BUILT in the sixth century, St Woolos Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Newport.

It is the reported burial site of legendary Welsh king Saint Gwynllyw and is home to a memorial to the Chartists who died during the 1839 Newport Rising.

Reverend Lister Tonge, Dean of Monmouth, described the cathedral as “an oasis of quiet and peace.”

“There are lots of old churches in the diocese, but many of them have been rebuilt on the inside,” he said.

“The Victorians remodelled a lot of this building, but they left most of the inside as it had been for the best part of 900 years.

“That’s what makes this Cathedral so unique.

South Wales Argus:

(The Norman arch with Roman pillars at St Woolos Cathedral. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

“The best description I have heard was someone who described it as ‘a Norman jewel in a gothic casket.’

“The cathedral is a much-needed oasis of quiet and peace. You don’t get much of that nowadays.”

The original church was built on the site around the year 500, after the death of Saint Gwynllyw.

“Gwynllyw Woolos is believed to have been buried underneath the cathedral,” said Rev Tonge. “As far as we can tell, the original church would have been wooden, and built around his burial site.


“We still actually have some of the original Saxon building here, you can see it just past the font the wall is build using different materials.

“The Normans actually built the main part of the church, the Nave, in around 1110 to 1120.

“The pillars on the archway through to the Nave are Roman. We suspect they were brought over from Caerleon.

“This makes this without a shadow of a doubt one of the oldest buildings in Newport.

“Personally, I think this archway is the grandest part of the Cathedral.”

South Wales Argus:

(A view of the Norman arches at St Woolos Cathedral from the aisles. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

The Cathedral has been rebuilt and remodelled several times in its 1,500-year history. Notable works include rebuilding the old wooden church with stone in the ninth century, a major extension in the 12th century, and further extensions in the 15th and 20th centuries.

One of the most substantial changes came after the Church of Wales split from the Church of England in 1920.

It was only after this the church became a Cathedral.

“The Diocese of Monmouth needed somewhere big enough and grand enough to hold large events after the Church in Wales split off in 1920,” explained Lister Tonge. “They would have had to either build a new cathedral somewhere in the historic county of Monmouthshire or build another extension here.

South Wales Argus:

(The mouse carving on the benches at St Woolos Cathedral. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

“Between 1960 and 1963, the rear of the Cathedral was built. It’s a very curious building, as because of the ancient graves on either side, they couldn’t make it wider, so they had to make it longer.

“The thing that makes this a Cathedral, and not a church, is the cathedra. The cathedra is the Bishop’s seat.

South Wales Argus:

(The Bishop's Seat at St Woolos Cathedral. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

“The furniture in the Cathedral was made by a carpenter named ‘Mousey’ Thompson. His signature was a wooden mouse carved into the benches.”

The benches around the cathedral are the only fixed furniture in the Cathedral, after it was decided to remove the fixed pews to make it a more community friendly space.

“The Cathedral is used by a number of groups and for community events,” said Rev Tonge. “It’s used for concerts, art exhibitions and school events.

“Our boys and girls choirs have a total of about 30 to 40 children.

“We looked at how the community could get the most out of the space here and decided to remove the fixed pews.

“That means you now have a lot more space to admire the arches either side of the Nave. It’s fantastic standing in the aisles and looking across both sets of arches.

“We had one person travel across the world to come and view them. That was special to hear.”

On the entrance to the Cathedral, you come across an ancient-looking font. However, it’s not all as it seems.

“In the 19th Century they found a piece of the font outside in the churchyard,” said Rev Tonge. “After finding this ancient font, they decided to build the rest of the font to match it.”

On the outside, the Cathedral boasts a number of historical artefacts.

On its tower, there is a statue who is believed to be Henry VII’s uncle, Jasper Tudor.

“Jasper Tudor was Lord of Newport, and was uncle to Henry VII,” said Rev Tonge. “He is believed to have paid for the building of the tower.

“We also have the monument to the 22 Chartists who died in the Newport Rising.

“The memorial is an important part of Newport’s history. Paul Flynn was instrumental in getting it installed.

“It’s fitting he will have his ashes buried here too, near the memorial to the people who he got his inspiration from.”

South Wales Argus:

(The statue at Newport Cathedral thought to be Jasper Tudor. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

The Cathedral has also spent more than £1million repairing the roof in the last 10 years.

The doors of the Cathedral are always open to the public. A notice by the door reads “This is not a private club but a public space open to all people of goodwill.”

South Wales Argus:

(Chartist plaque at St Woolos Cathedral. christinsleyphotography.co.uk)

Rev Tonge encouraged visitors to come and look around the historic building if they had never been.

“It is open virtually every day of the year,” he said. “It’s open to everyone, whether you want to potter around and take a look, or if you just want to sit down and light a candle.

“We have three services on a Sunday, and services every morning and evening during the week.

“Come in and help yourself to a guidebook. The Cathedral is open from 7.30am to 5.30pm. You can come and go as you like.”

On Saturday, September 14 the Cathedral is hosting one of Cadw’s Open Doors events, giving members of the public the chance to visit the Cathedral and listen to talks about its history and architecture.

There will also be refreshments, tours of the tower, and a Midday Recital.

The Open Doors day is free, but there will be a leaving collection where donations are welcome. The funds raised are put towards the upkeep of the Cathed