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Rhuddlan to Chester (Gerald’s Journey Through Wales 1188)

Via St Asaph's Cathedral and the Cistercian abbey of Basingwerk


This is a series about the journey that Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald of Wales took in 1188 to preach the crusade throughout Wales. Gerald kept a detailed account of the journey and their surroundings, which he later published. The series began with some background posts about Gerald. If you want to read the series from the beginning, go here.

Rhuddlan to Chester

The travellers set out from Rhuddlan towards Chester the Wednesday before Good Friday and although they were in a hurry they made a detour to St Asaph’s cathedral where Archbishop Baldwin said Mass. This completed the assertion of his authority over all four Welsh dioceses. This was an important part of the purpose of this journey. The Welsh Church had declared its independence from the English Church and Baldwin took the opportunity of travelling round the country, to celebrate Mass in the Welsh cathedrals.St Asaph Cathedral

Gerald didn’t like the cathedral, calling it ‘the poverty-stricken little cathedral of St Asaph’, but then he had fallen out with one of its bishops earlier in his career. We cannot check his judgment today as the cathedral was totally destroyed during a border rebellion. But the building that replaced it remains the smallest of the Welsh pre-reformation cathedrals.

The group set off through the border province of Tegeingl, between the Clwyd and Dee rivers. Gerald reported the area had rich veins of silver, mined since Roman times, and mentioned a local spring whose water mysteriously rose and sank several times a day. The travellers spent their last night in Wales at the Cistercian abbey of Basingwerk, whose ruins are still visible today.

Basingwerk Abbey

On Maundy Thursday morning, they set out along the bank of the Dee estuary. The trail was somewhat alarming, most of the bank being quicksand bordered by the great wood of Coleshill. The sandy fords across the Dee moved every month as the river altered its course. This was problematic, as this was the border between England and Wales. The travellers didn’t get involved in any border disputes, but knew, once they had forded the river, that they were now in England. When they rode into Chester that evening their journey through Wales was over, but their mission to the Welsh was not yet complete.

They stayed in Chester to celebrate Easter. Archbishop Baldwin probably preached in the Benedictine abbey of St Werburg, now Chester cathedral. Parts of the building survive in today’s cathedral, as do the Norman interior of St John’s church where Baldwin also preached, drawing many Chester men to take the cross.

[adapted from A Mirror of Medieval Wales by Charles Kightly]

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at