Chancel Ceiling, Landaff Cathedral, John Prichard (1817-1886), J. P. Seddon and others
Chancel Ceiling, Landaff Cathedral, by John Prichard (1817-1886)

Chancel Ceiling, Landaff Cathedral. Victorian restoration, John Prichard (1817-1886) and John Pollard Seddon. 1843-1869; south-west tower and spire, 1869. Photograph and text Jacqueline Banerjee, 2009. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.]

Llandaff Cathedral is picturesquely situated in a leafy hollow just below Cathedral Green, and close to the River Taff — from which Llandaff takes its name. The building stands on an ancient site; the rumour that the see had its origins in the second century may be implausible (see "Llandaff Cathedral"), but there is evidence for sixth-century worship here, and the earliest parts of the current building date from the twelfth century, with the Chapter House dating from c.1250. However, after the Reformation it fell into a state of "unparalleled neglect and ruin" (Freeman 79). An eighteenth-century attempt at restoration in the classical style, complete with "plaster, whitewash, urns, and conventicle windows" (Freeman 85), focused on the choir while letting the nave go roofless. When the diocesan architect John Prichard and his partner J. P. Seddon came to it in the nineteenth century, this earlier work was swept away and a much more thorough and sympathetic restoration and rebuilding programme undertaken, in the Gothic style. Victorian projects of this kind were given a bad name by Ruskin and Morris, but there was no riding roughshod over noble remains here. On the contrary, the past was used as a guide; and, where little or nothing was left, as in the case of the collapsed southwest tower, the desire for harmony was pre-eminent. Generally known as "Prichard's Tower," this part of the cathedral is much admired, especially as Llandaff is unusual in having two towers at the west front. Prichard himself is depicted at the head of one of the new supporting columns, "bearing the mighty tower on his shoulders" (Davies 7). A brass plaque nearby, in what is now the cathedral shop area, reads: "In Memory of the Great Architect J. Prichard, Restorer of This Cathedral. Born May 6 1817. Died October 13 1886." Prichard is buried along with his father (for 35 years vicar-choral of the cathedral) on the south-east side of the cathedral, beyond the Chapter House (see Ellis).

Members of the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood were commissioned for the internal decoration of the cathedral, and among its points of special interest are the brilliantly coloured Rossetti triptych (originally intended as a reredos) in the Illtyd Chapel near the west entrance: this is considered Rossetti's first important commission ("Chronology"). Porcelain panelling by Edward Burne-Jones, and Morris windows designed by Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown, can also be seen. Some of these are of special interest. For example, in a memorial window of 1869, typical Morris minstrel angels hover above Burne-Jones's King David, St Stephen and Samuel: this is the first version of Burne-Jones's Samuel figure, used later at Jesus College, Cambridge and elsewhere (see Cormack 28). Below that are three New Testament scenes, including that of Christ blessing the children, a theme of which Burne-Jones seems to have been particularly fond (cf. the one at Jesus Church in Troutbeck, Cumbria). The first of the Morris windows to be ordered was given by Prichard and his sisters, in memory of their parents.

The cathedral was very badly damaged in the air raids of World War II, and then painstakingly rebuilt and restored from 1949-1960 under the architect George Pace; it was restored again from 1985-1990, and work of this kind still continues today. The most celebrated additions have been the East window by John Piper and the polished aluminium figure of "Christ in Majesty" (1954-5) by Sir Jacob Epstein, overlooking the nave from a concrete arch designed by Pace. Unusually, there are no transepts, which perhaps focuses the eye more on this dramatic piece.

For all its vicissitudes, this is now a beautiful and welcoming cathedral. Looking across benignly at it from the edge of Cathedral Green is a fine statue of James Rice Buckley, long-serving Vicar and then Archdeacon of Llandaff, by the Cardiff-born sculptor William Goscombe John.

Other Views and Related Material

References

"Chronology." (Walker Art Gallery site on Rossetti.) Viewed 3 September 2009.

Cormack, Peter. Illustrated Catalogue for Morris & Company's Stained Glass for the Chapel of Cheadle Royal Hospital". London: Haslan and Whiteway, 2008. This beautifully illustrated catalogue is available here. Viewed 3 September 2009.

Davies, Chrystal. Around and About Llandaff Cathedral. Much Wenlock, Shrops: R. H. Smith, 2006.

Ellis, Megan. "Prichard, John (1817-1886)." (Welsh Biography Online). Viewed 3 September 2009.

Freeman, Edward Augustus. Remarks on the Architecture of Llandaff Cathedral: With an Essay towards a History of the Fabric. London: Pickering, 1850. Available here. Viewed 3 September 2009.

"Llandaff Cathedral," The Saturday Magazine (No. 143) 27 September 1834: 113-5. Viewed 3 September 2009..

"A Short History: Historical Landmarks" (on the Llandaff Cathedral website). Viewed 3 September 2009.


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Last modified 15 September 2009