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Wales; `The Land of Revivals'

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The Druids and Christianity:

To seek the beginnings of the druids we must look beyond the Celts for the Druids were a part of the pre-Celtic peoples of Britain; the Berber people. In fact we need to look farther a field than Britain, for the druidic wisdom is believed to have come even farther a field possibly from India or Sumeria. However, the Celts being of quick mind, when they made contact, they embraced the Megalithic wisdom of the druids and Celtic druids perpetuated this wisdom often putting it into poetry. The Celtic druids of 600 BC knew Greek and it was this mixture of Celtic and Greek that survives in the Black Book of Carmarthen and other Welsh texts. 

Druids would appear to have held some form of Western branch of an ancient universal philosophy, culture or religion. It was a megalithic culture and its  religious symbols included stone circles and groves of sacred trees, the circular or spiral  dance, the oak and the mistletoe, the tree of life and triplicity (Which is maybe where the saying `Three times for a Welshman' comes from.)

The Transition from Druid to Christian:

The `constitutional' recognition of the advisory position of the Druid was profound.

Often it was made law that the king must have a Druid to be advised by when judging the law, as well as for prayer and sacrifices. When Christianity came, the Druid was simply replaced by a Celtic priest. The priest was often a converted Druid.

It is said that the druids were the predecessors of the Christian saints, offering `a path to the chancel from the glade'.

So the Druidic training colleges were taken over and called monasteries and the Druidic education continued.

More on the druids

The exodus of the Romans in 383 left Christianity firmly rooted in Britain. The story of keeping the spark of civilisation and Christianity alive whilst the rest of Europe descended into darkness is the stuff of heroic myths and legends; of noble horsemen and druids, of Arthur Pendragon and Merlin the magician.

Whilst the pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders entered Britain from the east Christianity flourished in Wales and from there eventually to Ireland and thence returned to Europe.

The saints and to a lesser extent the poets between them fulfilled the educational function of the druids. It was in Morgannwg (Glamorgan) and Gwent that the educational tradition was the greatest.

The zenith was the age of Dewi (515 – 585), literally in the middle of the Age of the Saints - he was a mirror of the character of the Church of the Welsh.

`Spiritual life was revolutionised and throughout the land people were imbued with Christian values as the life of no other nation was imbued’

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In Wales Christianity was monastic and rural. The monasteries consisted of the clas (similar to the original communal kibbutz). The clas was usually ruled by a married Abbot and women and children were respected and educated. There was a real respect for the individual and even wild creatures were given consideration.

The saints had almost no contact with England but lots with the other Celtic nations, the Irish Sea became a Celtic lake and the Celts also had contacts with the Mediterranean.

The supreme self-confidence of the people was the basis of retaining a free church for so long, for another 800 years, and then again for the formation of non-conformism from the 1600s onward.`


P A Wilson says that it was the obstinacy and heroic confidence of the Welsh and in particular the Southern and Western Welsh that was the impetus of the great missionary Celtic Christian effort that found it’s greatest renown in Ireland and through this spread outwards to Europe.

Like their druids before them the Celtic Christians believed in the immortality of the soul and had a profound sensitivity for life 

Humour Spot: The night porter in a Welsh hotel saw to his surprise one of the guests coming down the stairs in his pyjamas at four o'clock in the morning. Tapping him on the shoulder he asked "What are you doing down here at this time?" The man started, and looking hazily at the porter replied: "I'm sorry, I'm a somnambulist." "I don't care what chapel you belong to", said the porter, "you can't be wandering round the hotel like this."

 

The following links are from www.bbc.co.uk which has published a number of web pages entitled `Wales - religion and belief'.

In the late 1600s religious freedom for dissent was accompanied by a steady rise in literacy, which prepared the way for massive changes.

Circulating schools to teach elementary reading and writing skills were successful in teaching almost half the population.

This was the first wave of the great Welsh preachers and hymn writers. Thousands came to hear the great preachers and by 1737 the beginning of the Methodist Revival in Wales had begun.

Many of the great Welsh hymns were written during this time such as Calon Lan and Cwm Rhondda.

It was at this time that the great hymns such as the rugby favourite 'Guide Me Oh Thou Great Redeemer' were written.

Wales, the world's first urbanised industrial nation, was outraged by reports that portrayed it as a country of ignorance and moral laxity.

The people's political reformist disturbances during the 1830s and 1840s led to English government reports which included the Blue Books (See The Treachery of the Blue Books/Brad y Llyfrau Gleision.)

The report, carried out by three English lawyers who had little or no previous knowledge of Wales and its native language were critical of the Welsh language as well as the morals of the Welsh people..

Out of the pubs and into the chapels. Only in Wales did Sundays become `dry'!

It intensified religious debate taking place in the country between the grass roots Nonconformists and the established Anglican Church. In 1851 the only religious census in this country showed that most Christians were by then Nonconformist.

In the 1860s and 1870s it was not unusual for a Cymanfa Canu (hymn singing festival) in Ballarat, Victoria to last for several days and to draw crowds of 800 or more.

Nonconformity was based upon democratic principles. Debate was part and parcel of chapel life, and fuelled by the principles of their religion members would also discuss the great issues of the day.

Anglicans in Wales still enjoyed legal privileges. Violence eventfully broke out over the refusal to pay tithes (A tenth of a person's annual income) to the Anglican church.

The formation of an Anti-Tithe League in south Caernarfonshire introduced one of Britain's greatest Prime Ministers, David Lloyd George, within a year in 1890 he had become a Westminster MP.

The 'land of revivals' experienced the biggest one to date. Evan Roberts had a revelation during a prayer meeting, he said, "I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour." and he did, sweeping through Wales, converting thousands to the gospel.

Evan Roberts the 'spiritual David Beckham' of the times!

Chapels were being built at a prolific rate and a number of rugby clubs were disbanded by their members, who on receiving the message now felt rugby was an activity not compatible with being a true Christian.

Young socialists like Aneurin Bevan in Tredegar rejected the beliefs of their Nonconformist parents in favour of the promise of Socialism.

"There are still parts of Wales where the only concession to gaiety is a striped shroud."

Christian Socialism's founding father was the 19th century philanthropist Robert Owen, from Newtown in Powys and his principles inspired a new wave of Christian activity in the valleys.

The dour image of religion is exemplified by the famous quote of the Rhondda writer Gwyn Thomas - "There are still parts of Wales where the only concession to gaiety is a striped shroud."

Welsh Churches were built wherever Welsh people went. Australia is rich in such a history.

In Queensland there remains the United Welsh Church, Blackstone, IPSWICH


In NSW, St Peter's the Presbyterian Church of North Sydney is the inheritor of the long standing  Welsh  Presbyterian Church from Chalmers St. Both Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers are welcome at services at 7 pm on the second Sunday of the month at the cnr of Blues Point Rd and Blue St, North Sydney (2mins walk from N Sydney station. Sermons are in English with hymns in Welsh and  English. (Check website to confirm however).

.Agor? Cliciwch yma/More? Click here

The church also hosts Wednesday evening practices of the Welsh Cantorian Choir with numerous concerts and annual Gymanfa with the choir and the Welsh society in the church hall on the third Saturday of each month at 1 pm.


In Victoria there remains the last two of sixteen such churches built throughout the Victorian Goldfields and the main centres of trading. They are the Melbourne Welsh Church in La Trobe St, Melbourne and the Carmel Welsh Presbyterian Church, in Sebastopol.

Melbourne Welsh Church maintains it is the only church in the Southern Hemisphere that holds regular services in the Welsh language.

As a part of its St David's Day celebrations it holds a Gymanfa Ganu in Feb/March each year.

What's a gymanfa ganu? - click here

Will I enjoy a gymanfa ganu?

Yes, if you like being amongst a crowd of passionate singers as they sing their hearts out!

...by 1852, in Melbourne, a Welsh 'cause' was under way in the English Baptist chapel in Collins Street East. The first service, conducted by Rev. Zorobabel Davies, was announced in the Melbourne Argus of 11 December 1852: "'Oes y Byd i'r Iaith Cymraeg" (the life of the world to the Welsh language) Baptist Chapel, Collins Street East. Divine Service will be held in the Welsh language at 3 p.m. for the benefit of friends from the Principality.' Five years later, on the first Sunday in February of 1857, the Welsh of Melbourne were able to worship in their own chapel built on an allotment of land granted earlier by Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe. The present Welsh Church in La Trobe Street was erected on the same site in 1871. more

 

 

Some famous Welsh religious leaders:

Dewi Sant/Saint David; Patron Saint of Wales

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St David's Flag

 

Padrig Sant/Saint Patrick; Patron Saint of Ireland

Patrick was from either South Wales or the area of south-eastern Scotland known as Strathclyde (to the Ancient Britons, the Welsh forefathers this was Yr Hen Gogledd/the Old North) . His seventh century biographers claimed that he converted all of Ireland to Christianity.

 

Dr Rowan Williams; Present Archbishop of Canterbury.

Native Welsh speaker, born in 1950 in Ystradgynlais, S Wales. Read more: BBC - South West Wales - Hall of Fame

 

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Humour Spot: A Welshman was shipwrecked at sea and marooned on a desert island. When a passing vessel picked him up five years later the crew were amazed to find his little island covered in fine buildings that he had built himself. With pride the Welsh Robinson Crusoe took the captain round the island and pointed out to him his house, workshop, electricity generator and two chapels. "But what do you need the second chapel for?" asked the captain. "Oh, that's the one I don't go to," he replied.

Sources:

1. The Druidic Renaissance,

2. Land of My Fathers, Gwynfor Evans.

3. BBC website