The profession of architect as we know it today didn’t exist until the 17th century. Great medieval buildings arose through conversations between educated patrons and their master craftsmen.
Henry de Gower certainly had a passion for architecture. He studied at Merton College, Oxford, when some of the finest buildings in the Decorated Gothic style were being built.
Elected bishop of St Davids at the age of 50, he at last had the chance to express himself in stone. No surprise he was inspired by the fine carving, flowing tracery and rich colour that defined Decorated architecture.
Grand ambitions – but he stuck to a budget. The walls of his palace were raised in rubble and covered with painted plaster. He used only local stone although the magnificent purple colour of the Caerbwdi sandstone was a bonus.
Expensive carved decoration was saved for spots of maximum impact – the doorways into the bishop’s hall, the great hall porch and inside the great chapel. Most extravagant of all was the arcaded parapet with its carved stone corbels and beautiful chequerboard patterning in quartz. But even here Bishop Henry reserved the best bits for certain key views.
Creating his own palace wasn’t quite enough to satisfy his architectural ambitions. This remarkable builder-bishop also remodelled the nave, choir and tower of the cathedral next door. He even built his own resting place – the magnificent pulpitum, or stone screen, beside which his mutilated effigy remains.