Saint Asaph, Ancient See of
SAINT ASAPH, ANCIENT SEE OF
One of the four ancient dioceses of wales, said to have been founded by St. kentigern, Celtic bishop of Glasgow, who c. 560 founded a monastery in the present-day cathedral village-city of Saint Asaph, or Llanelwy (English name not being used until 12th century), in Flintshire, northern Wales. The diocese, which took its name from Kentigern's favorite disciple, St. Asaph, covered the Kingdom of Powys and the Middle Country. Its medieval bishops included geoffrey of monmouth (d.1155) and Reginald Pecock (1444–1450). King Edward I confirmed the liberties of the diocese in 1275 and with the support of Bishop Anian vainly begged the Pope in 1281 to permit the transfer of the cathedral from its exposed and solitary site to the new town of Rhuddlan where it would be protected by the new castle; the bishop's position was necessarily precarious since his flock included dissident Welsh and English, his diocese being partly in the English Marches and partly in Wales.
The early wooden cathedral was burned by the English in 1247 and 1282, and Owain Glyndêr (c. 1402) almost demolished the one built by Bishop Anian (completed c. 1291). Bishop Richard Redman's building (c. 1480) was completed only when the choir was built, c. 1770. The 19th century saw considerable restoration. The church, plain cruciform with a square tower, is generally decorated. It shows the influence of Early English architectural style. It is the smallest cathedral in Great Britain. In the episcopal library are preserved various early charters relating to the diocese, and the Red Book of Saint Asaph, which includes a 14th-century fragmentary life of the saint.
Although Saint Asaph was part of the Church of England after the reformation, in 1920 its bishop was enthroned in his cathedral as the first archbishop of the Church of Wales. Bishop William Morgan (1601–04) translated the Bible into Welsh. At present the diocese includes the counties of Flint and Denbigh and parts of four others.
Bibliography: d. r. thomas, St. Asaph (New York 1888); History of the Diocese of St. Asaph (London 1874). f. m. powicke, The Thirteenth Century (2d ed. Oxford 1962). g. williams, The Welsh Church from Conquest to Reformation (Cardiff 1962). p.b.i. bax, The Cathedral Church of Saint Asaph: A Description of the Building and a Short History of the See (London 1904). t.r.k. goulstone, St. Asaph Cathedral: Yesterday and Today; 560–1999 (St. Asaph 1999).