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Description: Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist
Date Listed: 16 January 1952
Cadw Building ID: 6998
OS Grid Coordinates: 304443, 229003
Latitude/Longitude: 51.9509, -3.3906
In large precinct to north of historic centre of Brecon.
In 1093, the Norman castle of Brecon was founded by Bernard de Neufmarche who gave a church "the church of St John the Evangelist without the walls" to Roger, a monk from the Benedictine Abbey of Battle, Sussex. The community founded at Brecon became a priory of the Abbey of Battle. The church was rebuilt from around 1230, and only a few pieces of masonry and the font remain from the C11 church. The nave of the first church and its replacement were also used as parish church; this use continued after the Dissolution until the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon was formed in 1923, and the former Priory church became its Cathedral. The conventual buildings are do not survive in obvious form but medieval fabric is incorporated within the Canonry and Deanery. The present church shows many stylistic links with churches in Herefordshire (an account of 1312 names a mason from Kilpeck), and the Earls of Hereford were Lords of Brecon until 1373. The E end of the present church dates from about 1230, and the nave from the late C13; the aisles followed in the early C14. The Harvard Chapel dates from the C14. The magnificent 3 or 4 storey "Golden Rood" screen, dismantled at Reformation, was built in the C15 when the roofs of the E end were rebuilt to a lower pitch. The nave roof dates from the C16 (restored C19). The upper stage of the tower dates from the C16. The church was repaired and restored several times in the late C18 and early C19; Lord Camden paid for repairs and re-roofing chancel 1836; T H Wyatt built a screen. In the second quarter of the C19 Sir G G Scott intervened in 1860 and 1872. In the first campaign the chancel was vaulted and the steep roof pitches restored (but C15 roof beams remain in situ); the crenellated parapets were replaced with a plain parapet on corbels (costs £2700). In the second campaign the S aisle was rebuilt as well as the porch, and a new W window was inserted (costs £5600). Around 1914 structural problems with the tower resulted in strengthening work by W D Caroe who in 1929 went on to rebuild the SE chapels, and design the present reredos (1934). His son Alban Caroe made alterations to the Harvard Chapel in 1959. For full analysis see References.
The Chancel has early Gothic style quadripartite rib vaulting (by Scott); five lancets in E wall, and early C20 reredos (by Caroe, 1937). To sides, groups of lancets deeply set, flanked by clusters of slim shafts. To S, triple sedilia and piscina; to N, worn late medieval relief. To N and S, elaborate arches to side chapels. The Harvard Chapel, to N, has fine SE doorway with ball-flower work, foliage-cresting to hood and flanking pinnacles; C14 tomb of Walter & Christine Aubrey. To S of chancel, the sacristy (rebuilt C19) has 3 east lancets, and double piscina; and the early C20 St Lawrence's Chapel has a re-used C13 E window, and C20 vaulting and elaborate doorways matching that of Harvard Chapel. The crossing is defined by four C13 arches; the piers to W arch retain wall paintings of an eagle, and an ermine-lined mantle. The stalls are by Scott. The area to W of the crossing was the site of the "Golden Rood"; stairs and upper level doorways to N and S. The N transept has two early C13 arches to Harvard Chapel. The S transept is similar. The nave arcade is supported on octagonal columns; roof restored by Scott, but essentially C16/C17; roof of N aisle possibly medieval. In the E end of the N aisle the former guild Chapel of the Corvizors is now dedicated to St Keyne. The chapel is enclosed by wooden screens, that to S a relocated late medieval screen; that to W a copy by Robert Thompson (his mouse signature located on an upright). Fine mid C14 tomb recess with ball-flower work and effigy, and inserted contemporary dormer window above. The cathedral has stained glass by Clayton and Bell in S lancets of chancel, and by Horace Wilkinson in Harvard Chapel. There are fine funerary monuments from C16 to C20 including, in N transept, that of Rev Thomas Watkins (died 1829); that of George Price Watkins (died 1843), and Sophia Watkins (died 1851), by I E Thomas. In S transept including that of William Morgan James, and Rev Thomas James (died 1798 and 1812 respectively) by Flaxman; that of Walter Jeffreys (died 1748) by Thomas Paty, and John Price (died 1719) by same artist. Also in S transept, the bronze effigy of Bishop Edward Bevan (died 1934) by W Goscombe John. Near Chapel of St Keyne is mid-C16 wooden female effigy from Games tomb. In N aisle, early C17 stone monument with alabaster effigies of Sir David Williams and wife of Gwernyfed, Felindre.
The Romanesque font of circa 1130-50 is stylistically linked to Hereford school of sculptors, and has a large bowl with Latin inscription on rim, and reliefs of fantastic birds and beasts. The polygonal wooden pulpit re-uses parts of C15 screen.
Cruciform plan with central tower; nave and aisles; transepts; chancel; NE Harvard Chapel (along three N bays of chancel), and SE chapels off S transept. N porch. Brown-pink sandstone with slate roofs. Crenellated tower with SW stair turret; 2-light louvred bell windows. Five-bay nave with corbelled parapets; N elevation with four 2-light Decorated Style clerestorey windows; in aisle three 3-light windows with Y-tracery, and also dormer to St Keynes Chapel with 3-light window; a smaller window to R of porch.
N porch with paired lancets to upper room, and 3 statue recesses; square-headed windows to sides; simple Gothic doorway. West front has 5-light window with geometrical tracery; angle buttresses; SW turret.
N transept with stepped clasping buttress to W, stepped buttress to E; three lancets; small doorway.
Three-bay Harvard Chapel; central 3-light window similar to nave, flanked by 2-light windows with Y-tracery; buttresses. Beyond chapel, to E, end bay of chancel is visible; triple lancet with very tall central light.
E end has five lancets; stepped buttresses, C19 pinnacles. South side with 4-bay aisle, so 3-bay SW nave window with cusped circles between intersecting tracery is visible. Aisle windows similar to N aisle. Long N-S Canonry range attached to W bay of aisle. Clerestorey has 3-light windows with intersecting tracery
Three lancets to S transept end. St Lawrence's Chapel in SE angle; organ chamber above has steeply-pitched slate roof.
Reason for Listing
Grade I as the medieval church of the Priory of Brecon, containing very fine Early English and later work.
Together with its adjoining buildings it comprises one of the most complete groups of ecclesiastical buildings in Wales.
RCAHMW and The Dean and Chapter of Brecon Cathedral, "The Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Brecon"; Brecon 1994.
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.Notes:
In large precinct to north of historic centre of Brecon.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.