03 May 2016

Bangor Cathedral has a history that
dates back almost 1,500 years

Bangor Cathedral … serving a diocese that covers much of North Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

It was only a 10- or 15-minute drive yesterday afternoon [2 May 2016] from Beaumaris to Bangor on the opposite side of the Menai Strait, where I visited Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, which has been a place of worship since the sixth century.

The Diocese of Bangor includes the island of Anglesey, as well as most of Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire, and a small part of Montgomeryshire. Originally, this was the diocese in the Welsh Kingdom of Gwynedd, and tradition says it was founded around 546 by Saint Deiniol.

The site of the cathedral was originally the home of Saint Deiniol’s monastery, built around 525 on land given to him by the King of Gwynedd, Maelgwn Gwynedd. Saint Deiniol is said to have been consecrated a bishop by Saint David, making him the first Bishop of Bangor. However, the monastery was sacked in 634 and again in 1073, so that nothing remains of the original building.

In 1102, the Synod of Westminster took measures to restore Bangor Cathedral, but the earliest part of the present building was built when Bishop David was bishop (1120-1139). He received financial support from the King of Gwynedd, Gruffudd ap Cynan, who was buried by the high altar when he died in 1137. This 12th century cathedral was cruciform in shape in the Norman style, and about 130 ft in length. King Gruffudd’s son, Owain Gwynedd, was also buried here, as was his brother, Cadwaladr.

The high altar and sanctuary in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Giraldus Cambrensis describes the liturgy here in 1188 when the Archbishop of Canterbury celebrated Mass. But the cathedral was destroyed again in 1211, this time by the army of King John of England during a raid into Gwynedd. Later in the 13th century, the original apse was removed and the choir was extended to its present length.

When King Edward I of England invaded Gwynedd in 1282, The church was badly damaged. Two years later, in 1284, the Dean and Chapter of Bangor were given £60 as compensation for the damage. During this period, extensive rebuilding was carried out under the first Bishop Anian, and the transepts and crossing were rebuilt, while the nave was rebuilt in the late 14th century.

The cathedral was said to have been burnt to the ground in 1402 during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, but there is no contemporary evidence for this.

A Latin inscription over the tower doorway records that Bishop Skevington built the tower in 1532 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Extensive rebuilding was carried out from the end of the 15th century. The present arcade and clerestory were built from 1510 on and were completed in 1532. A Latin inscription over the tower doorway records that Bishop Thomas Skevington built the tower in 1532, although it was not complete when Skevington died in 1533.

Rowland Meyrick, the second son of Meyric ap Llewelyn, was the first Bishop of Bangor following the Reformation (1559-1566). He was buried in the cathedral, but his monument has long disappeared.

Some restoration work was carried out on the cathedral in the 18th century, £2,000 was spent on repairs in 1824, and the interior was altered and refitted in 1825 at a cost of a further £3,252.

Inside Bangor Cathedral, looking towards the west door (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The building as we see it today is the result of extensive work carried out by George Gilbert Scott, beginning in 1868. Scott’s design originally called for a high central tower and spire. However, this was never completed after cracks appeared, raising fears about the subsidence of the foundations, and the tower was left as a low structure.

In 1879, £11,000 was spent on the restoration of the nave, chapter house and central tower.

In 1966-1967, the stump of Scott’s central tower was finished off with battlements, a pyramidical cap and a tall weather cock. Major restoration of the outside stonework and roofs began in 1987 and continues.

The pyramidical cap on the tower finishes off Scott’s restoration work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Bangor Cathedral can boast of a rich and varied library. Its greatest treasure is Bishop Anian’s Pontifical, which dates from the early 14th century. It is written on vellum with illustrations inlaid with gold leaf and bordered in blue, green and black.

A pontifical is a book containing the texts of liturgical ceremonies performed by the bishop, such as ordinations, benedictions, confirmations and the consecration of churches. The Pontifical of Anian included all these and almost all that was necessary for a bishop’s public duties, as well as the appropriate music.

The Bangor Pontifical survived the ravages of war, and although it was lost after Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion in 1402, it was returned to Bangor Cathedral by Bishop Ednam in 1485. After the injunctions in the reign of King Edward VI ordering the destruction of Roman service books, the Pontifical may have found a safe and private hiding place thanks to Bishop Rowland Meyrick (1559–1566), until it was presented to the cathedral by Bishop Humphrey Humphreys in 1701. Bishop Humphreys was a patron of Welsh literature, genealogical research and of the then newly formed Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

During World War II, the Bangor Pontifical was moved for safe-keeping with other treasures to the tunnels beneath the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. It was finally returned in 1946, and is now kept in the Library of the University of Wales Bangor.

The Mostyn Christ, dating from 1450, is one of the principal treasures in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

One of the major pieces of work in the cathedral is the “Mostyn Christ,” a figure of the Pensive Christ carved in oak and thought to date from ca 1450. It depicts Christ before his crucifixion, chained seated on a rock and wearing the crown of thorns. The Mostyn Christ reflects the meaning of the Passion through the intense depiction of human suffering and the symbolic inclusion of a skull at the feet of Christ.

The Mostyn Christ is on loan to the cathedral from the Mostyn Estates. The Mostyn Estates is a private limited company that manages the interests of the Mostyn family across North Wales and elsewhere, including commercial, residential and agricultural holdings in Llandudno and agricultural estates in Rhewl and Tremostyn, Flintshire.

This wooden carving is one of the most iconic religious representations surviving from 15th century Wales and its story is shrouded in mystery. Its origins have been subject to intense debate, with suggestions including Maenan Abbey, Gwydir Chapel, Rhuddlan Friary and the chapel in the home of the Catholic Pue family in Penrhyn. It is possible that the item was rescued by the Mostyn family sometime during the Reformation. By the early 19th century, it was owned by the Mostyn family who lived Gloddaith Hall, where the early chapel was decorated throughout with Catholic iconography. The branch of the Mostyn family that lived at Talacre and Basingwerk was renowned for its allegiance to the ‘Old Faith’.

The chapter and choir stalls in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Cmerford, 2016)

The Bishop of Bangor, the Right Revd Andrew John, was consecrated in 2008 and enthroned in 2009.

In all, there have been 57 Deans of Bangor Cathedral, and since the beginning of this year [January 2016], the Very Revd Kathy Louise Jones has been Dean of Bangor. Previously, she was the Lead Chaplain of the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in the Diocese of Newcastle in the Church of England. She studied theology at Cardiff University, Queen’s College, Birmingham, and the University of Wales, Bangor. She was ordained deacon in Bangir Cathedrals in 1992, and priest in 1997.

Her predecessor, the Very Revd Sue Jones, who is now Director of Mission and Ministry in the Diocese of Derby, was the first woman to be appointed a dean in the Church in Wales.

The Bible Garden in the grounds of the cathedral is said to be planted with an example of every plant mentioned in the Bible, although it looked a little shabby yesterday afternoon and I decided not to start counting.

The Bible Garden in the grounds of Bangor Cathedral(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)


David said...

Thank you for this wonderful history. I was researching St. Deiniol in reference to a hymn, and happened upon this post. Or was it providential?

Patrick Comerford said...

Thank you David

Unknown said...

Grazie infinite per queste informazioni. Sto facendo il video della mia vacanza in Galles e queste sono le uniche informazioni dettagliate sulla storia della cattedrale.
Grazie ancora.

Thank you so much for this information. I'm doing the video of my holiday in Wales and these are the only detailed information on the history of the cathedral. Thanks again

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this information. I'm doing the video of my holiday in Wales and these are the only detailed information on the history of the cathedral. Thanks again

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this information. I'm doing the video of my holiday in Wales and these are the only detailed information on the history of the cathedral. Thanks again