About St. Asaph
The known story of St. Asaph (Llanelwy) begins in 576AD when St. Kentigern ( Mungo) departed from his original foundation on the shores of the Clyde and is said to have taken flight to Wales in fear for his safety. Following a long journey during which he founded a number of churches in Cumbria, Kentigern settled in St. Asaph where he founded a monastery on the banks of the river Elwy before returning to his native Scotland.
Asaph, son of King Sawyl Penuchel, fled to North Wales with his father and was sent as a disciple to his distant cousin, Kentigern, at Llanelwy (St. Asaph). When Kentigern was summoned back to Strathclyde, Asaph was appointed Bishop of Llanelwy by popular demand having been distinguished by performing a miracle in which he “carried burning coals in the skirts of his robe with not a sign of burning.” The coals were to warm Kentigern after he had been reciting the psalter naked in the icy waters of the river. In later years Asaph also founded a second monastery at Llanasa in Powys where he died on May lst AD 601.
In Wales the period 1350 – 1650 is well documented in the works of the bards to the nobility whose information is as accurate and dependable as any chronicler. The bards referred to St. Asaph as “Ty Asa”, a place of supreme importance akin to “Ty Dewi” (St. David’s) and “Ty Iago” (Santiago de Compostela). This surpassed the importance of towns named “Dinas” (modern Welsh translation of ‘City’) which originally referred to a fort.
The reasons why it has always been known as a city are because of the importance attached to the place over the past 2000 years. The Roman road passed through St. Asaph and the Antonine Itinerary of the second century AD placed the fort of Varis, by distances given, at St. Asaph. Very few Roman remains have been found to substantiate the location but, on current evidence, the fort was almost certainly at St. Asaph, providing the important lost link in the chain from Chester to Bangor.
In spite of a turbulent history of destruction by Edward I, Owain Glyndwr and Cromwell and several other attempts to move it elsewhere, St. Asaph has retained its cathedral to this day. There have been many notable Bishops in the past and, in recent times, the Cathedral at St. Asaph has been the seat of two Archbishops of Wales – the Rt. Reverends A.G. Edwards ( 1920 First Archbishop of Wales) and Alwyn Rice-Jones (1982).
Although strongly supporting the Church of England (later Church in Wales) St. Asaph, throughout the ages, has also supported many other faiths and currently has a Roman Catholic Church, a Wesleyan Chapel and a Baptist Chapel as well as the Parish Church of St. Asaph & St. Kentigern, believed to have been built in the 1200’s.
Welsh Language– St. Asaph can proudly boast a significant contribution to the preservation of the Welsh language as a result of the translation of the Bible in 1588 by William Morgan and the Book of Common Prayer into Welsh in 1567 by William Salisbury. The work had a profound effect upon the religion, culture and language of the nation by unifying the language and enabling common people to hear and read scholarly Welsh and preventing the degeneration and possible disappearance of the language. It was, therefore, appropriate that the first Welsh medium secondary school in Wales was established close to the Cathedral in St. Asaph in 1972 following its launch in nearby Rhyl in 1956. Ysgol Glan Clwyd continues to thrive and expand and has produced numerous successful students who have made their mark in many fields of endeavour, not the least of which being the performing arts.
Music and arts– As early as 1346 there is a reference to the enjoyment of four part choral singing. A thriving Cathedral Choir continues to this day comprised of boys, girls and lay clerks under the baton of Choirmaster and Organist.
St. Asaph has inspired many people in the arts including Felicia Hemans (1808) the poet and author noted for the opening line “The boy stood on the burning deck” from her poem “Casabianca”. Felicia adopted St. Asaph as her home and died in May 1835.
Gerald Manley Hopkins (1875) was at nearby St. Beuno’s Jesuit College and was inspired by the St. Asaph countryside to write many of his best works.
The brothers George Henry (alias George Asaf) and Felix Lloyd Powell (1915), both members of the Cathedral Choir and living just opposite, went on to write famous songs such as “Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag” which helped preserve morale during the dark days of war.
Many major cultural events such as the National Eisteddfod(1985) have been held on the outskirts of St. Asaph and the most significant current annual musical event is the North Wales.
International Music Festival founded by William Mathias, the renowned composer who was commissioned to write an anthem for the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. His grave lies in the Cathedral grounds.
Every year, in September, artists of international acclaim are pleased to perform in the Cathedral where the acoustics are second to none and is said to easily surpass that of many famous opera houses including that of Sydney. In addition to welcoming many first class performers the Festival also encourages new talent and master classes and an outreach programme includes schools, residential homes, shopping centres, community centres etc—taking the music to a wide swathe of the public. For several years His Royal Highness Prince Charles recognised the prestigious event by his patronage. The wonderful acoustic qualities and character of the Cathedral has attracted numerous media recordings for television, radio and Cd productions by artists such as Bryn Terfel, the National Orchestra of Wales and many others.
Welfare– The care of people has thrived in St. Asaph since the earliest monastic settlement 1,400 years ago. In 1680 Bishop Barrow founded Alms Houses for eight poor widows and in 1840 a Workhouse was built which became the home of the famous explorer and journalist, H.M. Stanley, who spent several years there before absconding and joining a ship at Liverpool bound for America. In 1910 the place was converted to an isolation hospital and subsequently a maternity hospital covering North East Wales. It has most recently been used for Ophthalmic, Stroke Rehabilitation and outpatients units for the Betsi Cadwalader NHS Trust and, in its grounds is the St. Kentigern Hospice providing palliativecare and supported by volunteers.
Education– St. Asaph has always maintained and promoted high standards in education which doubtless began in the days of monastic teachings and has progressed through the ages. In the early 1700’s it is recorded that education was provided for pupils who gathered in the Parish Church. By 1780 a small grammar school was established and relocated to larger premises in 1880. From there the school continued to grow and develop into the present Ysgol Glan Clwyd. In addition St. Asaph has local authority infants and junior schools and a private junior school.
Cattle Market – In 1643 the first fair and market day in St. Asaph was recorded and a thriving cattle market continues to this day. Having recovered from the drastic effects of the Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2001 the market is one of the biggest in Britain selling over 300,000 sheep per year to all parts of Britain and to the Continent in addition to cattle and other stock and equipment sales.