The Translators’ Cathedral

The little town of St Asaph, Llanelwy in Welsh, sits on the pilgrim trail from Holywell on P1210260the north east coast to Holyhead on Anglesey, the leaving point for the holy island of Bardsey. It was an useful stopping place so when the Scot Kentigern founded a See there, on the banks of the River Elwyn, he knew what he was about. His successor was the eponymous Asaph who built up the church. The building has suffered since, being burnt by Edward I for being too Welsh and by Owain Glyndwr for being too English, followed by the standard pillaging of the reformation and finally the Victorian romanticisation of the ubiquitous Gilbert Scott. Nonetheless it is charming.

P1210268The cathedral is famous for two things, one being its size. It is one of the smallest in Britain at just 182 feet long and 68 feet wide. Perhaps more importantly, it is the home of the earliest translation of the complete bible into Welsh. William Morgan, then vicar of Llanrhaeadr ym Monchnant but later bishop at St Asaph, took 11 years over the task; he is credited with producing a bible of great beauty and power which reflected many of the different usages of Welsh, and being pivotal in preventing Welsh dying out. The cathedral holds on the original 800 copies produced. It also has a Chapel dedicated to translators and in the grounds this rather stern monument.

Despite this history, the cathedral itself is oriented eastwards, rather than to Wales. Almost he only Welsh on display, apart from the chapel sign (above), is that required by current law, translating leaflets and the like. Flags of the British Legion display the Union flag but there is nary a dragon, not even a wyvern, to be seen.It is rather the opposite of the usual act of translation, where prominence is given to the text and the agent is unseen.P1210272

The town also illustrates that monarchs make cities, not god. There has been a site of worship here since 560AD and cathedral for some 1000 years. Queen Elizabeth II made it a city in 2012.


About Sarah Tanburn

I'm a writer, a sailor and a strategic adviser to public organisations. Visit my websites to find out more.
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