Ian Styler, saint expert extraordinare, shares a saint a week with you, for your delight and spiritual gain.
This week’s saint is the Welsh sixth-century bishop, St. Asaph. He was born in the early 500s, died in 596, and his saint’s day is the 11th May (so if you didn’t celebrate last Monday you’ve got a whole year to wait before the next occasion). He was the first Welsh bishop appointed to the see of St. Asaph in Flintshire, north-east Wales, which is the second-smallest city in the UK with less than 3500 inhabitants – no prizes for guessing which one is the smallest – and the monastery that preceded the cathedral there may have been founded by him.
He studied under the former bishop of Glasgow, St. Kentigern, who had retired from Scotland to Wales in the wake of a strong anti-Christian movement in his home country. Kentigern was prone to praying standing in icy cold water (these Scots are made of strong stuff!), and one particularly cold day, he sent Asaph to bring a burning brand (the stick variety, as opposed to the Russell variety!) back with which to warm him. Asaph, always the eager assistant, went one better however and actually brought burning coals back with him clutched against his chest, which miraculously did not scorch either his clothes or his skin. As a result of this miracle, Kentigern recognised Asaph’s holiness, and when he finally returned to Scotland, he appointed Asaph as bishop. According to one source, Asaph was said to have ‘charm of manners, grace of body, holiness of heart, and be the witness of miracles’, so a generally good egg then, and he is portrayed usually either as a monk carrying the burning coals, or as a bishop with a book (as in the image above).
Not a lot else is known of him as there are no known lives of St. Asaph, although his name does live on in such places as his ash tree (Onnen Asa), his well (Llansasa) and his valley (Pantasa), as well as streets as far afield as Christchurch, New Zealand and Alexandria, Virginia.