The First Bishop of the Welsh

Saint Asaph

Feast Day: 5th May

St. Asaph is the first Bishop of the Welsh See of that name which originated in the second half of the sixth century. No Welsh life of him is extant, but local tradition points out the site of his ash tree, his church, his well, and his valley, Onen Asa, Fynnon Asa, Llanasa, Pantasa. All these sites are in Tengenel, near Holywell indicating probably that the saint once had a hermitage in that neighbourhood.

The want of a Welsh life, however, is in part compensated for by Jocelyn of Furness's life of St. Kentigern, the founder of the Diocese of Glasgow. This saint during his exile (c. 545) went to Wales and there founded the Celtic Monastery of Llanelwy (the church on the Elwy), as the Welsh still call the town of St. Asaph.

The church was built of smoothed wood, after the fashion of the Britons, seeing that they could not yet build in stone. The monastery numbered 965, of whom Asaph was one. They were divided into three groups: 300 of the unlettered farmed the outlying lands, 300 worked in the offices around the monastery, and 365 were choir monks. The oldest of the choir monks assisted Kentigern in the government of the diocese, and the rest were subdivided into three choirs, each did an eight hour shift. In this way the Lord was worshipped in choir round the clock.

Kentigern, after the manner of other Celtic saints, used frequently to pray standing in the icy cold river, and once, having suffered very severely under this hardship, he sent the boy Asaph, who was then attending him, to bring a fagot to burn and warm him. Asaph brought him live coals in his apron, and the miracle revealed to Kentigern the sanctity of his disciple. So when the old man was recalled to Strathclyde, after the battle of Ardderyd, in 573 (the only definite date we have in the life), Asaph was consecrated bishop to succeed him, and became the first Welsh bishop of the see.

He died on 1 May, but we know no further details of his life, nor do we know the year of his death. Traditionally, he is said to have died in 601.

We thank God for the life of this saint and we ask him to protect us and keep us close to the Lord he loved and served so well.