Ancient Diocese of Saint Asaph
(ASSAVENSIS, originally ELVIENSIS)
This diocese was founded by St. Kentigern about the middle of the sixth century when he was exiled from his see in Scotland. He founded a monastery called Llanelwy at the confluence of the Clwyd and Elwy in North Wales, where after his return to Scotland in 573 he was succeeded by Asaph or Asa, who was consecrated Bishop of Llanelwy. The diocese originally coincided with the principality of Powys, but lost much territory first by the Mercian encroachment marked by Watt's dyke and again by the construction of Offa's dyke, soon after 798. Nothing is known of the history of the diocese during the disturbed period that followed. Domesday Book gives scanty particulars of a few churches but is silent as to the cathedral. Early in the twelfth century Norman influence asserted itself and in 1143 Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated one Gilbert as Bishop of St. Asaph , but the position of his successors was very difficult and one of them, Godfrey, was driven away by poverty and the hostility of the Welsh. A return made in the middle of the thirteenth century (British Museum, Cotton manuscripts Vitellius, c. x.) shows the existence of eight rural deaneries, seventy-nine churches, and nineteen chapels. By 1291 the deaneries had been doubled in number and there were Cistercian houses at Basingwerk, Aberconway, Strata Marcella and Valle Crucis, and a Cistercian nunnery at Llanllugan. The cathedral, which had been burnt in the wars, was rebuilt and completed in 1295. It was a plain massive structure of simple plan, and was again destroyed during the Wars of the Roses. When it was restored by Bishop Redman the palace was not rebuilt and thus the bishops continued to be nonresident. At the end of the fifteenth century there was a great revival of church building, as is evidenced by the churches of that date still existing in the diocese. The chief shrines in the diocese were St. Winefred's Well, St. Garmon in Yale, St. Dervel Gadarn in Edeirnion, St. Monacella at Pennant, and the Holy Cross in Strata Marcella. All these were demolished at the Reformation. At that time the diocese contained one archdeaconry, sixteen deaneries, and one hundred and twenty-one parishes.
The names and succession of the bishops after Sts. Kentigern and Asaph are not known until 1143. For five hundred years the only names we meet with are Tysilio (about 600), Renchidus (about 800), Cebur (about 928), and Melanus (about 1070). From 1143 the succession is as follows: Gilbert (1143); Geoffrey of Monmouth (1152); Richard (1154); Godfrey (1158); Adam (1175); John I (1183); Reyner (1186); Abraham (1225); Hugh (1235); Howel ap Ednyfed (1240); Anian I (1249); John II (1267); Anian II (1268); Llewelyn ap Ynyr (Leolinus de Bromfield), 1293; Davydd ap Bleddyn (1314); John Trevor I (1352); Llewelyn ap Madoc (1357); William de Spridlington (1376); Lawrence Child (1382); Alexander Bache (1390); John Trevor II (1395); Robert de Lancaster (1411); John Lowe (1433); Reginald Pecock (1444); Thomas Knight (1450); Richard Redman (1471); Michael Diacon (1495); Davydd ap Iorwerth (1500); Davydd ap Owen (1503); Edmund Birkhead (1513); Henry Standish (1518); see held by schismatics (1535-55); Thomas Goldwell (1555), who died at Rome 13 April, 1585, not only the last Catholic Bishop of St. Asaph's , but the last survivor of the ancient hierarchy. The bishop had five episcopal residences, four of which were alienated by the schismatical bishop under Edward VI. The cathedral was dedicated to St. Asaph and the arms of the see were sable, two keys in saltire argent.
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