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Postcards: Hundreds compete in “sand church” competition on Welsh beach

UK Wales St Davids Sand Castle Competition

ANGELA YOUNGMAN reports on the event held in St Davids…

Norwich, UK

Jesus recommended building on rock rather than sand, but at St Davids in south-west Wales, it has become a tradition to build massive church buildings on sand. 

Held in the middle of last month, the annual ‘Sand Church’ competition at Whitesands Beach now attracts hundreds of competitors keen to turn sand into massive ecclesiastical constructions ornamented only by found items on the beach such as shells and stones. There are three categories – children, families and adults. The competitors work under pressure as there is just three hours available between 11am and 1pm before the tide starts to turn.

UK Wales St Davids Sand Castle Competition

Canon Sheridan James with the winner of the children’s category, Cameron-James Prosser from Hereford. PICTURE: Courtesy of The Church in Wales 

Clergy from the nearby St Davids Cathedral take an active part in the proceedings, helping to judge the various entries.

“This is a massive beach just a few minutes from the cathedral and people have been taking part in the competition for over 30 years,” Canon Sheridan James, recently appointed canon pastor for parish and pilgrims, said. “It’s an amazing sight. About 150 people gathered to take part, and lots more were watching.”

 “This is a massive beach just a few minutes from the cathedral and people have been taking part in the competition for over 30 years.”

– Sheridan James, canon pastor for parish and pilgrims at St David’s Cathedral

James said the standard for the sand creations was “very high”.

“[I]t was difficult to choose the winners. People have been so creative and artistic in their designs and have clearly put a lot of thought into what churches mean to them.”

Designs ranged from traditional country churches to massive cathedrals, Noah’s Ark and a simple fish emblem containing a cross of sandcastles. There was even a replica of Mont-Saint-Michel. In total, there were over 50 entries. Prizes were small – £25 for each winner.

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Noah’s Ark. PICTURE: Courtesy of The Church in Wales .

Artist Rod Williams was one of the founders of the competition. Now in his 90’s, Rod continues to play an active role as one of the members of the judging team.

As he indicated in a statement, the concept has a long history going back to medieval times and the activities of Gerald of Wales, a Welsh priest and historian who served in royal courts.

“The event began more than 30 years ago when we were celebrating an 800th anniversary of Gerald of Wales,” he said. “As a child, Gerald built sand churches on Manorbier beach and we thought it would be a good idea to recreate that on Whitesands beach. It proved so popular that we have held the competition almost every year and people seem to love it. This year we had a lot of family groups taking part.”

UK Wales Sand Castle Competition3

Andrew Philips-Godfrey from Malvern with his country church. PICTURE: Courtesy of The Church in Wales  

Building sand churches at Whitesands reflects the sacred nature of this location as it is linked with the patron saint of Wales, St David, making it the oldest religious site in the country.

Born in AD500 to St Non, just south of what is today the city of St David’s, he became a priest travelling as far as Jerusalem, before founding a monastery in 550 AD on the site now occupied by St Davids Cathedral. It is also his final resting place.

Since the 12th century, St David has been the patron saint of Wales and St David’s has long been a popular pilgrim destination. According to Pope Calixtus II, two pilgrimages to St David’s was the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Rome.

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Over 300,000 people now visit St David’s every year and working alongside those pilgrims as well as the 1,000 people who live in the area is an important part of Canon Pastor Sheridan James’ role. St David’s is the smallest city in Britain and the cathedral also acts as its parish church.

The importance of the St David’s was emphasised recently when William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, visited the cathedral to commemorate the life of Queen Elizabeth II on the first anniversary of her death.

They took part in a short service, An Act of Reflection on Accession Day, and saw one of the unique features of the cathedral – the Sovereign’s Stall, something no other cathedral possesses. The late Queen Elizabeth II is the only monarch to have used the Sovereign’s Stall, having done so on each of her four visits to the city.

Below: Fish Church. PICTURE: Courtesy of The Church in Wales  

UK Wales Sand Castle Competition4


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