Abstract The stability of yttrium silicate apatite has been investigated by studying the influence of iron as a “stabilising cation” and also by using different synthesis routes. The formation of apatite in samples has been followed by X-ray diffraction and by 29Si MAS NMR spectroscopy. The apatite phase appears to be stable at high temperatures (≈1700 °C) especially when heated in a nitrogen atmosphere; it can also occur in a metastable state when heated in air at lower temperatures; ≈1600 °C if prepared from a Y 2O 3SiO 2 mixture or in the range 950 °C < T< 1150 °C if synthesised by the sol–gel process. Longer heat-treatments result in its decomposition into Y 2Si 2O 7 and Y 2SiO 5. Iron appears to have two roles depending on the temperature; it stabilises the apatite phase at high temperatures when produced by the sol–gel route and catalyses the decomposition of sol–gel derived apatite at low temperatures.