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The interior of St. Davids Cathedral contains many hidden marvels of nautical imagery, from wooden misericords depicting seasickness to graffiti of medieval ships.

The interior of St Davids Cathedral contains some fascinating traces of Pembrokeshire's maritime history that visitors can discover. Some of these legacies can be found in the misericords, wooden structures on the underside of the folding seats of choir stalls found across Europe in medieval churches. They depict a wide array of scenes, from medieval domestic life to biblical imagery to depictions of monsters and animals found in bestiaries. They are a riot of life and playful imagery protected and hidden from view.

The St Davids misericords are each carved from a single block of oak and are fine examples of craftsmanship and the art of wood carving. They are located in the choir at the East end of the Cathedral. Many of them contain nautical imagery, showing the deep connections of St Davids and Pembrokeshire with the coastline and the ocean.

One misericord depicts four men in a small boat in turbulent seas. One is being violently sick over the side and the expressions of his shipmates seem to suggest they may be getting pleasure from their shipmates discomfort: one is patting him on his back to help him. The boat shows an oar through a hole in a plank in the side in the Viking fashion. The story associated with this carving is the sixth-century St. Govan who, with two companions, was sent by his Master, St. Aelfyw from St Davids Cathedral to Rome, to obtain a copy of the true Mass. During the journey St. Govan nearly died of seasickness. (Script from the booklet “The Misericords of St. David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire”). Another twelfth-century misericord depicts a clinker built ship being constructed on shore. the shipwrights are taking a break, an axe lies behind one of them. This ship has fore and after castles and a straight stern, which suggests she may eventually be fitted with a rudder on the stern rather than the traditional Viking side rudder.

The Cathedral also contains graffiti depicting the outline of medieval vessels carved into the stone work, which you can see in the images below. All of these traces form part of the dense and interconnected web of maritime heritage in the region, and the link between St Davids Cathedral and a wider world of Irish Sea religious sites.

The imagery of some English misericords could be quite risqué! Many were destroyed in the Reformation or removed by nineteenth-century moralists.

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