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St. Woolos Cathedral, Newport

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport Wales
The town of Newport (Casgwent: Kassgwent), a busy industrial and commercial hub, is the third largest town in Wales (120,000 pop). It is not a priority on most tourists' itineraries, seemingly having little to offer the visitor. But there is much to see here.

Situated on Stow Hill, overlooking the town center is the Welsh cathedral of St. Woolos. This is the most modern of the six cathedrals of Wales, having been a Parish church until 1921. It did not receive the status of a full cathedral until 1949, following the formation of the Diocese of Monmouth. The church is named after a fifth century Welsh nobleman, Gwynllyw (Gwin Thlee-oo), Lord of Gwynllwg (Gwinn Thloog) who converted to Christianity after the fulfillment of his dream that he would find a white ox with a black spot on a nearby hill.

The hill was Stow Hill and Gwynllyw built the first church there. It was a heavily anglicized area that was also one of the first provinces of Wales to be controlled by the Normans. The name Gwynllyw or Wentlooge, was quickly corrupted to Woolos. Gwynllyw and his wife Gwladys had the enviable reputation of practicing cold water bathing in the Usk year-round, preceded and followed at night by a mile long walk in the nude. Alas, there is no record of any local Peeping Tom.

In the latter part of the 12th century another church was erected on Stow Hill by Norman Lord Robert Fitzhamon. This lasted until the mid-15th century, when fighting involving Welsh patriot Owain Glyndwr and the Norman rulers of Wales led to its almost total destruction. The north and south aisles were then rebuilt and the tall tower added. The columns of the fine Norman arch that remain are believed to have come from the Roman fortress at nearby Caerleon.

The nave retains many of its original Norman features, while the Lady Chapel shows evidence of being built on the site of the first church; its walls show pre-Norman influences. On the west exterior of the cathedral, you should look for a headless statue that may represent Jasper Tudor, said to have built part of the tower but more famous for being the uncle and guardian of the future king, Henry VII.

Westgate Square Newport WalesBefore leaving Newport, you should have a look at a place most sacred to those interested in industrial history and the story of the Chartists. It was here in 1839 that British troops, hastily shipped in from Bristol and armed and waiting in the Westgate Hotel, bloodily suppressed the great uprising led by Robert Frost and others in the tumultuous days before Parliamentary reform. The terrible events of that sad day are now commemorated by a series of sculptures in Westgate Square.

Our next place of pilgrimage is the much older, and perhaps more impressive Cathedral at Llandaff, near Cardiff not much more than a half-hour journey westwards out of Newport.

Next Stop: Llandaff Cathedral
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