Llandaff Cathedral is situated on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, and was founded where the River Taff was crossed by the Roman road. The present cathedral building dates from 1107 when the first Bishop appointed by the Normans, Urban, replaced the earlier church.
There is evidence of this church in two arches, one to the St David Chapel, shown on the right, and also the arch behind the high altar. The characteristic zig-zag pattern of Norman architecture is shown clearly here, as well as the beautiful semi-circular Romanesque archway. Note the figure of the head at the centre of the arch. This archway may have been the original west doorway.
The North West tower, called the Jasper Bell Tower was established by Jasper Tudor in the fifteenth century, and is named after him. Those who followed The White Queen series on tv last year may remember that Jasper Tudor was the husband of the Lancastrian Red Queen, Margaret Beaufort, and they were both the parents of Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII (father of Henry VIII), the founder of the Tudor dynasty.
A period of decline of pilgrims and supporters of the church resulted in the structure decaying, and a bomb destroying the roof in the Second World War did not help! A revitalisation of the church since then has taken place, including the wonderful Epstein Christ in Majesty, supported on huge concrete arches – quite a stunning sight!
But it is the wealth of wonderful lettering that caught my eye when I visited. This is the lively cut lettering in the Welsh Regiment Chapel, and records their campaigns. This is an interesting style of Roman Capitals, which are not always consistent in height (note the letter T in the top line). As well as this, the convention is that the numerals, when capital letters are used, should echo the x-height, but here the number 1 is higher than other numbers on occasion, and the other numerals are ranged (vary in height) rather than being consistent. The overlapping of letters, as shown here is an attractive and eye catching feature of these panels, as is also the painted red colour.
The overlapping letters, however, do not always work, in my opinion, where legibility seems to give way to style, as in this panel. The space at the base for an additional line may have eased the somewhat awkward combinations of letters on the bottom line. The letters were cut by ‘Mr Kaye of York’, but I have not been able to find any more information about him.
This stunning cast metal lettering is really eye catching, standing out from the wall as it does. The round rivet fixings of the horizontal metal struts make a satisfactory ‘dot’ to emphasise word separation. The slight overlapping of letters here and there does not hinder legibility. The problem with having a block of text centred like this is that the eye is often caught by the shape of the lettering, rather than what the words say. This is not the case with this lettering, and the whole effect is very pleasing indeed. This lettering is by Frank Roper.
This simple, yet most effective slate plaque to Dean John F Williams was cut by Alec Peever. It looks very classic, and the various elements of the plaque are positioned perfectly. Remember, in Italics at the top, leads in to the name, with the surname emphasised in capitals with the letters spaced so that this line is the widest of all. And at the base, Lord, on a separate line, gives greater emphasis to this word, and creates a visual as well as an actual pause.
A high standard of lettering continues with the plaques to denote the seats of various officers of the church. These are beautifully executed in painted brush letters with wonderful flourishes. Sadly we know only that these were provided by the architect in 1994, and although I have tried to find out whether ‘R H M’ indicates the lettering artist, I have not been able to do so.
This strikingly designed combination of four panels of the Bishops and Deans of Llandaff Cathedral is made all the more eye-catching by the supporting wooden struts. So often panels like this are simply attached to a wall individually. This combination makes it almost an artwork of its own. The lettering is by calligrapher John Smith.
The work is on vellum in blue, red and black lettering.
I am most grateful to John Bethell, Honorary Cathedral Archivist, for supplying information about the lettering at Llandaff.
There are often so many examples of lettering in churches and cathedrals with rarely any indication of the craftsperson who executed it. Perhaps this could be the start of a campaign to record those whose work adds so much to the beauty of our places of worship.