St. Asaph

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Cathedral Window depicting St.Asaph

The city of St Asaph (Welsh name Llanelwy) is an important center of connurbation lying between Denbigh and the coastal resort of Rhyl. It is situated on the River Elwy, and is home to the smallest cathedral in Britain. St Asaph is often called 'The Gateway City", because of its crucial position guarding the entrance to the heartland of North Wales and Snowdonia. It citizens are served by a newspaper called 'The St.Asaph City Times',[1] and the city plays host to the highly prestigious St. Asaph International Music Festival [2]

St. Asaph has been an important ecclesiastical centre for centuries, dating back to 560 AD when a community was founded by the Scottish saint Kentigern, who left his disciple Asaph in charge when he returned to Scotland. The legend of St. Asaph relates that Queen Nest, once regarded as the most beautiful woman in Wales, was married to Maelgwyn Gwynedd, then King of North Wales. Nest wore on her finger a ring which had been given to her by Maelgwyn: an ancient, sacred ring to be worn only by the Queens of the North. One day, while bathing in the River Elwy beside her home at St. Asaph, she bent over to wash her face. Bishop Asaph, who was looking out from the bank of the river caught a flash of her ring as she stooped in the water. Nest was caught unawares, and caused the ring to drop from her finger. Nest was distraught and ran to the Bishop for comfort. The Bishop, known for his way with the ladies, comforted her in ways which caused her to forget the ring. While dining with the couple that evening, the Bishop gently told Maelgwyn what had happened. At first, the King was furious; but his anger was calmed by Asaph who pointed out that love should be valued above personal possessions, however treasured. The king, thus soothed, allowed himself to be comforted his sobbing wife and all the ring and other transgressions were forgotten. Resuming the meal, the trio were served with a portion of a magnificent locally-caught fish, and as they cut into the flesh, the ring, fell out onto the table. It had travelled full circle: from finger to river to fish and back home to Nest's finger[3]

Due in part to this legend, St Asaph is renowned for its local delicacy - the 'fat trout' (slagula obesita) caught by a 'snatch fishing' technique along the banks of the Elwy. Parts of these are the much-prized 'fish-flaps', which are normally enjoyed al fresco in the evening. The local custom dictates that those who partake of this particular delicacy remove their rings beforehand.

Because of its strategic importance, both the city and its cathedral have a long and violent history. The cathedral has been twice destroyed by fire, has suffered attacks by rebellious natives and also foreign invaders. In 1245 AD it was destroyed by the soldiers of Henry III, and then again in 1282 by the armies of Edward I in 1282. The rebuilt cathedral (1284-1381) lasted only 21 years after completion, being razed to the ground by Owain Glyndwr's Welsh troops in 1402. In l7l5 the tower was completely demolished in a fierce storm. The existing building is largely 14th century with many Victorian alterations due to the remodelling by Gilbert Scott in 1867-75. The cathedral has been built, demolished and rebuilt so many times that is known as the "Jack-in-a-Box" cathedral by the local inhabitants.

Important Asaphians have included:


  1. see this link to the St Asaph City Times
  3. For a fuller version of this story see: