Friday, March 20, 2009

St Asaph and St Kentigern-

Old Welsh Prayer to the Lord of Heaven

Lord of Heaven, grant me my prayer to you
Make my praise of you free me from punishment
God asks me well:
'Did you see the Lord's grave prophecy?'
He released the spoils of Hell
And gathered the imprisoned host to himself
Before I am powerless...

Let me be steadfast for the Lord of strength
Before I suffer a bloody death
Before my mouth slavers
Before I am joined to wooden boards.

May my soul be filled with his good food
The script of books tells me little.
Of hard affliction after the deathbed.
May those who have heard my song
Come to heaven, highest dwelling.

I love this poem, of the period but yet anonymous. The poem is of the bardic type and praises the Eucharist above the scriptures - Jesus of the Eucharist accompanies him in battle and signs him in the next world and his affliction in Purgatory.

Whilst we made our pilgrimage to St Winifride at Holywell and Gwytherin below (hope you are following the radio programme on iTunes as well-also called Mary in Monmouth.This gives greater detail about the church at Gwytherin.

Follwing the visit to Gwytherin we had lunch and then travelled past Rhuddlan Castle (unfortunately closed for the winter ) and made our way down to St Asaph which was one of the oldest foundations in Wales, founded by St Kentigern. It is a feature of Celtic devotion as to the devotion afforded to the Celtic holy men-Kentigern was also called MUNGO which means 'Dear one')His monastic foundation was called 'Clas-gu'(the 'Dear Family') =Glasgow.

St Kentigern was a Bishop, born in Culross in Fife. about 518; He also died there on 13 January, 603. His mother Thenaw was the daughter of a British prince, Lothus (from whom the province of Lothian was called); We don’t know the name of his father. At the age of twenty-five we find Kentigern (the name means "head chief", but he was popularly known as Mungo — in Cymric, Mwyn-gu, or "dear one"), beginning his missionary labours at Cathures, on the Clyde, the site of modern Glasgow.
The Christian King of Strathclyde, Roderick Hael, welcomed the saint, and procured his consecration as bishop, which took place about 540. For some thirteen years he laboured in the district, living a most austere life in a cell at the confluence of the Clyde and the Molendinar, and making many converts by his holy example and his preaching. A large community grew up around him, became known as "Clasgu" (meaning the "dear family") and ultimately grew into the town and city of Glasgow.

Anti-Christians in Strathclyde

About 553 a strong anti-Christian movement in Strathclyde compelled Kentigern to leave the district, and he retired to Wales, staying for a time with St. David at Menevia, and afterwards founding a large monastery at Llanelwy, now St. Asaph's, of which he appointed the holy monk Asaph superior in succession to himself.
After he left the Monastery-now St Asaph’s

In 573 the battle of Arthuret secured the triumph of the Christian cause in Cumbria, and Kentigern, at the earnest appeal of King Roderick, returned thither, accompanied by many of his Welsh disciples. For eight years he fixed his see at Hoddam in Dumfriesshire, evangelizing thence the districts of Galloway and Cumberland. About 581 he finally returned to Glasgow, and here, a year or two later, he was visited by St. Columba, who was at that time labouring in Strathtay. The two saints embraced, talked for a great deal of time, and exchanged their pastoral staves.

Kentigern was buried in Glasgow
Kentigern was buried on the spot where now stands the beautiful cathedral dedicated in his honour. His remains are said still to rest in the crypt. His festival is kept throughout Scotland on 13 January. The Bollandists have printed a special mass for this feast, dating from the thirteenth century.

St Asaph

Later some historians postulate that the Roman fort of Varae sat on the site of the Cathedral. However, the town is believed to have developed around a sixth century Celtic monastery founded by Saint Kentigern, and is now home to the small fourteenth century St Asaph Cathedral. This is dedicated to Saint Asaph (also spelt in Welsh as Asaff), its second bishop.

The Fourteenth Century

The great age of rebuilding took place between 1284 and 1392. The exterior of the Cathedral reveals the different kind of stone used.. Anian II was succeeded as bishop by Llywelyn of Bromfield (1293-1315). His first work was to reform the administration of the Cathedral, make provisions for the Cathedral services and to ensure that the sources of revenue for the Cathedral were sufficient to maintain the building. Rectorial tithes were given as well as "Terra Faborum" (fabric lands). Once this was done Bishop Llywelyn set in motion the rebuilding of the Cathedral. Dr. John Madison suggests that a unified scheme was undertaken sometime between 1310-20:
The transepts, which were the last works to be rebuilt, were probably added between 1315 and 1320.
This rebuilding programme was influenced by the military works being undertaken at Caernarfon Castle. The person probably responsible for the rebuilding work at the Cathedral was Master Henry of Ellerton (d.1323) who succeeded Master Walter of Hereford (d.1309) at Caernarfon.

Money to finance rebuilding and maintenance was raised in a variety of ways. Pilgrims were encouraged by indulgence to visit the Cathedral and give alms to the fabric. The chief object of their devotion must have been the Shrine of St Asaph (mentioned by Edward I in his letter to Pope Martin IV), and the Reliquary in which was preserved the famous copy of the Gospel of the Evengalthen.

The Fifteenth Century

In 1402 the Cathedral was visited by Owain Glyndwr and his rebels who wrought havoc. Browne Willis described the day

The Chirch Cathedral of Saint Asaph, with the steple, bells, quere, porch, and vestiary, with all other contentis, chaliz, vestiments, and other ornaments, as the bokes, stalls, deskes, altres, and all the aparaill longging to the same chirch, was brent and utterly destroyed, and in likewys the byshop's palays and all his other three mannoirs no styke left.

The bishop, John Trefor II, allied himself with Glyndwr and was removed to be succeeded by Robert de Lancaster, Abbot of Valle Crucis and bishop (1411-33), who re-roofed the nave and carried out other repairs. The damage done to the Cathedral by Owain Glyndwr's troops is probably exaggerated. The transepts remained roofless until the work of restoration was completed by Bishop Richard Redman (1471-95)
Life went on as normal until Queen Elizabeth took the church for the Anglican Communion who presently administer the Cathedral. The relics were destroyed but St Asaph houses the first Bible translated into Welsh by Jones, which Welsh Speakers say saved the Welsh language. They are housed in a separate chapel in the North Transept ,very modern in furnishings and quite plain.

My Visit

The church is a little gem, small for a cathedral, well appointed and the furnishings sparse. There is one tiny statue of the Blessed Virgin in ivory encased in glass in a pillar. There is no pulpitum. The effigy and tomb of Bishop Anian is there and striking is a very abstract sculpture of Chris resembling a cadaver on the cross (see the above picture) There are some beautifully carved choir stalls and stained glass.Coffee was thoughtfully left on a table at the back! The Lady Chapel contained the Christ sculpture and the other chapel on the North transept the collection of ancient Bibles. A pretty cathedral.

St Asaph’s Original Church

This still exists at the bottom of the hill where the Celts usually built their foundations. Unfortunately the Church in Wales have closed the church. This is tragic as it was the original foundation on the site. Even as a historical monument it should be preserved, but would be wonderful as a shrine to the Blessed Mungo and his pupil Asaph, but the Church in Wales has to maintain large numbers of churches with dwindling congregations and it is difficult.

My overall impression was of the Cathedral, a beautiful surrounding but nevertheless I guess quite sparsely furnished.Nevertheless definitely worth a visit if you visit North Wales.C

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