Bishop’s Palaces

After the Norman conquest of England, William the Conqueror extended his invasion into the adjacent kingdom of Wales. Wales had been settled earlier by the Celts who were also present in what is now Ireland, and to the north in what is now Scotland. The Normans occupied the southern part of Wales in fairly short order, building castles and churches along the coast.

William, now the King of England (among other titles), parceled out his conquered lands to the Catholic Church – represented by bishops – and to his loyal followers, his barons. Generally, the Church received one quarter of the conquered lands and the noblemen received half.

The bishops were the church leaders, but they were also, in a sense, nobility, living the high life on the labor of their parishioners and tenant farmers. Sparing no expense, the bishops built huge, luxurious palaces as their residences which, to me at least, are indistinguishable from any nobleman’s castle and estate.

After our walk around Tenby, we headed off to visit the nearest bishop’s palace in Lamphey. All that’s left today are ruins because, after Henry VIII kicked the Catholics out of England, he appropriated all the Church lands, including the bishop’s palaces, and gave them to his pals. The Lamphey Bishop’s Palace went to the Devereaux family and was ultimately damaged in the English Civil War in the 1640s and abandoned.

Here are a couple pictures of what’s left.

The Lamphey Bishop’s Palace was sort of a “summer retreat” for the bishops of southwestern Wales. The real bishop’s palace, where we went next, is about 30 miles northwest of Lamphey on the coast where the church built a tremendous cathedral and a bishop’s palace next to it called St. David’s.

St. David’s Cathedral still stands and is in use; the bishop’s palace, however, went to ruin after the Anglican Reformation of King Henry VIII.

In this picture, you can see St. David’s Cathedral in the foreground, right; the ruins of St. David’s Bishop’s Palace is in the background, left.

Again, but further down the hill, cathedral on the right, bishop’s palace on the left:

And here we’re looking back up the hill toward the main gate in the St. David’s compound. Both St. David’s and Lamphey were completely walled compounds with fortified gates and guard towers – mainly to control access by the peasantry, more than as a defensive measure.

Like the Lamphey Bishop’s Palace, St. David’s Bishop’s Palace and Cathedral had been gutted during the English Civil War in the 1640s by Oliver Cromwell’s forces, but the cathedral has since been renovated, if I recall correctly, in the 1700s; the palace was not restored.

The ceiling in the Nave was particularly beautiful.

The bishop’s palace was a massive structure. Here’s what’s left of the Great Hall where the bishop entertained and held ecclesiastical court.

This picture shows the bishop’s bedroom.

And here’s the courtyard with the cathedral’s bell tower in the background.

All of these buildings were built in the early 1300s. It’s amazing to me to see how much wealth was squandered on behalf of luxurious living for so few while the average man and woman led an existence that was so meager. Hmmm, that sounds familiar.

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