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Diocese of Menevia

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Menevia is said to be derived from Menapia, the name of an ancient Roman settlement supposed to have existed in Pembrokeshire, or Hen Meneu (vetus rubus) where St. David was born. From the time of the establishment of the four vicars Apostolic in England, in 1688, Wales belonged to the Vicariate of the Western District. In 1840 it was made a separate vicariate by Gregory XVI: in 1850 the Catholic hierarchy was re-established, and Wales was divided between the Dioceses of Shrewsbury and Newport. In 1895 the principality, with the exception of Glamorganshire was again formed into a separate vicariate Apostolic. Right Rev. Francis Joseph Mostyn, son of Sir Pyers Mostyn, eighth baronet, of Talacre in North Wales, was appointed first vicar Apostolic, his titular see being Ascalon. In 1898 he was transferred to Menevia when the vicariate was made a diocese by Leo XIII. The Bishop of Menevia is the only member of the hierarchy who holds one of the ancient titles of pre-Reformation times. The diocese is under the patronage of Our Lady Help of Christians, St. David, and St. Winefride, patrons of Wales. It covers 6500 square miles of country, most of which is rugged and mountainous; there are no large towns, so that the Catholic population of some 8500 souls is much scattered in country districts. To meet the spiritual needs of this little flock there are forty-three public churches, chapels, and stations, besides twelve chapels belonging to religious communities. The number of priests (in 1910) is eighty-two, twenty-eight seculars and fifty-four regulars; more than half this number of regulars is accounted for by the monastery of Breton Benedictines, at Caermaria, near Cardigan, the convent of Franciscan Capuchins at Pantasaph, and St. Beuno's College, the theologate of the English Jesuits. These religious, as well as Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Passionists, serve various missions throughout the diocese. There are convents of nine congregations of nuns, the Sisters of the Holy Ghost (White Sisters) having no less than seven. The church of Our Lady of Dolours, Wrexham, serves as pro-cathedral; on 10 August, 1909, a cathedral chapter, consisting of a provost and four canons, was erected.

The diocese is rich in relics of the Ages of Faith, thickly strewn as it is with churches once Catholic, but now used for Protestant worship, and with ruins of ancient Catholic sanctuaries and holy wells named after the countless saints of the British Church; most famous of these is the holy well of St. Winefride at Holywell, which is and always has been in Catholic hands. This miraculous well has been a centre of pilgrimage from the earliest days of authentic Welsh history, and the saint still attracts her votaries to the shrine, and dispenses her miraculous favours even in this unbelieving age. The beautiful building which stands over the well was erected towards the close of the fifteenth century. The mission has been served by the Society of Jesus since about 1600. St. Mary's College is a small episcopal college in the town, for the education of boys to supply priests for the diocese; the Welsh language is a prominent feature in the curriculum. The Diocese of Menevia is the restoration of the ancient Catholic Diocese of St. David's, the foundation of which, in the latter half of the sixth century, is traditionally attributed to that saint. The contention of recent historians that there were no territorial bishops in Wales at so early a date, but only monastic bishops without sees, is considered baseless by Dr. Zimmer, no partisan authority. "Though monasticism was strong in it, it did not impart to the (Welsh) Church either its character or its form" (Realencyklopädie, X, 224). The four independent Welsh sees were co-extensive with the four independent principalities that had come into being during the sixth century; Menevia with Dyfed, Llandaff with Gwent, St. Asaph with Powys, Bangor with Gwynedd.

The records of the history of the diocese before Norman times are very fragmentary, consisting of a few chance references in old chronicles, such as "Annales Cambriæ" and "Brut y Tywysogion" (Rolls Series). Originally corresponding with the boundaries of Dyfed (Demetia), St. David's eventually comprised all the country south of the River Dovey and west of the English border, with the exception of the greater part of Glamorganshire, in all some 3500 square miles. Though it was never an archbishopric, it is far from clear when St. David's came definitely under the metropolitan jurisdiction of Canterbury. About 1115, however, Henry I intruded a Norman, Bernard (1115-1147), into the see. Bernard's rule was wise and vigorous; but on the death of Henry he claimed metropolitan jurisdiction over Wales, and presented his suit unsuccessfully before six successive popes. This claim was afterwards revived in the time of Giraldus Cambrensis. Among the more famous bishops who held the see before the Reformation may be mentioned Peter de Leia (1176-1203), who began the building of the present cathedral of St. David's; Henry Gower (1328-47); and Edward Vaughan (1509-23), who made considerable additions to the same; the learned John Thorshy (1347-50) afterwards transferred to the Archbishopric of York; Henry Chicheley (1408-14), afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury; and the notorious William Barlow (1536-48), the so-called consecrator of Archbishop Parker in 1559. The last Catholic bishop, Henry Morgan (1554-59), was, like the rest of the Catholic bishops, deprived of his see by Elizabeth, but was saved by death from sharing their imprisonment for the Faith.

The oldest portions of the cathedral, dating from 1180 belong to the period of transition from the Early English to the Decorated style of architecture; the additions of Bishop Gower, including the beautiful stone rood screen, are excellent examples of the Decorated style, while to the north of the cathedral are the ruins of his magnificent episcopal palace. In 1862 a partial restoration of the cathedral was begun by Sir G. G. Scott. The shrine of St. David in the cathedral was a famous place of pilgrimage; it is said that by favour of Callistus II, who canonized the saint, two pilgrimages to St. David's were to be accounted equal to one to Rome: —

Meneviam pete bis, Roman adire si vis;
Merces æqua tibi redditur hic et ibi;
Roma semel, quantum dat bis Menevia, tantum

(ancient lines found at the shrine by Archbishop Peckham, 1240-92).


Catholic Directory (1840-1850; 1895-1910); FOLEY, Records of English Province S. J., IV (London, 1878), 528 (for Holywell); BEVAN, Diocesan Histories, St. David's (London, 1888); JONES AND FREEMAN, History of St. David's (Oxford, 1856); BARING GOULD AND FISHER, Lives of British Saints, II (London, 1908), 285; GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS, De Jure et Statu Menevensis Ecclesiæ (Rolls Series); ZIMMER in Realencykl. für prot. Theol. und Kirche, s. vv. Keltische Kirche in Britannien und Irland; Dict. Nat. Biog., s.v. Gower; Vaughan; Thoresby; Chicheley; Barlow.

About this page

APA citation. Beste, K.D. (1911). Diocese of Menevia. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Beste, Kenelm Digby. "Diocese of Menevia." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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