The history of Brecon Cathedral
November Meeting : Geoffrey Marshall – the history of Brecon Cathedral
In the continued absence of a chairman, Trefor Jones introduced Mr Marshall and explained the rather unusual circumstances by which the Right Reverend Marshall of Brecon Cathedral had been invited to speak to Resolfen History Society. It appears that the contact was made during the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in July, when he had sat next to a chorister during a concert in Sydney Town Hall and found that he was churchwarden at Brecon Cathedral. Being ever vigilant our Secretary invited him to speak to the Society, he declined but suggested the Rev. Marshall as a better alternative.
Geoffrey Marshall began his talk by explaining that he had been born in north Wales but had spent his formative years in Derby, following a spell as Vicar of Wrexham he had gained his post at Brecon some six years ago. His talk commenced by showing slides of the present day work of the cathedral, his message being that it was far from being a museum. The slides showed links with local organizations, festivals and royal visitors, and the Dean’s infectious sense of humour was evident throughout.
It appears that Brecon Cathedral owes its existence to the disestablishment of the Church in Wales in 1920 when six cathedrals were created instead of the former four. The diocese of Brecon and Swansea was established and centred on the newly created City of Brecon, with the Church of St John as the cathedral. Swansea was a much bigger town of course, but did not receive its city status until 1969.
As with many other churches in Wales, the original building was established by the Normans. The castle at Brecon was built in 1093 at the confluence of the Usk and Honddu by the illegitimate god son of William the Conqueror, Bernard de Neufmarche . A monastery, the Benedictine Priory of St. John the Evangelist was established shortly afterwards and was housed in what is now the cathedral building. Its military history, including the claim to have supplied most of the Welsh archers at Agincourt, meant that Brecon is the only and oldest walled cathedral in Wales and is still able to be locked at night. The monastery was disestablished in 1538 by Henry VIII.
Geoffrey Marshall then took the attentive audience on a tour of the building. The tithe barn, almoner’s house and the internal parts of the building were discussed in great detail. He explained that every cathedral must have a “cathedra” or throne though the present one is not used very often. Some of the curiosities of the building were then explored including a cresset stone to illuminate the medieval building with candles and a font with Latin inscription which may date from the ninth century and be Celtic in origin. A more modern feature is the nine foot bronze cross modeled on driftwood from Gower.
Brecon’s connection with the military continues to this day and it remains one of the garrisons of the British Army in Wales and is the home of the Gurkhas. Its association with the gallant defence of Rorke’s Drift in 1879 in the Zulu war, is commemorated by “a ring of immortel”, donated by Queen Victoria to note the 11 VCs achieved in the famous battle.
In conclusion, Geoffrey Marshall turned his attention to the various famous persons buried in the confines of the cathedral. The building contains some medieval graves with no inscriptions, the oldest stone statues and the grave of Thomas Coke a contemporary of Wesley who was instrumental in the spread of Methodism in America.
Mr Phylip Jones thanked the Right Reverend Marshall for a highly enjoyable and memorable talk.