A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DIOCESE
The Diocese of St Davids, named after Wales’ patron saint, is the largest diocese in the Church in Wales. Today it covers Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, although at one time it stretched to the English border and included parts of Herefordshire, Gwent and Powys. In 1923, just three years after disestablishment, the size of the diocese was reduced when the eastern part was used to form the Diocese of Swansea & Brecon.
The Diocese of St Davids is said to date from the latter half of the 6th century, although records of its early history are very fragmentary. After St David established a strong Christian presence in the area, Celtic saints and Welsh Princes helped to preserve its heritage. Neither the Vikings nor the Normans were able to quench the faith that had developed over the years. In fact, it was the Normans who created the system of parishes that basically still operates today and it was their reorganisation of the diocesan boundaries that remained until the Church in Wales was disestablished from the Church of England in the early twentieth century.
The original cathedral was plundered by the Vikings and was finally burnt and destroyed in the opening years of the 11th century. After their invasion of 1066, the Normans reorganised the structure of the church throughout Britain. They created the parochial system and built the present cathedral which originally contained many relics, including the remains of St David himself. It was visited by many pilgrims, poor and rich, including William the Conqueror in 1077, Henry II in 1171, and Edward I in 1284. Pope Calixtus II decreed that two pilgrimages to St Davids were equivalent to one to Rome.
Between the 13th and 16th centuries many of the parish churches in the diocese were built or extended, often on much more ancient sites. The church in mediaeval times served the whole community, involving everyone in its liturgical celebrations of the sacraments.
During the Reformation, Puritan soldiers vandalised the cathedral at St Davids leaving it in semi ruin for centuries. Although the Reformation largely left the smaller churches in place, it was not so supportive of religious houses and with the adoption of the mediaeval liturgies the interiors of church buildings became much plainer. The lands and property of the church in the diocese were sequestered during the Commonwealth period. The financial consequences of this lay appropriation of religious property led to poverty among many of the clergy and resulted in several ecclesiastical buildings becoming ruined and badly maintained.
The Restoration of Charles II led to a recovery on the part of the Anglican Church and an increase of dissent in the Established Church on the part of dissatisfied Puritans. This contributed to the rise of Methodism in the Georgian period.
The Evangelical Revival of the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw significant church restoration and rebuilding even in rural areas. New churches were built to serve the expanding population of the newly industrialised areas of the diocese. After Disestablishment in 1920, the diocese became part of the Church in Wales. During the early part of the 20th century, the diocese survived mass unemployment, agricultural depression and world war, but towards the end of the century, in common with the rest of the Church in Wales, it experienced a decline in numbers and the closure and redundancy of several church buildings.
Today, approaching the centenary of disestablishment, the diocese is looking forward and outward, to refresh its mission and ministry in what will probably be the biggest shake-up for centuries. It hopes to achieve this through its Growing Hope strategy, which will introduce Local Ministry Areas, and by using the special Diocesan Prayer for growth at its church services.