St Asaph Cathedral

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Link to Welsh translationLink to French translationSt Asaph Cathedral

According to legend, a church and monastery were founded in St Asaph in the 6th century by St Kentigern, bishop of Strathclyde. His successor as abbot-bishop was Asaph, a local saint whose name is found in neighbouring places including Llanasa.

The cathedral was founded in 1143 by the Normans, who had established themselves in nearby Rhuddlan. Gerald of Wales and Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, visited in 1188 during their tour of Wales to recruit for the third crusade. They had spent the previous night in Rhuddlan. Baldwin celebrated mass at the cathedral before departing for the priory at Basingwerk. Gerald’s journal describes St Asaph as a small cathedral town.

St Asaph’s relics were moved to the cathedral from Llanasa church by 1281. There was extensive rebuilding from 1284 to 1392, using large quantities of yellowish sandstone from Flint or Talacre. Purple sandstone, quarried locally, was also used. Aspects of the design were influenced by military works then being undertaken at Caernarfon Castle.

The cathedral was damaged many times, including in the 13th century and by Owain Glyndŵr’s uprising in 1402. Restoration in the 15th century included the provision of canopied stalls (enclosed seats), the only surviving examples in Wales. The Civil War wreaked further damage, and the tower’s upper part was blown over in 1714. Sir George Gilbert Scott masterminded the building’s restoration from 1867 to 1875. You can see the top of the tower and other details in the aerial video clip below, courtesy of local company SeaHawkAP.

Memorials inside include the tomb of Anian II, bishop of St Asaph from 1268 to 1293. William Morgan, bishop here from 1601 to 1604, was responsible for the first complete Welsh translation of the Bible, and a contemporary copy can be seen in the cathedral.

The cathedral has a rich musical heritage. In 1972 composer William Mathias chose the building as the venue for a new music festival, now the North Wales International Music Festival which is held in St Asaph every September. He died in 1992. His tombstone, with its under-stated epitaph, is on the left as you walk towards the cathedral from the south gate (opposite the car park).

The William Hill organ of 1824 has been enlarged several times. Electric action replaced pneumatic in 1966. An oak case was provided when the organ was enlarged by Wood of Huddersfield in 1998. Cathedral organist Alan McGuinnes' CD of the instrument is available from the cathedral office.
To hear an excerpt (Processional, by William Mathias) press play : Or, download mp3 (734KB)

Postcode: LL17 0RD    View Location Map

Cathedral website

To continue the Words & Music Tour, follow the path towards the western corner of the cathedral grounds, to the Song School, on the right Navigation next button
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