North Wales Churches

St Asaph’s Cathedral


The smallest cathedral in Britain


There has been a church on this site since the C6th when St Kentigern built a church and monastery here. When he returned to his native Scotland he left it in charge of his favourite pupil, Asaph. A new cathedral was built in the C12th, but was destroyed by the armies of Edward I in 1282. It was rebuilt, only to be burned by Owain Glyndŵr’s troops in 1402, who left it in ruins. The existing building is largely C14th but with many Victorian alterations as a result of remodelling by Gilbert Scott in 1867-75.

From the outside it is rather an uninspiring building. It is a small cruciform building with a big central battlemented tower with a gold weather vane on the top.

St Asaph's Cathedral

Entry is through the west door which is flanked by two large table tombs. Inside is a glass door, which reflects the graveyard and trees against the stained glass east window.

Inside it is a large rather soulless building with bare stone walls. The roof is much later than the rest of the building and was restored and redecorated for the Investiture of Charles as Prince of Wales in 1968. It has painted bosses and the beams are supported on painted bases and carved corbels. The crossing vaults are supported by painted angels holding shields.

St Asaph's Cathedral

St Asaph's Cathedral

St Asaph's Cathedral

At the back of the church is the font which was desecrated during the Civil War and used as a watering trough by Cromwell's soldiers. Half of the carving around the bowl have been restored. Next to it is an old wooden chest and a big statue to the memory of William Davies Shipley 1745-1826 who was Dean and Chancellor to the diocese for more than half a century.

On the south wall of the nave is a C14th tomb slab with a hound chasing a hare.

St Asaph's Cathedral

Next it it is a tomb with an effigy of a bishop thought to be Anian 1268-93 who was responsible for rebuilding the cathedral after destruction by Edward I's armies.

The south transept is large and has a gruesome crucifix on the east wall by Michele Coxon which caused a bit of a furore when it was placed in the church about 2000. We much preferred the tiny C16th Spanish Madonna, set in a glass niche in the transept pillar. Tradition has it this was washed up from the Spanish Armada as it fled from English ships.

St Asaph's Cathedral

The massive medieval choir stalls date from 1482 and have misericords as well as carved arms with griffins, pelicans and other beasts. The back row has the names of the canons painted on the seat backs and are set under crocheted pinnacled canopies. The splendid Bishop's chair has carved lion arm ends, painted canopy with two angels holding shields.

St Asaph's Cathedral

Behind the high altar is a carved reredos of Derbyshire alabaster. In the centre is Christ carrying his cross to Calvary. On either side is an arcade of blind ogee arches with carvings of angels or foliage between the arches. Above, the east window dates from 1864 and shows the life and teaching of Christ. A the top is Christ in Majesty, Below in the centre is the ascension into Heaven. On the left are scenes from his life including the nativity, baptism, carrying his cross and rising from the dead. On the right are stories including Jesus appearing to the fishermen and the foolish virgins.

St Asaph's Cathedral

The north transept contains the Translator's chapel, commemorating the men who were responsible for translating the scriptures into Welsh in the C16th & C17th. A glass case contains examples of early Welsh Bibles, including an original 1588 edition of the William Morgan bible. (There is a monument to Bishop William Morgan in the churchyard grounds.)

On the north wall in the chapel is the memorial to the dead of World War 1 with a knight in a red cloak receiving the blessing from a bishop in green and white vestments with gold trim. Beside it is a small memorial with the names from WW2.

In the North wall of the nave is the stained glass window depicting St Asaph and St Kentigern. Behind their images are scenes from their lives. St Asaph is bringing coals to warm Kentigern. St Kentigern illustrates the legend of the fish and the ring.

The great west window has images of St David and St Edward with their badges above them. At the sides are the badges of the other bishops of Wales; Llandaff, Bangor, Swansea, Brecon and Monmouth.

The cathedral is in the centre of St Asaph and is open daily. There is a pay and display car park across the road (50p for two hours).  The nearest postal code is LL17 0RD and the grid reference is SJ 039743.


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