The early history of the cathedral at Bangor is poorly served archivally, and as is the case with the bishopric, even once it entered the historical record there is a sense of precariousness about the institution, well brought out in the published cathedral history (Clarke, 1969).
The cathedral originated in the monastic foundation of St Deiniol in the sixth century, which probably occupied the same site as the present cathedral. We know that the monastery was sacked in both 634 and 1073; nothing of the structure survives, however. It is likely that the first building phase of the cathedral which still stands occurred under the episcopate of David (1120-39) while Gruffyd ap Cynan ruled Gwynedd. The church then constructed suffered in the wars of Edward I, and there appears to have been extensive rebuilding under Anian (bishop 1267-1307), a favourite of Edward I, completed under his successor, Anian Sais (1308-27). It is clear that the nave was rebuilt in the later fourteenth century, but in 1402 the cathedral once more suffered considerable damage, this time in the rising led by Owain Glyndŵr, although Camden’s later claim that it was burnt down seems an exaggeration. An extensive programme of repair seems to have begun towards the end of the fifteenth century, brought to completion on the eve of the period covered by the Database in 1532. Bishop Thomas Skevington (1509-33) built the present tower.
During the period covered by the Database considerable effort and financial outlay went towards keeping the structure in repair. Bishop Rowlands secured contributions from the diocesan clergy to finance the insertion of ceilings in nave and transept in the early seventeenth century; his successor Lewis Bayly claimed to have spent some £600 of his own money on repairs. Following the Restoration thee was inevitably more restoration – including choir stalls, an organ and bishop’s throne — in part financed by legacies. Under Humphrey Lloyd there was a serious attempt to put an end to the hand-to-mouth tradition of custodianship dependent on appeals and the contributions of the diocesan hierarchy from their ordinary revenues. An Act of Parliament passed in 1685 sought to address the ‘very ruinous’ state of the cathedral by appropriating the rectory of Llandinam in Montgomeryshire, one third of its revenues to go to its vicars, and two-thirds to the cathedral to finance the choir and fabric repairs (Richards, 1925). This seems to have helped, and regular works punctuated the eighteenth century, including the paving of the nave (though some parts apparently remained unpaved as late as 1824). The new revenue stream really came into its own in 1810, however when the Llandinam tithes, leased in 1769 for £230 p.a. and £400 in 1790, were leased at a time of high agricultural incomes for no less than £1,134, yielding £756 p.a. for the cathedral. After an extensive legal dispute over the spoils the Chapter in 1824 put in train a £2,000 programme of repairs; a year later a separate programme of interior refitting which ultimately cost more than £3,250 was put in train financed by voluntary contributions, the work and fundraising being both largely the personal achievement of James Henry Cotton [CCE10155], then precentor and vicar choral. Little survives of the interior works of the 1820s, however, for in the 1860s Dean James Vincent called in Sir Gilbert Scott to supervise a radical restoration. Scott found little to please in the early nineteenth-century works – he thought the stalls ‘the most execrable gimcrack that ever disgraced a church’ [quoted Clarke, 1969, p. 31] – and in 1868 works began which involved considerable rebuilding which were not completed until 1880. It is this “restoration” which predominantly shapes the building seen today, together with the pre-Reformation survivals.
The architectural history of the cathedral has been outlined at length because of the light it casts on the troubled history of the institution. As an old foundation cathedral Bangor had always been a secular cathedral. Again the early evolution of the chapter is shrouded in obscurity. It appears that a clas church — a mixed group of clergy and laity living under the rule of an abbot but no regular order of discipline – evolved into a chapter of canons presided over by a dean under the influence of the Normans: the first dean of Bangor is recorded in 1162; the dean and chapter spoken of collectively for the first time in 1236. There are, however, no statutes to provide a definitive picture or define issues of precedence, which remained a matter of custom. We are consequently dependent on snapshots. In 1291 the first surviving list of the chapter identifies the dean, archdeacons of Bangor, Anglesey and Merioneth, and seven canons. The first list naming dignitaries is a return made to Archbishop Wareham in 1504, which names a precentor, chancellor and treasurer. Other sixteenth-century lists establish a chapter consisting of five canons alongside the dignitaries and archdeacons. Two canons possessed separate endowments, by the end of the century these being identified as the prebendaries of Llanfair (in 1561 a layman) and Penmynydd. The order of precedence varied – in 1561 the prebendaries came ahead of the dignitaries, and this became the established post-Restoration order, reflecting the financial realities of the chapter, for among the dignitaries only the treasurership was endowed. Income came from the rectories of Gyffin and Llanfihangel Esceifog for the dean; from those of Llanfair Dyffryn Clwyd and Penmynydd for the endowed prebendaries; and from the rectory of Llangihangel y Traethau for the treasurer. Glebe, which in the Valor Ecclesiasticus combined with oblations to yield a trickle of income for the common fund of the chapter, had apparently evaporated by the mid-sixteenth century. Once oblations had followed it into oblivion, the other canonries deserved their eighteenth-century designation as the ‘nihil prebends’. [Clarke, 1969, p. 42].
The archdeacons were better provided for, following the dean in the orders of precedence. But they paid a price. In 1592 the bishop of Bangor had assumed the archdeaconry of Anglesey (valued in 1648 at £212 p.a.) as a commendam; in 1669 he did the same with Bangor (£190 in 1648); and in 1685 the act which appropriated Llandinam to the cathedral annexed both positions to the bishopric in perpetuity, leaving only the archdeacon of Merioneth (£61 in 1648) as a functioning office, and making the bishop not only a member of the chapter, but giving him two votes.
The revenues of the cathedral chapter were thus limited. The 1835 Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues report presented Bangor as the only chapter with no corporate revenues. At the same date the average annual income of the dean, required to attend divine service in the cathedral constantly, was £1,025 (£858 net); of the treasurer (whose sole duty was to attend chapters) £179 (£91); of the precentor (who presided over the choral service and preached in turn) £73 (from Llandinam); of the prebendary of Llanfair (responsible for preaching 12 sermons annually) £622 (£459) and of the prebendary of Penmynydd (responsible for five sermons) £448 (£386). The chancellor who was required to preach an annual sermon, had no separate income. The preaching duties here specified resulted from an order of preaching established at the Restoration aimed at ensuring one sermon every Sunday; an earlier attempt to regulate preaching by archbishop Grindal in 1576 appears not to have succeeded. As for chapter meetings, up until 1769 they were held on no fixed date; thereafter annually in August, with others as necessary – by the end of the century averaging some three per annum. Dean Humphreys rebuilt the deanery at the end of the seventeenth century; but there were no other capitular residences.
In 1843 the arrangements of the chapter were drastically rearranged under 6&7 Vict. Cap. 77. The dean was now to be joined by the archdeacon of Merioneth and a second created from those previously held by the bishop, both of these positions being annexed to residentiary canonries of which there would in future be four, each salaried at £350 and required to reside for a quarter each. The new dispensation was finally achieved as life interests expired in 1860.
The dean and chapter of Bangor had no parochial livings in their gift as a corporation. In 1835 it was recorded that the dean of Bangor presented to the perpetual curacies of Llanfihangel ys Ceifog with Llanfinnan (Anglesey) and Gyffin (Caernarvon); the treasurer Llanfihangel y Traethan with Llandecwyn (Merioneth); and the prebendary of Penmynydd the perpetual curacy of Penmynydd (Anglesey).