Lovely entrance to the Cathedral and the Close
The Cathedral stands in attractives grounds surrounded by the ancient buildings of the Tithe Barn - now the Heritage Centre, the Cafe, and the Deanery.
Entrance to the North door is via the Lych gate, passing by the woodland walk to the churchyard and the Meadows.
Lych gates - the covered, porch-like entrance to church grounds - are a familar sight throughout Britain and their presence and use dates back to medieval days. Few survive from that time and those seen now mainly date from the 19thC.
They have an appeal to film makers who often use them in period romances ending with a country church wedding - as in Pride & Prejudice.
But their original function was for gatherings of a very different kind.
The word lych is a Saxon word for "corpse" and may also be linked to the German "die Leiche".
In years gone by it was the custom to wrap a corpse in a shroud, carry it to the church and wait for the Sexton to dig the grave and the arrival of the Priest to perform the rites.
The wait must have been long and often cold and wet, so began the custom of erecting a covered shelter for the mourners.
The gate here at Brecon is a particularly attractive one and little more than 100 years old.
It was erected in 1906 as a memorial to Joseph Richard Cobb. Although not a native of the town he had made a significant contribution to the development its development and specially to the restoration of the old Priory Church before its eventual consecration as a Cathedral in 1923 , 26 years after his death.
To see a waiting area at a French church see
There is parking just outside the Lych Gate with spaces for the disabled. There are toilets with disabled access through the Deanery entrance and south-west door, and also i in the Cafe
Housed in the restored Tithe Barn, next to Pilgrim's Cafe, the centre is well worth a visit if only to see the amazing timber construction of the roof. The restoration work wisely left this space open to view and as a usable loft area. It is there that the bell frame removed from the Tower has been installed and fitted with replica bells of the right size..
I am sure visiting children who happen to find the bell -push have fun surprising people when they make the bells ring out!
The ground floor is the museum which relates the changing times of the Priory and of the Brecon people throughout history.
Well designed information boards are placed alongside exhibits displayed in glazed cabinets. There are a variety of audio and video corners where children (or weary adults) may sit and listen to and watch tales of the past.
The information about medieval crafts and the names of those who practised them set me thinking about the people I know or have known who bear the names of those early carftsmen.
Tucker,Tanner,Taylor, Skinner, Weaver,Fuller,Shearer, Glover,Sadler,Fletcher, Miller but I have not come across a Cordwainer the name given to boot and shoe makers..
Entrance to the Centre is through the shop and is Free. The shop has a good selection of religious and secular souvenirs and books as well as handmade crafts. They also had a small selection of plants - herbs and tomato plants.
This little visitor is a permanent guest in the Cathedral and can always be found in exactly the same place. He is easy to find - as long as you remember the exact spot. On my last visit I had to be reminded by the Steward -again!
So I'll share the secret hiding place. As you walk down the Nave go over to the left hand side - pass the Games Monument towards the Havard Chapel and War Memorial. Stop at the entrance and look down to the bottom-right of the door frame and he should be there.
He is very popular so popular that vistors stroke him and his coat shines.
A famous firm of craftsman woodworkers carried out renovations in the Cathedral in the last century and the signature of the founder of the firm was a little mouse that he carved one day as a joke when working in another church. It has become the TradeMark of the Company and guarantees it is a genuine Robert Thompson creation.
His work his highly prized - and priced.
Even small domestic items are quite expensive.
I remember an aunt with a serious mouse phobia received a Robert Thompson cheesboard with a mouse on the handle as a gift - and threw it onto the fire!
VT member Britannia2 has a nice page on the Thompson Visitor centre in Yorkshire
and there is information about the firm here -
A Rood Screen once marked the division between the people and the monks in the medieval Priory. It was adorned by a gold Crucifix. The Crucifix became an object of pilgrimage and brought many people to Brecon - until King Henry X111's vandals destroyed it in the 1500s.
Now a life-size bronze by the Welsh artist Helen Sinclair has hung in the nave above the pulpit since April 2012.
But it is on loan and will be there only until the end of July 2012.
This Chapel is very much a part of the Cathedral and also a War Memorial to the South Wales Borderers and the Monmouthshire Regiment in both World Wars.
It also preserves the memory of the 5000 plus men who died in the Zulu war of 1879 and the gallantry of the 7 awarded the Victoria Cross. Their story was told in the film "Zulu".
Regimental colours hang here - some battle scarred and showing their age.
From Priory to Parish Church to Cathedral in 900 years.
When I first lived in South Wales I often travelled through Brecon and thought one day to stop to visit the Cathedral. An acquaintance told me not to bother - it was a “new Cathedral still less than 40 years old”.
I was given the impression that it was a nondescript edifice of no historical, architectural, or religious importance.
It was to be some years before I learned how far from the truth that was.
The site on which the Cathedral stands has been a place of Christian Worship for over one thousand years and can be dated to the Celtic days before the Norman Conquest of 1066.
In 1093 Bernard de Neufmarche, the half brother of William the Conqueror founded a Benedictine Priory on the site of an earlier celtic church. It was placed under the leadership of a Prior - a monk of lesser status than the Abbott at Battle Abbey to which it was linked.
Numerous example of the Norman period can be seen in the Church. But what you see today was mostly built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The impressive buildings in the Close all date from the monastic period and include the restored Tithe Barn (now the Heritage Centre and Restaurant), the Diocesan Offices and accommodation for the clergy.
When all monasteries were Dissolved by Henry V111 the Priory ceased to exist but the building became the Parish Church of St John the Evangelist in 1538.
It was only after the Church in Wales separated from the established Church of England in 1920 and became part of Anglican Communion in Wales that the former Priory was chosen in 1923 to become the Cathedral of the newly created Diocese of Swansea and Brecon.
So my acquaintance was partly correct - the Cathedral was relatively new.
She just forgot to mention that the building is ancient; that its contents include rare treasures, and provides a history of Christian worship in this part of Wales from Norman times to the present day. So if you are interested in churches - don't pass it by.
1 The Sanctuary and stone carved reredos depicting scenes of the crucifixtion surrounded by saints and apostles.
2. The Norman Font - strangely decorated with semi-pagan images - grotesque faces and wild fantastical animals and birds.
3.This wooden carving originally belonged to a much larger monument to the Games family which was destroyed during the violence of the Civil War. Only this slight figure of a woman remains and there is uncertainty concerning her identity. The Games family were descended from Dafydd Gam, a Welsh soldier killed at Agincourt. Many Welsh soldiers trained at the close by Tretower Castle.
4.The Lawrence Chapel and repository of numerous memorials to local people. In the corner there is an access door to the tower which is not open to the public for safety reasons.
5. Arches and stained glass- and spotlights - can you see them?
I do not know the story behind the twinning of Brecon with Saline but the Celtic connection can probably explain that between the town and Gouesnou a small town in Finistere, north of Brest.
There are school exchanges and sporting contacts between the Celts - obviously much easier to arrange than transatlantic visits!
Note that both the Welsh and the Breton language is used on the Twinning Notice.
You can't miss the sign board that stands outside the Tourist Information Office in the Cattle Market Car park.
I'm pretty certain the staff would be delighted to welcome visitors from either twin town if you go insde and say Hello!
The tourist office is located on a site formerly occupied by the cattle market which moved "out of town" some years ago.
There is quite a large car park there - approximately half of it belongs to the Morrison Supermarket - which stands on the site of a long-gone train station.
It is esaily reached from the Bus Station beyond the supermarket or from the High Street by cutting through to Lion Street and Lion Lane.
It is an excellent tourist office with helpful staff and all the information anyone would need about not only the town but also the Brecon Beacons National Park and other places of interest in the area.
I found this nice promenade by accident, and was very happy I did, because I really liked it. It is a nice tarmac path along the river Usk, which seems to be popular with the locals. On this sunny day it was just beautiful to walk along the river and to see the blue water and the green lawns. There are also few benches to sit down and enjoy the view. Very calm and relaxing - I really recommend a stroll here if you are in Brecon and want to do something to wind down!
The thing I remember most fondly of Brecon is just strolling through the town, without a map, just enjoying the atmosphere. When I visited, it was a lovely, sunny day and the bright and colorful houses looked simply beautiful.
The town is quite small, so you can easily walk around and have a proper look without getting too tired. I suppose it must be different in high season, but on this day in March I seemed to be the only tourist in Brecon, and it was nice to walk around the town and to see the locals going about their daily business of shopping and chatting in the streets.
Besides the pretty houses, there are two things that do define Brecon in a special way: The river Usk that runs through the town, and the Brecon Beacons that surround it. The mountains can be seen from many places in Brecon, and I liked that very much.
As already said, the cathedral was open during my visit. There are no leaflets to guide you around, but information signs at several places throughout the building. This was very good, as there are several very interesting features to see.
Photo 1: The Games Monument
A figure from a tomb of the Games family from ca. 1555. The other figures were burned by the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, only this one survived. Altogether there are not even a hundred wooden effigies like this left in Britain.
It is a female figure and must be one of the wives of the three Games men.
Photo 2: The Norman font
This is the largest Norman font in Britain! It dates from about 1150 and shows some interesting faces and animals.
Photo 3: The wooden pulpit
I liked this wooden pulpit very much, the carvings are beautiful. Unfortunately I did not write down the date, and cannot find it online.
Photo 4: Memorial plates and graves
On one of the walls there are many memorial plates and graves, with some beautiful carvings and statues.
Photo 5: The Cresset Stone
This is a very unique piece of history. The cups in this stone were filled with oil or wax candles and then lit up to light the way for the monks who went to the first service of the day at 02.00am in the morning. This is the only Cresset Stone that has survived in Wales. I was really fascinated as I had never seen one before!
Brecon Cathedral is probably the one MUST DO for most tourists when they are in town, and I agree, it certainly is worth a visit. It is a bit difficult to see the exterior: The cathedral is up on a hill, surrounded by a wall, trees and other buildings, and so it is not easy to get a decent look and photograph. I very much liked the atmosphere, though: Walking through the gates of the wall, and then strolling through the courtyard. This closed courtyard is unique in Wales!
Brecon Cathedral was founded in 1093 as a Benedictine Priory, but not much remains of this original church. It became the parish church in the 16th century, and has been catholic again since 1923, when the diocese of Swansea was created.
It is a very beautiful building, and is still surrounded by several small houses which once belonged to the monastery. These houses now are home to the administration, but also to a heritage centre, a shop and a restaurant. Unfortunately these were closed when I visited. The cathedral itself was open, though!
The place had a very calming atmosphere, probably due to the fact that it is far away from the hustle bustle of the town, and the surrounding wall and trees reinforce this effect.
Opening times: 08.30am to 06.00pm or longer.
Any thespians visiting Brecon will have heard of Sarah Siddons. In her time she was the most acclaimed actress of the age and one of the very first women to become established as a great actress.
She was born a Kemble - in a family of succesful travelling theatricals. Her father was an Actor/Manager and was settled in Brecon at the time of Sarah's birth in 1755..
These were the days when the stage was not considered a suitable occupation for a woman, and following the established Shakespearean tradition female roles were often played by young men or youths.
But Sarah, brought up in the world of theatre with the smell of greasepaint all around her, became stage-struck and determined to be an actress.
Her horrified parents tried to restrain her by placing her in domestic service but she ran away and ended up in London where she began her acting career. She became one of the first great female actresses famous for her roles in Shakespeare particularly for her Lady Macbeth. She died in 1831 and was buried in London
Her portrait, painted by Gainsborough. hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Another, less well known, can be seen at her birth place in High St.- on the sign of the public house that now bears her name.
Unfortunately this museum was closed during my visit - "until further notice", as the paper in the window said. It seems that it is in need of refurbishment but cannot fund it, although plans for a funding do exist and might be put into action. The museum still works and can be visited by appointment if you have a special interest, but is not open to general visitors.
Although it is currently closed, it might still be worth having a look at the building. It must be one of the most imposing buildings in Brecon, to my mind so imposing that it does not really fit to the style of the town. It is a neoclassic building from 1842 and was originally Brecon's Shire Hall and assize court.
I do hope that they will be able to open the museum to the public again, it sounds as if they have some interesting exhibitions, so it would be a pity if this was lost to the public forever!
Brecon is located within Brecon Beacons National Park, and if you like walking and hiking, you really should not miss out on this while visiting Brecon!
Just a short drive from Brecon, close to the village of Libanus, there is the Mountain Centre which provides you with leaflets, maps and guide books, and is the starting point of numerous walks and hikes. You can get to Libanus itself by bus, but from there it is still quite a walk to the Mountain Centre, so I recommend that you take a full day for your hiking. I didn't and only went to Libanus in the afternoon, which was very stressful and did not give me nearly enough time to do some hiking - I just made it back to the bus on time, otherwise I would have been stranded in the mountains!
The National Park is very nice, I loved the interesting, rough landscape and the views. Just fascinating. During my short visit, I did a hike up to the peak of Twyn y gear, an iron age hill fort close to Libanus. It was a great hike with fantastic views to Pen y fan (the highest mountain of the region), and the surrounding area. I loved the harsh vegetation and landscape and really enjoyed my hike. Unfortunately I really needed to hurry, though, as I said above.
Brecon Beacons National Park is an area I very much want to go back to, to explore and see more and have the time to really enjoy it.
Pictures 1 and 3 show a view of Pen y fan, the highest mountain in the southern part of the UK (that is, south of Snowdonia). It is 886m high.
Picture 2 shows a view of the iron age hill fort, Twyn y gear, from below.