7. FACING DIFFICULTIES
It is often said that the beginning of the nineteenth century was the lowest point of the Anglican Church in Wales. It had associated itself with the English-speaking landowners, which in turn led to the early success of Methodism and eventually to the popular image of a chapel-based Welsh culture. Nevertheless, there was a number of enlightened Anglicans who opposed anti-Welsh attitudes within the Church – clergymen such as John Jenkins (Ifor Ceri, 1770-1829), the incumbent of Ceri near Newtown; W.J.Rees (1772-1855), vicar of Casgob, Radnorshire; Walter Davies (Gwallter Mechain, 1761-1849), vicar of Manafon, Montgomeryshire; Evan Evans (Ieuan Glan Geirionydd, 1795-1855), from Trefriw, Denbighshire; John Williams (Ab Ithel, 1811-62), rector of Llanymawddwy, Merionethshire; and Thomas Price (Carnhuanawc, 1787-1848), incumbent of Llanfihangel Cwm-du, Breconshire.
It was they – the ‘Literary Parsons of Old’, as they are collectively known – who nurtured the Welsh literary and eisteddfodic culture between 1818 and 1858, and they were supported by some influential members of the laity, including Angharad Llwyd (1780-1866), Augusta Hall, Lady Llanofer (1802-96), Charlotte Guest (1812-95) and Maria Jane Williams (1795-1873) of Aberpergwm, Glamorganshire. Their main contribution to Welsh culture was that they revived the Eisteddfod and other national institutions.
The National Eisteddfod today
During the second half of the century, a number of Welsh-speaking clergymen, particularly in the Diocese of Bangor, were influenced by the Oxford Movement, and, between 1854 and 1858, they published a Welsh language Tractarian periodical, entitled Baner y Groes (‘Banner of the Cross’). It was probably this new trend within the Welsh Anglican Church towards Rome that united the Nonconformists, including the newly formed Calvinistic Methodist denomination, in opposition to it, leading to the clamour for its disestablishment. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, disestablishment was the main issue in Welsh politics, and, in 1914, a parliamentary Act was passed which created a new Anglican Province of Wales. The Province came into being in June 1920, with Alfred George Edwards, Bishop of St.Asaph, as its first archbishop. At last, after more than a thousand years, the Welsh Church was again free from Canterbury. One of the Province’s first acts was to create two new dioceses, one in Monmouth and the other in Swansea and Brecon.
From the beginning, the Welsh language was given equality with English in the constitution and liturgy of the Church in Wales, and throughout the twentieth century some of its priests were prominent in Welsh literature. One of the most productive and influential poets of the time was Euros Bowen (1904-88), rector of Llangywair and Llanuwchllyn in Merionethshire. Griffith John Roberts (1912-69), who was vicar of Conwy, published three volumes of Welsh poetry. Among the most notable lay people were Thomas Iorwerth Ellis (1899-1970), who wrote six volumes in the popular series Crwydro Cymru (‘Travelling through Wales’), 1953-59, and Aneirin Talfan Davies (1909-80), poet, literary critic and broadcaster.
In the meantime, however, as a result of mass-immigration, two World Wars, social factors and the growth of Anglo-American culture, the percentage of Welsh speakers in Wales fell from 50% in 1901 to around 20% in 1961. The last decades of the twentieth century saw a concerted effort by politicians, educationalists and broadcasters to secure the language’s future, and by the year 2001, when, for the first time in a century, a small increase in the number of Welsh speakers was recorded (some 23%), it seemed that the tide was beginning to turn in its favour. The Church, as ever, wishes to see the Welsh language survive and flourish, but it can do nothing without the support of its members. The Welsh language is a gift from God to all who live in Wales. It is our privilege and responsibility to use and promote it in our future mission and ministry.
Further research and discussion
- How can you promote the use of the Welsh language in the Church in your area?