St David's Cathedral, Pembrokeshire, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St David's Cathedral
Location: Pembrokeshire, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 October 2020, 11:15am

The building

The 12th century cathedral, a pilgrimage destination, was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century. The ruins of the bishop's palace, the cries of the ravens, and the fact that you drop down on the site make the approach evocative. The detail is less impressive but interesting, with the tomb of Edmund Tudor in the place of the saint's shrine, behind the high altar. Recently, a shrine to St David has been refurbished, complete with icon of Dewi Sant (St David) with the obligatory dove (legend has it that as David preached at the Synod of Brefi, a dove flew down to perch on his shoulder, after which a miracle took place). The traditional antagonism between English and Welsh is enshrined here.

The church

Although in-person services and visiting hours have resumed, the cathedral’s activities remain suspended, although the cathedral chaplains are on duty most days (quoting from their news sheet) ‘to provide support and advice to people whenever they can.’ A three-day retreat is scheduled for the upcoming week, limited to five persons each day. Their food bank is still active, and a drop-off donation point is provided. Holy Eucharist and Evensong are held each Sunday, with Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist on weekdays. Services are also posted on social media.

The neighborhood

The Pembrokeshire coast is a world-famous walk. Celtic saints are one of its attractions. If they weren't there you'd have to invent them. The great outcrops of rock in a barren landscape cry out for ascetic feats of endurance and prayer. The city mainly survives on tourism. When they come to the cathedral, tourists become pilgrims.

The cast

The dean, a minor canon, and the verger processed in wearing masks, which they removed only when speaking. On the pulpitum, the organist and a single cantor provided the music. The dean took the service, the minor canon preached, and the cantor, a tenor, sang from behind a plastic screen. He couldn't compete with the organ, but unaccompanied he was very good.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

Social distancing was scrupulously enforced, so there were about 30 in the nave.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Two vergers took care of the seating and helped with queries.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Restrained organ music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘We meet in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet left on the pew.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The dean's dangling earings and high-heeled boots.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A modern version of the traditional eucharist. The dean burst into Welsh during the eucharistic prayer and I wished she'd thought of that sooner. They were celebrating St Luke and the readings tried laboriously to drag in references to him.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

1 — Unfair to criticise because the preacher herself said she thought of telling the dean the dog had eaten it.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We live in unpredictable times and need hope. We all crave human contact. How can we survive? We have a mission.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The solo chanting of the psalm from on high.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The sermon, because we felt for her.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

We all got away as quickly as possible.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Fortunately not allowed nowadays.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

2 — The schism between Celtic and Roman, Welsh and English, local and tourist, is as corrosive as ever.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Quite uncomfortable.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

As I left, my gaze fell on the statue of Dewi Sant outside, with – wouldn’t you know it? – a live dove perched on his shoulder. I like an element of surprise.

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