Major new facilities, costing more than £600,000 and aimed at attracting more visitors, pilgrims and worshippers to St Asaph Cathedral, have been officially opened.
Two initiatives, which started over five years ago, have combined to create a new tearoom and interactive interpretation facilities, showcasing the heritage, history and people who have been involved in the life of the cathedral over the centuries.
A third of a million-pound extension and refurbishment of the cathedral’s vestries have created a tearoom, accessible toilet facilities and community meeting space. This project has been funded by more than £130,000 of grants secured from various funding bodies, including WREN (£50,000) and the Garfield Weston Foundation (£25,000). The rest of the money has been raised by the Cathedral or left as legacies.
The new tearoom, called Caffi’r Cyfieithwyr or Translators’ Tearoom, has been named as the Cathedral houses the national memorial to Bishop William Morgan, whose 1588 translation of the Bible into Welsh is the centrepiece of the new heritage interpretation project. It’s one of only 20 known copies of the original Bible and is now on permanent display inside the Cathedral in a protective glass showcase, thanks to a £286,000 grant
from the National Lottery. This has also help create other interactive displays and the employment of an activities coordinator, Lorna Kernahan from Ewloe, near Mold.
Over the next three years Lorna (right) will be organising activities to champion St Asaph’s heritage and reach out to the local and wider community. Her plans include a new family events programme, volunteer opportunities, school sessions linked to the history of the Cathedral and community art and music projects.
The Dean of St Asaph Cathedral, the Very Reverend Nigel Williams, said: “After many years of planning, designing, permission seeking and funding applications, I am delighted that our new facilities are officially open. As in all projects, there were set backs on the way, but our new facilities are modern, flexible and ideal for welcoming people to the cathedral as worshipers, pilgrims, tourists and those attending concerts or conferences.
“These two projects coupled together, will hopefully attract a greater number of visitors to the cathedral and to the second smallest city in Britain, but more than anything else ensure that the cathedral is a place of worship which proclaims the Christian faith in a way that is relevant in our time.”
St Asaph Cathedral, which is one of the oldest in Wales, tells the stories of St Asaph and St Kentigern and was instrumental in the preservation of the Welsh language. It is one of the main heritage attractions along the A55 corridor and is expected to feature on tourism signage from that route, shortly.
The Assembly Member for the Vale of Clwyd, Ann Jones, who spoke at the official opening, said: “St Asaph Cathedral is a major player in the renewed tourist offer being promoted in our region.
“I am delighted to see this new facility which will be hugely beneficial to us all and enhance the visitors experience to the area. It will also add to the excellent work that has been undertaken by the Cathedral in partnership with the local authority and Welsh Government over brown tourism signs from the A55 to our area.”
The AM for Clwyd West, Darren Millar, who is also the National Assembly’s Chair of the Cross-Party Group on Faith: said: “Religious buildings are an important part of Wales’ heritage and incredibly important assets for communities across the nation. Figures from Visit Wales show that places of worship are among the most visited visitor attractions in Wales. Church leaders have claimed there is a renewed interest in holy sites, with more than 600,000 visitors each year to some of the nation’s most prominent religious places.
“It is fantastic that the number of visitors to these sacred sites is growing and the investment in St Asaph Cathedral will undoubtedly attract many more people. It is already an incredibly impressive building, but these new facilities will very much add to its appeal.”
Six years ago, St Asaph was awarded city status. Its Mayor, Councilor Colin Hardie said: “The City Council is extremely proud of the cathedral which has always been considered an integral part of our community and been a major attraction for visitors to the City. These new facilities are a wonderful addition to the building and have been designed and finished sympathetically to its existing architecture.
“The new inter-active information stands will now give detailed information regarding the Cathedral’s past turbulent history and many other interesting facts. I am sure that even more visitors will now come and enjoy these facilities which will also enable the Cathedral to be used for many new community initiatives.”
St Asaph Cathedral dates from 1239 with the present structure completed in the 15th century. In addition to the William Morgan Bible, the Cathedral also has copies of: the first translation of the New Testament into Welsh dating from 1567, made by the Denbighshire scholar William Salesbury; the revision of the William Morgan Bible from 1620 made by Bishop Richard Parry – also Bishop of St Asaph and a Book of Common Prayer from 1621 containing The Edmund Prys Psalter which allowed Psalms to be sung in Welsh in church for the first time.
Famous historical figures with links to the Cathedral include the poet, Felicia Hemans, the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley who was a local resident and the writer of the World War I song ‘Pack Up Your Troubles In Your Old Kit Bag’, and Felix Powell, who was a chorister at the cathedral. His name is still to be found graffitied in the choir stalls.
Richard Bellamy, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players we have been able to not only help protect St Asaph’s important history for future generations, but ensure the cathedral plays a central role in North Wales tourism.
“St Asaph is already well-used beyond religious services, and this work will help raise its profile further as a key place to visit when in the area, benefitting the local economy and making Denbighshire a better place for everyone.”
Ruth McKew, Director of headland Design based in Farndon near Chester said: “The team at Headland Design have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project at the cathedral. We were involved at an early stage in developing ideas for activities and the new displays and learnt a lot about the amazing stories contained in the building and the people who have worshiped here for hundreds of years. The new displays explain how the cathedral was built and re-built after being burnt down; and it will help people discover the role that William Morgan’s translation of the Bible played in the preservation of the Welsh language. A new digital touchscreen allows visitors to literally turn the pages of the Bible.”
Construction of the new tearoom, toilets and community meeting space was carried out by Kinmel Bay based Grosvenor Construction. Its director, Will Mellor, said: “Grosvenor Construction is proud to be part of a long line of craftsmen weaving the latest addition into the ancient fabric of this very special place of worship.”
St Asaph Cathedral is open to visitors every day with regular services taking place throughout the week. Translators’ Tearoom is open every day, except Tuesday, from 10am – 4pm serving sandwiches, wraps, soup and cakes as well as hot and cold drinks.
Volunteers are needed to help in the tearoom, with family and school activities and with engaging visitors with the cathedral and its heritage. If you would like to volunteer, please contact Lorna Kernahan on 01745 582245.
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery and #HLFsupported
Headland Design is an interpretive design and consultancy practice based in Farndon, between Wrexham and Chester. The team work on a range of projects for museums, historic sites and archives. Our work combines design and fit out of exhibitions with consultancy work that helps us to understand the audiences and the stories that are to be told.