! Please note, that despite being adventure seekers, we are never rude or difficult. We respect all views, rules, opinions and traditions. We do not put ourselves and anybody else around us to danger. Questioning safety signs, good advice or common sense is a big no-no. Our motto is simple: do not bother, do not destroy, do not steal, do not harm, take a lot of pictures and live to tell the tale. We are modern Tourist Raiders, Lara Croft style and very proud of that     fact. As the Tenth Doctor used to say: “You don’t need to own the universe, just see it. To have the privilege of seeing the whole of time and space. That’s ownership enough”. Seeing and being in certain places at the right time is enough for us. If you feel the same, please join us and  become a reader of One castle a day!

Brecon cathedral   - A view from The King's steps. Photography by Trevor Clarke Photography. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – A view from The King’s steps. Photography by Trevor Clarke Photography. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - A view looking east showing the choir and chancel with the cathedra by the south column of the crossing.  Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – A view looking east showing the choir and chancel with the cathedra by the south column of the crossing. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Our readers have probably noticed that the idea for a tourism column on our blog is not that new. We have already had three previous blog entries dedicated to our journeys published last year, but it wasn’t until now, that we decided to turn separate blogs into a real series of posts. Please click on the links below to see where we have traveled so far:

Eastnor Castle:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/one-castle-a-day-visit-to-eastnor-castle/

Goodrich Castle:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/one-castle-a-day-visit-to-goodrich-castle-part-1/
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/one-castle-a-day-visit-to-goodrich-castle-part-2/

All three blogs have now been renamed and moved to the new category. You can find them now by using  All Categories menu on the right hand side of our blog.

Now, our next trip is taking us to the lovely and ever-green land of the Welsh. In early December 2013, Rita traveled to the ancient town of Brecon to see its famous cathedral. You must know that Rita has a certain fondness for British cathedrals. Not only they are completely different from Polish ones (which are taller and more elaborate),  but every cathedral is truly unique and you will not find two identical ones.  Living  in Hereford for more than three years, Rita has become quite an expert on cathedrals: she knows a lot about their history, how they were built, what kind of sculptures you can find inside and who is buried where. The three counties (Herefordshire,  Worcestershire and Gloucestershire) are known as the Cathedral Shires and gave her a lot of  research material! Brecon cathedral was the first Welsh cathedral Rita has seen and it made a huge impression on her.

Brecon Cathedral - the St Lawrence Chapel just after being re-ordered in 1993.  Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – the St Lawrence Chapel just after being re-ordered in 1993. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - The Cresset Stone - a medieval vessel to contain flammable material to provide light. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – The Cresset Stone – a medieval vessel to contain flammable material to provide light. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Few words need to be said about the town of Brecon. We mentioned that it is ancient but not many people know that this small town of just 7.000 people is older than London! Roman fort known as Y Gaer (Latin Cicucium) has been established around AD 50 at the cross roads linking South and Mid-Wales. This strategically important location gave Y Gaer some prominence over other forts located several days of march away and 15 years later (AD 75) tall stone walls and three guardhouses have been built to protect the settlement. As the fort grew, more and more houses were added and soon the fort was big enough to house 500 cavalry men along with their horses and support staff. Today, the remains of stone walls and the gates unearthed by prominent archeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, can be seen on  a private farm near the city and are under the protection of Cadw (http://cadw.wales.gov.uk) In recent years, Brecon (known in Welsh as Aberhonddu) became a popular market town and tourist destination. Except for the Brecon Cathedral, tourists can see a well preserved medieval market, medieval castle now turned into a hotel, St. Mary’s Church with an unique set of 8 bells, St. David’s Church (locally named Llanfaes Church), magical Ffynnon Dewi (David’s Well) and the historic Plough Chapel that is the home of one of the oldest non-conformist congregations in Breconshire. A long walk around the city walls offers beautiful views of Brecon Beacons mountain range including Pen y Fan , the highest point in southern Britain at 886 m (2,907 ft) and the Brecon Beacons National Park (Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog).

Brecon Cathedral - Main nave with the cross Photography by The Brecon Cathedral Archives. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – Main nave with the cross Photography by The Brecon Cathedral Archives. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - Bronze crucifix in detail. Photography by the Brecon Cathedral Archives. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – Bronze crucifix in detail. Photography by the Brecon Cathedral Archives. Used with permission

Despite a long history, Brecon Cathedral is one of the youngest cathedrals in the United Kingdom.  Until the establishment of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in 1923, the Brecon Cathedral was known only as the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist. The building istelf is over 900 years old and has been built on the hill overlooking the River Honddu and the main market. Standing in the church yard, you can see the whole town unfolding right at your feet and even recognize the faces of people passing through the main square. The church location is not accidental as the place has been chosen very carefully by Bernard de Neufmarché. Bernard was one of the most successful Norman invaders that defeated Welsh forces in 1093. He received huge portions of land in Powys as a reward for his faithful service to William the Conqueror and ten years later established the powerful Lordship of Brecon.  To fully cement his rule over his new domain, Bernard erected a castle, only two miles away from the remains of  Y Gaer fort.

Brecon Cathedral - the St Lawrence Chapel today.  Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – the St Lawrence Chapel today. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Beautiful winter picture of the Brecon Cathedral by unknown photographer.  Used with permission from Brecon Cathedral Archives.

Beautiful winter picture of the Brecon Cathedral by unknown photographer. Used with permission from Brecon Cathedral Archives

As other Norman warriors, Bernard de Neufmarché was a deeply religious man. Christian monks were an important part of his entourage and they quickly became administrators of the newly created kingdom. Their excellent education, ability to read, write and speak local languages, helped to effectively communicate with local folk, collect taxes and set out new rules. Bernard’s gratitude literally showered them with privileges: monks were given rights to build monasteries and churches on their benefactor’s lands, they could freely convert locals and received large sum of money from Bernard’s private fortune. Roger, the confessor of the Lord of Brecon and another monk named Walter, received permission to build a small monastery with Priory Church only 250 meters away from the main castle. The Priory Church located on the north-eastern side, has been constructed according to Norman tradition: the walls were tick and nearly 3 meters tall, the church yard was long and narrow and the building was probably cruciform in shape. Sadly the original church didn’t survive to the present day. All that remains is the foundation of the monk quarters, the remnants of a cloister on the outer west wall of the south transept, the church font and stonework near the east end of the nave. Some scientists are considered that both the castle and the Priory Church were built on the site of an even earlier building – probably a Celtic temple or an Insular Christianity Church (Celtic Church) but no traces of such structure have ever been found.

Brecon Cathedral - The nave from west end Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – The nave from west end Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - The Baptistry at the west end. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – The Baptistry at the west end. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

The present building is a mixture of two distinct styles. The Church of St John the Evangelist has been rebuilt in Early English style around 1201-1215. Sanctuary, chancel, St Lawrence Chapel, tower and both transepts are  in perfect condition and if you are looking for raw, untouched examples of this style, please look no further.  The main nave, back aisles were re-created around 1330 and are much more elaborate. They represented English Decorated style that became popular in XIV century.  In his book about Brecon Cathedral, the Very Reverend John D.E Davies (former Dean of Brecon) writes that the church and the monastery in the middle ages looked completely different. He theorizes that the walls of the Cathedral must have been adorned with frescoes  depicting the lives and martyred deaths of the Welsh Saints, scenes from the Bible and crests of the local nobility.  The town of Brecon has had several very active craft guilds and the members  for sure had their own dedicated places of worship, separated from the common public. Colorful arrases and hanging tapestries could have decorated the altar, main nave and probably the chapels as well. Church interior was rich, vibrant and bright – a distant call from the plainness we can see nowadays.

Brecon Cathedral leaflet - part one

Brecon Cathedral leaflet – part one

Brecon Cathedral leaflet - part two

Brecon Cathedral leaflet – part two

The most striking element of the interior was definitely a massive wooded screen  – a truly unique boundary between the monastic part of the Cathedral and the parochial one.  It hasn’t survived the XIXth century renovation of the Cathedral but you can still see the marks made by stone corbels that supported the structure on north and south walls.  The screen is known in mainland Europe as Lectorium and allowed the monks to walk above the main nave of the church. Traditionally, each lectorium also had a small balcony that allowed the priests to give sermons or preachings to the common men gathered below. A huge crucifix (known as rood) was placed usually in the middle of the screen. Brecon’s golden life-size rood was so realistic that pilgrims were afraid to touch it. It became so famous that hundreds of people from Wales and  beyond would travel many miles just to see it during their lifetimes. The rod was destroyed in 1538 during the Reformation on personal orders from King Henry VIII.  Nearly half a millennium later, a wooden “replica” of the crucifix was brought back to Brecon and now hangs above the main nave.
You can find more information about it  here:
http://breconbeacons.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/rood-cross-returns-to-brecon-after-nearly-500-years/

Brecon Cathedral - Lancet windows in the south wall of the chancel, a prime example of the Early English Gothic style.  Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – Lancet windows in the south wall of the chancel, a prime example of the Early English Gothic style. Photography by R.J.L Smith. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral - before the alternations and renovation made by Gilbert Scott in 1860's.  Engraving reproduced from A Shirt Account  of the Church of St John the Evangelist or Holy Rood at Brecon, printed for the first time by D. C. Dallas in London in 1873. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral – before the alternations and renovation made by Gilbert Scott in 1860’s. Engraving reproduced from A Shirt Account of the Church of St John the Evangelist or Holy Rood at Brecon, printed for the first time by D. C. Dallas in London in 1873. Used with permission

Brecon Cathedral is a fantastic place for a family trip, especially in the summer. After visiting the main church and having a walk around the old monastery buildings that have been converted into Diocesan headquarters, visitors can rest in the Pilgrim’s cafe (they serve excellent roasted lamb in mint sauce and bread pudding!) or stop at the  Heritage Center to learn more about Brecon and the Cathedral. There is also a small shop where Rita got all her precious booklets and postcards.

If you’d like to visit, please note down the address:

Becon Cathedral
The Cathedral Office
The Cathedral Close
BRECON
LD3 9DP

Tel 01874 623857
Email admin@breconcathedral.org.uk
Official website: http://www.breconcathedral.org.uk /
Official Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BreconCathedral
More information:
http://www.breconcathedral.org.uk/~stmarysb/cmsAdmin/uploads/BRECON-CATHEDRAL-1-21.pdf
http://www.britannia.com/celtic/wales/sacred/breconcath.html

This is not the end of our adventures at Brecon. Please return in few days time to see more pictures from this wonderful place.
Please remember: one castle a day, keeps the boredom away!

Have a great day!
xxxx
Rita and Mal

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