One castle a day – Brecon Cathedral part 2

Hello travelers! 

Thank you kindly for all your views and clicks! We had no idea that One Castle A Day series is going to be appreciated by so many people! We understand that castles are not only popular with children and LARP (live action RPG) players anymore. It’s good to see that regular tourists are starting to appreciate English heritage as well.

If you have missed the first part of our blog about Brecon Cathedral, please click on the link below:
https://cocamidemea.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/one-castle-a-day-brecon-cathedral/

There are plenty of interesting things to see inside this beautiful building and we could wrote a whole book about the attractions.
However, we do not plan to bore our readers with detailed description – below you can find a greatly balanced review of what is worth seeing (with complimentary pictures). So have fun and read on!

Welcome to the Brecon Cathedral

Welcome to the Brecon Cathedral

You can't get lost with a map!

You can’t get lost with a map!

1. The Tomb of Walter and Christina Aubrey

The Havard Chapel is the place of eternal rest of Walter and Christina Aubrey of the nearby village of Abercynrig. Their tomb is one of the oldest graves in the the Cathedral. Luckily, the monument survived to our times in nearly perfect state and there is much to be admired. We do not know the exact year of Christina’s passing, but Walter left this mortal coil in 1312 and probably has been buried first. Their tomb is made of one solid piece of stone and according to the Cathedral guides, was carved by local master, maybe a member of  Brecon craft guild.  There is absolutely no doubt about their social status. Mr and Mrs Aubrey have been a very wealthy couple: both partners are dressed according to the best fashion standards of early 14th century. Christina wears a cap called a coif and barbette (or a barbet) – a band of linen that usually passed under the chin as a chin strap and was pinned on top of the head. She is dressed in a cotehardie with decorative lappets and a folded mantle. Her husband wears a long tunic and a fancy cloak.  Both have their hands held in prayer and Walter is holding what seems to be a small personal crucifix. Another cross  is carved between their heads. Two sleeping dogs are located at Aubreys feet waiting faithfully until the Day of Reckoning when the dead will be woken up by the second coming of Christ.

An excellent article about the grave apparel can be found here:
http://www.themcs.org/costume/Female%20reenactment%20costume.htm

Walter and Christina’s place of burial is by no means accidental. The Havard Chapel has been named after Sir Walter Havard (Havre de Grace), a Norman knight who arrived to the United Kingdom as a member of entourage of Bernard de Neufmarche. Walter Havard was born in 1040 in Normandy and assisted Bernard during his fight against the Welsh. For his service, Havard received lands near Brecon and a nobility title. His eldest daughter, Annie (or Anne) married Reginald Aubrey, a fellow Norman and close friend of her father’s. Since then, Havard and Aubrey families have been closely connected and were regarded as ones of the most influential and powerful clans in the region.  The grave of Walter Havard is also located in Brecon Cathedral and can be found near the tomb of Walter and Christina. Rita did some research about the Aubrey family online and she is convinced that the former Benedictine Priory of St John the Evangelist must have been an usual place where the deceased members of Havards and Aubreys were laid to rest.

It is worth mentioning that after their wedding,  Anne and Reginald moved to Abercynrig and Slwch where they kept two large households.  If you’d like to know more about the Aubrey family, please take a look at the excellent and very detailed family tree history done by professor Myron W. Evans. You can find his article at:

http://www.aias.us/index.php?goto=showPageByTitle&pageTitle=Some_family_history

The tomb of Walter and Christina Aubrey

The tomb of Walter and Christina Aubrey

Sleeping dogs at the feet of Christina and Walter, according to the medieval legends, they were supposed to protect the dead  from demons and thieves. They will raise at the coming of the Lord and wake their masters with their howling

Sleeping dogs at the feet of Christina and Walter, according to the medieval legends, they were supposed to protect the dead from demons and thieves. They will raise at the coming of the Lord and wake their masters with their howling

Heads of Christina and Walter. Christina is laying on the right and her long hair are hidden under head-wear known as barbette. Walter is laying on the right holding a crucifix

Heads of Christina and Walter. Christina is laying on the right and her long hair are hidden under head-wear known as barbette. Walter is laying on the left and is holding a crucifix

Another look at the grave of Christina and Walter Aubrey

Another look at the grave of Christina and Walter Aubrey

2.The Tomb of Gam (Games) Family

Christina and Walter Aubrey are not the only local nobles buried in the Brecon Cathedral. The powerful Gam family once had a three-tiered memorial erected near the old chapel of St Crispin, now known as the Chapel of St Keyne.  Today, all that remains, is a single wooden effigy of a sleeping lady nicknamed by the visitors as The Armless Lady. We do not know how the famous tomb looked like as no pictures or drawings survived to our day. However, the memorial have been mentioned several times in medieval texts and we know that it consisted of three separate female effigies and was built around 1550 by Thomas Gam. It  has been dedicated to Anne, daughter of Sir William Vaughan of Porthaml and her husband John (Thomas Gam’s parents), Miss Bodenham of Rotherwas and her partner Whilliam and (probably) to Miss Morgan of Pen-y-Crug and her husband, Thomas Gam.

According to legends, the tomb of Gam Family have been destroyed by soldiers during The Civil War on orders given by Thomas Cromwell himself and the two other wooden effigies were burnt. Sadly, we are unable to identify the Armless Lady but many scientists working in the Cathedral think that the statue represents Anne Gam, the oldest of all three women.

Gam Family (also known as The Games) were descended from Dafydd Gam, a Welsh soldier killed at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Dafydd died on the battlefield fighting for Henry V and could have served as the King’s bodyguard. Again, if we are to believe the legends, Dafydd loved Henry like a brother and respected him so greatly, that he protected him with his own body in the last stages of the battle. When Henry was forced to fight against Jean I, Duke of Alençon, Dafydd saved his life and mortally wounded the French noble. Before his own death, Gam has been knighted and the grateful Henry promised to provide for Daffydd’s widow and his children. It seems that the king has kept his promise. 100 years  after the battle of Agincourt, The Gam family had large estates in Breconshires and was counted among the richest and the most influential clans living in the area.  In his book entitled “History of the County of Brecknock”, historian Theophilus Jones, wrote that  Sir Dafydd Gam’s relatives have profited from his service to King Henry V “for they (his descendents) are immediately seen rising in importance, increasing opulence and numbers for several succeeding centuries”. In the early 16th century, two branches of The Games lived in close proximity of Brecon. One was the family of Edward Games who built the Elizabethan mansion of Newton. The other was the family of John Games whose home was the old, fortified manor-house of Aberbran.

This beautiful sleeping figure is known as The Armless Lady.

This beautiful sleeping figure is known as The Armless Lady

A full view of the only remaining figure from the tomb of Gam Family

A full view of the only remaining figure from the tomb of Gam Family

Looking at The Armless Lady, we can easily  recognize her high social status. She is dressed in an elegant long gown with ruff around her neck and lace sleeves and is wearing a beautifully decorated cap or a French hood. The chemise under the  gown is adorned with jewellery and  gold chains. The Lady is praying and her eyes are closed.

You can learn more about the Gam family here: http://lynnwright.com/GainesFamilyinWales.htm
A very well written article entitled Gams versus the Borough of Brecon is available at: http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/viewpage/llgc-id:1380216/llgc-id:1384427/llgc-id:1384498/getText

Another  interesting project about Tudor effigies can be found at:  http://www.tudoreffigies.co.uk/browse/default.asp

3.The Tomb of David and Lady Williams

The last tomb we would like to mention in this blog is located in the South Aisle of Brecon Cathedral. It contains the earthly remains of Sir David Williams and his first wife, Margaret Gam. It is hard to tell exactly when this alabaster monument has been created. Rita talked to the Cathedral guides trying to find out more about the couple and she was given two possible dates. Margaret’s effigy seems to be at least decade older than the figure of her husband and probably has been carved around 1595. David’s effigy is thought to have been commissioned upon his death in 1613. Both figures were subsequently joined together, creating a family grave.

David Williams has lead a very interesting and colorful life.  He was born around 1536 in Gwernyfed , in the parish of Glasbury, Brecknock as the youngest son of Gwilym ap John Vychan  and Margred Ferch Rhys. His family has been well connected and had ties to the most powerful clans in Breconshire including The Gams, The Aubreys and The Prices. David’s first cousin was Sir John Price (or Pryse), Thomas Cromwell’s trusted adviser and Henry VIII’s judge during King’s divorce to Anne Boelyn. John and David have been educated at Oxford and in London. Family’s connection allowed David to find employment at the Court for himself and soon he started working as a Judge of Peace. During his successful career, David has been appointed as attorney-general for five of the South Wales counties in the Great Sessions (1581-5), recorder of Brecon and Carmarthen (1587-1604), Member of Parliament for Brecon (two terms in 1584-93 and 1597-1604) and finally as the Justice of the King’s Bench. Sir Williams has been married twice: first to Margred (Margaret Games) and later to Dorothy Lutton, a widow.
He had at least 13 children including his heir, Sir Henry Williams,  a skilled politician and respected MP in his own right.

His wife, Margaret Games (or Gam) was the daughter of John Gam (the notorious sheriff of Brecon) and Anne Vaughan. On her mother’s  side, she was connected to The Havard and Vaughan Families and proudly emphasized her Norman heritage. She bore her husband at least 4 daughters and 5 sons.

The eternal resting place of Sir David Williams and his beloved wife, Margaret

The eternal resting place of Sir David Williams and his beloved wife, Margaret

More detailed look at Margaret Williams' effigy

More detailed look at Margaret Williams’ effigy

You can learn more about Margaret’s family tree here: https://histfam.familysearch.org//getperson.php?personID=I95876&tree=Welsh

Additional information about David can be also found at: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-WILL-GWE-1536.html

More information about Brecon Cathedral graves and archeology can be found here. the blog is an excellent source of information and we cannot recommend it enough:
http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/brecon-cathedral-again-and-again/

4. The Markings

While visiting the Cathedral you may notice strange symbols carved on stones and slabs. Those mysterious marks are not runes, even if they look quite similar. They are  some sort of medieval signatures, a small sign that could identify certain stonemasons among  many apprentices training in Brecon under the watchful eye of the guild masters.  Rita is still insisting that the markings make a great secret alphabet that can be used as an ancient language of the Dwarves 🙂

There are around 30 marks to be found around the building and looking for them is quite challenging and fun. Olive L Bacon wrote an excellent article about the markings for Welsh Journal. Please read it here:
http://welshjournals.llgc.org.uk/browse/viewobject/llgc-id:1384427/article/000024116

Markings left by stone masons

Markings left by stone masons

5. Pulpit Angels

These three unique wooden angels decorating the bottom part of the pulpit,  are the only remaining parts of the 14th century chancel roof. The original roof  has probably been damaged somewhere between 1536 and 1541 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and then subsequently taken down during the 19th century restoration. As the new roof didn’t require ornaments and decorations, the angels have been placed at the base of the pulpit. A very interesting thing is that the figures are not just simple sculptures. They are corbels formerly supporting the main beams of chancel roof.

A wooden sculpture of an angel  decorating the pulpit

A wooden sculpture of an angel decorating the pulpit

A closer look at the scultpure

A closer look at the sculpture

6. Mysterious Paintings

Above the pulpit, an observant visitors will notice a silhouette of a bird painted on the stone pillar. This black bird is probably a raven, the emblem of Philip Havard – one of the first mayors of Brecon.  Another theory says that the bird is an eagle, a symbol of St John the Evangelist and the patron of the first church.  We might never know the truth, but the majestic bird is one of the greatest mysteries of Cathedral. Another painting, located on the other side,  is said to depict  the town’s medieval coat of arms.

Raven or an eagle?

Raven or an eagle?

Brecon's Coat of Arms... or a Dalek?

Brecon’s Coat of Arms… or a Dalek?

7. Baptistry

Located in the west end of the Cathedral, the stone baptistry doesn’t look that impressive at all. At first sight, it’s almost boring: massive, plain, uneven. Very easy to miss. Don’t make that mistake! The baptistry is of Norman origin and is the oldest thing in the whole Cathedral. Some historians say that it hasn’t even been made in the UK, but was brought by the Norman knights with them. If you look closely, you will notice uncommon reliefs – monsters, fantastic beasts, masks  – all entwined in a ritual dance. The baptistry is badly damaged but the scars and cracks make it even more beautiful. Take a closer look at it if you are visiting, but do not touch. This is the only baptistry of this kind in the country and it would be a sin to further damage it.

Norman Baptistry

Norman Baptistry

8. The Cathedral grounds

After spending a lot of time inside the building, it’s nice to take a walk around the Cathedral, especially if you are lucky and the sun is shining. We  visited Brecon on a cold winter day and it looked majestic and beautiful. We cannot wait for the summer to pay another visit. The Cathedral volunteers informed us that the trees growing in the yard are actually lime trees and they look stunning in full bloom. Brecon is home to internationally recognized Jazz Festival and many concerts are taking place in and around the Cathedral. It must be a heaven on earth: a summer day, good music and peaceful surrounding. We shall be there!

Massive tower of the Cathedral gives the whole structure a defensive character

Massive tower of the Cathedral gives the whole structure a defensive character

Deanery and  neighboring buildings were once a part of the monsatery

Deanery and neighboring buildings were once a part of the monastery

Another look at the tower from the yard

Another look at the tower from the yard

Former monastery buildings are now used as living quarters for the priests and parish archives

Former monastery buildings are now used as living quarters for the priests and parish archives

Closer look at the Deanery

Closer look at the Deanery

Front of the Cathedral - upper rooms are used for choir practice and lower rooms as vestries.

Front of the Cathedral – upper rooms are used for choir practice and lower rooms as vestries

Rita's favorited picture - looks almost like a postcard!

Rita’s favorite picture – looks almost like a postcard!

We hope that you have enjoy our review of Brecon Cathedral.
If we have missed something, please let us know!

Visit us again soon, a fantastic blogs are going to be posted soon!
Till the next time,

xxx
Rita and Mal

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