Diocesan press releases

Mystery document yields up its secrets

Fresh light has been thrown on an important – and hitherto missing – document confirming the appointment of a 14th-century Bishop of St Davids.

Bishop Henry Gower

Henry de Gower was elected bishop in 1328 at the age of 50 and made an indelible mark on the cathedral at St Davids, including the construction of the magnificent Bishop’s Palace which, to this day, is a major attraction for tourists and pilgrims alike.

But the circumstances of his appointment have been shrouded in mystery for centuries.


Now, though, a document bought at auction in March by the National Library of Wales has revealed just how unusual it was, thanks to a detailed study by Dr Susan J Davies, who only recently became a trustee at the library.



It was necessary for the appointment to be ratified by the Archbishop of Canterbury. But the See was vacant due to the recent death of archbishop Walter Reynolds. So the task fell to the Prior of the Chapter at Canterbury, Henry of Eastry.

The newly-discovered document finally confirms that Bishop Gower’s appointment did indeed conform to the requirements of the day.

“It┬árecords that the Prior was satisfied by what he was told that the bishop-elect was fully worthy, the election process was correctly and properly conducted, and no contrary views had been expressed,” Dr Davies said.

Dr Davies believes that the document was probably retained by the Cathedral Priory of the Holy Trinity or Christchurch, Canterbury, and may have been lost following the upheaval of the dissolution of that Benedictine house in 1540.

Its whereabouts between then and the 21st century are unknown; it may have been preserved by local antiquaries in Kent.

BishopNLWThe present Bishop of St Davids, Rt Revd Wyn Evans, has been to Aberystwyth to see the document and expressed his delight at the acquisition of such an important piece of historical evidence relating to his illustrious predecessor.

Bishop Gower was consecrated in Canterbury by the Bishop of London in June 1328 and his appointment was further ratified by Pope John XXII in December. He died in 1347 and his tomb remains in the cathedral at St Davids.