Wales, is that western portion of Great Britain which lies between the Irish Sea and the River Dee on the north, the counties (or portions of the counties) of Chester, Salop, Hereford, and Gloucester on the east, the estuary of the Severn on the southeast, the Bristol Channel on the south, and Saint George’s Channel on the west.
NAME.—The name Wales has been given to this country not by its own inhabitants but by the Teutonic occupiers of England, and means “the territory of the alien race”. “Welsh” (German Weasel’) implies a people of either Latin or Celtic origin living in a land near or adjoining that of the Teutons; thus Walschland is an obsolescent, poetical German term for Italy. After an invasion lasting 330 years, the Anglican, Saxon, and Jutish “comelings” having driven the earlier “homelings” into the hill-country of the west by steady encroachments and spasmodic conquests, the names Wales and Welsh were applied to the ancient people and the land they retained. Wales is in French Pays de Galles, from Latin Gallia, Low Latin Wallia. In the Middle Ages the Welsh coined in their own tongue a name of similar origin for their country, when, in poetry only, they termed it Gwalia. The Welsh language, however, has no cognate word for the people themselves; they have, ever since the days of the Saxon Heptarchy, styled themselves by no other title than Cymry. The etymology of this word has been a much debated question, but in the opinion of Sir John Rhys (a prime authority) it is compounded of the British con bro and means “compatriots”—the federated tribes of ancient Britain who together contested the soil of their native land with the Germanic invader. In Welsh Cymru means Wales, Cymro a Welshman, Cymraes a Welshwoman, and Cymry Welshmen.
ETHNOLOGY.—The early Welsh were an association of tribes united in a common cause against a common foe; and whilst they were designated by that foe “the aliens”, they called themselves “the federated patriots”. In the main the Welsh were Britons. The reason why they did not continue to style themselves Britons was that they were not wholly British, nor even wholly Celtic. Some of their tribes were Celts of the Brythonic, or British, stock, others belonged to the earlier Goidelic, or Gaelic, division of the Celtic race, whom the Britons, a later Celtic immigration, had subdued and partially absorbed. The Goidels, moreover, were in great part made up of yet older, non-Aryan, peoples whom they and their predecessors had successively conquered. The Welsh, therefore, racially represent an unknown series of the earliest settlers in Britain; they are not merely Ancient Britons, but the heirs of all the aborigines of the island, from the cave-men downwards. Though the Cymry knew enough of their racial history to call themselves a federation, they cared nothing about the origins of their Teutonic foes. The invaders came from various countries of northern Europe, and it was the Angles or English who eventually gave their name to the new nation. It was, however, the West Saxons who formed the advance guard of the Germanic invasion, and Saeson (sing. Sais) was the term applied by the Welsh to the unwelcome visitors.
DEFINITION.—When we come to define the precise bounds and limits of Wales, we at once face a difficulty which has hardly yet been satisfactorily met by geographers. The most perplexing disagreement prevails among writers as to what exactly Wales is; and the question is variously answered, according to the views of each individual on points of nationality—views usually influenced by his racial and political prejudices. One opinion is that Wales consists of twelve particular counties, and that its eastern boundary is identical with that of the eastern-most of those twelve counties. This is the popular, English, school-manual view. According to another view, Wales has thirteen counties, Monmouthshire being the thirteenth, in addition to the above twelve. The English and anglicized inhabitants of the thirteenth county vehemently deny the correctness of its inclusion. They point to the fact that, although Henry VIII had declared the thirteen counties to constitute the Principality of Wales, a statute of Charles II so far detached Monmouthshire from the others as to annex it to the Oxford Assize Circuit. To this the nationalists reply that a council sitting round a table in London could no more unmake Wales than they could transform England into Scotland, or Derbyshire into a part of Ireland.
Any declaration by a government as to what territory shall or shall not be considered as Wales is obviously a political arrangement and cannot affect the concrete facts of the case. Although no Act of Parliament applying to Wales affects Monmouthshire unless that county is expressly mentioned, Monmouthshire is as Welsh as Merionethshire. It has, indeed, historical associations which might entitle it to be considered the premier county of Wales. On the grounds of history, ethnology, and language, it is necessary to include likewise certain western parishes in Shropshire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire as forming part of the real Wales, that is to say, of Wales as we are about to define the term. It would seem, in fact, that the only true and comprehensive definition of Wales is as follows:-Wales is that territory north of the Bristol Channel which, since the subjection of South Britain by the English, has continuously been peopled by the descendants of its original pre-Germanic inhabitants. This includes the thirteen whole counties, with certain parishes in the shires of Salop, Hereford, and Gloucester; and in some places the boundary passes east of Offa‘s Dyke, the limit made by the victorious King of the Mercians in 779.
COUNTIES.—The following are the names of the counties of Wales, with their Welsh equivalents:
North Wales (Y Gogledd): Flintshire (Flint); Denbigshire (Dinbych); Carnarvonshire (Caernarfon); Anglesea (Mon); Merionethshire (Meirionydd); Montgomeryshire (Trefaldwyn).
South Wales (Y Deheudir): Cardiganshire (Aberteifi); Radnorshire (Maesyfed); Pembrokeshire (Penfro); Carmarthenshire (Caerfyrddin); Brecknockshire (Brycheiniog); Glamorgan (Morganwg); Monmouthshire (Mynwy). The County of Glamorgan is not rightly styled a shire; “Glamorganshire”, though the term is often used, is a misnomer. This rule has been authoritatively settled within the last few years and is observed in State documents. In Shropshire the hundreds of Oswestry and Clun, and in Herefordshire those of Ewyas Lacy, Webtree and Wormelow, are the portions of adjoining English counties which must be included in a logical and complete survey of Wales. Even in Gloucestershire, the westernmost parishes north of the Severn and east of the Wye—notably Newland, Saint Briavel’s, and Llancaut—are at least as much Welsh as English by their history. It will thus be seen that the eastern boundary of the true Wales is widely different from that traced by the hand of custom and convention.
PHYSICAL FEATURES.—That the Celts and pre-Aryans of South Britain were able to preserve themselves as a federation of non-Germanic peoples in the western parts of the island was doubtless due to the physical character of the country, which the Romans named “Britannia Secunda”, and the English called Wales. “Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd” (Mountainous old Wales, paradise of the bard); this is true only in a rough and rather poetical sense. Such mountains as Snowden (Welsh Eryri) in North Wales, Plinlimmon (Pumllyman) in Central Wales, and Sugarloaf (Pen-y-fan) in South Wales can justly claim the title of mountain; but, for the most part, the altitudes in Wales are rather to be regarded as big hills than as little mountains, and are oftener round or hummock-shaped than peaked or precipitous. There are, moreover, many wide areas of plain and fen, especially along the Severn estuary and the southern coast. On the whole, the surface of the country is beautifully diversified, hills, valleys, rivers, and sea combining to produce scenery of world-wide renown. In North Wales the views are generally grander than in. the south, where the coast-line is tamer and the country more pastoral than wild and awe-inspiring. In both halves of the principality there is abundance of woods and heath, while pasture predominates over arable land, especially since the decline of agriculture which marked the close of the nineteenth century.
AGRICULTURE.—Farming is carried on in every county, though greatly restricted by the mines and factories of the coal and iron districts. Grain has never been largely produced in Wales, save in such purely agricultural localities as Welsh Herefordshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On the other hand, milk, butter, eggs, poultry, and butcher’s meat have always been a staple product. The close grass of the hills produces the famous small “Welsh mutton” whose flavor is so peculiarly sweet. The ancient Welsh breed of cattle was small and black. It is now extinct or nearly so; but from it are descended the large black cattle of Carmarthenshire, which are themselves giving place to the fine brown-and-white “Herefordshires”. The immemorial use of oxen for ploughing died out at the middle of the last century.
MINES.—The mines and ironworks of Wales, though some are to be found in the north, are principally in Glamorgan and West Monmouthshire. The Romans worked seams of coal which lay near the surface, on the sides of some hills in South Wales, and this primitive mode of obtaining the mineral from levels or adits was continued down to modern times by the farmers, for obtaining domestic supplies of fuel. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, however, with the use of steam and machinery for pumping and winding, the practice of deep sinking, and other improved methods gradually produced the highly complex type of coal-mine of today. Mining and the attendant industries, while augmenting the material prosperity of Wales, have ruined much of her loveliest scenery. It is commonly remarked that (owing to some natural laws as yet undiscovered) it is always the most beautiful valleys which are found to contain coal in commercially requisite conditions and quantity. Limpid stream, bird-haunted grove, and flowery glade then give place to a labyrinth of mechanism, a black desert of coal-dust and mine refuse, and leagues of mean and depressing streets.
POPULATION.—The populations of the counties of Wales vary according to the industrialism of each. The inhabitants in the coal districts outnumber those of all the rest of the principality. Glamorgan is by far the most populous county. Some rural districts have been so drained of their inhabitants in the last thirty years, that they can best be described as wildernesses dotted with ruinous dwellings. The original population has been to some extent replaced by immigrants from England, but only to a small degree in the country parts. Gloucestershire, Somersetshire, and the south of Ireland are the districts which have most largely recruited the population of South Wales, chiefly by settlement in the big towns. Mid-Wales receives its foreign influx principally from the Midlands of England. North Wales is indebted to Manchester, Liverpool, and Chester for its fresh blood, but there is also some immigration from Ireland to the more populous centers.
The Welsh, though mainly a Celtic nation, are a composite folk made up of Celts and of many pre-Aryan peoples—a melange of all the aborigines of the Isle of Britain. Remains of paleolithic man have been found in the limestone caves of the Wye Valley, along with bones of the cave-bear, hyena, etc. How far this early human race has influenced the Welshman of the present age, it is impossible to say; but there is no doubt that the racial type known as the “small dark Welsh”, prevalent in certain districts (and, curiously, indigenous in the coal valleys of the south), is that of the latest pre-Aryan folk with whom the first Celtic immigrants came in contact. That race has been identified with the Basques of the Pyrenees and the Berbers of North Africa. Though there are no linguistic evidences to support either identification, there are reasons for believing that the “small dark” Welshmen are of the same race as the original Iberians of Spain and Portugal. It is, in any case, certain that they are the Silurians of the period of the Roman invasion under Claudius (A.D. 43). We are on equally sure ground in saying that the Celts of the first immigration, the Gael (akin to the Irish, Highland Scots, and Manx), have preserved their racial identity more or less completely in certain parts of both North and South Wales. The largest section of the Welsh nation, however, are Celts of the British stock, a pure tribe of which stretches in a wide band across Central Wales. Many of the ogham and Latin inscriptions on rude stone monuments of the Romano-British period in Wales were evidently made not by British but by Gaelic Celts. It is, however, as yet uncertain what proportion (if any) of these stones commemorate invaders from Ireland.
HISTORY AND LANGUAGE.—After an occupation lasting 360 years, the Romans left a Britain which was thoroughly permeated by the civilization of the Empire. In this Wales largely participated, though it is chiefly in Southeast Wales that the traces of Imperial Rome must be sought. Recent excavation has exposed vast remains of the power and luxury of the conquering race, at Caerwent in Monmouthshire (once a seaport); and at Caerleon, in the same county, classical antiquity competes with Arthurian romance for the visitor’s attention. Many Welsh pedigrees assign to existing families a Roman ancestor in the person of some official who lived in the period between the departure of the legions and the Saxon Conquest. It is, however, chiefly in the domains of language and religion that Rome has left an abiding imprint on Wales.
Welsh, as a branch of the Celtic family of languages, has close affinities with Latin; but, besides, has borrowed much from her Italic sister. An enormous proportion of Welsh words are direct importations from Latin, modified by generations of Welsh-speakers. Particularly is this the case with words expressive of religious, theological, and ecclesiastical ideas. Very few of these are of other than Roman origin. This fact is, of course, owing to the circumstances which attended the introduction of Christianity into Britain. The first Christians in this island were persons who had come in with the Roman army, and in due course these foreign Christians were sufficiently numerous to form congregations in the principal colonioe of Britain. There was a Roman bishop at Caerleon, where a large garrison was permanently quartered. Lucius, the “King of Britain” whom the “Liber pontificalis” represents as sending a letter to Pope Saint Eleutherius asking to be made a Christian “by his mandate”, would seem to have been a native regulus of Gwent, the region in which Caerleon is situated. It was inevitable that the Britons, deriving all their knowledge of Christianity from Rome and the Romans, should adopt Latin words for their new Christian terminology. So it comes that the Welsh for such words (to cite a few typical instances) as holiness, faith, charity, grace, hell, purgatory, sacrament, mass, vespers, pope, bishop, priest, deacon, abbot, monk, church, hospital, altar, chasuble, cross, parish, saint, martyr, anchoret, cell, gospel, consecration, baptism, Christmas, the Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and a thousand others, is in each case the Latin word, modified by the laws of Welsh phonology. “Sacramentum” has become sacrafen; “ePiscoPus”, esgob; “ecclesia”, eglwys; “altar”, allor; “Caresima”, Carawys; and so on.
Welsh holds a position between Munster Irish on the side of Gaelic, and Cornish on the side of the British division of Celtic-but much nearer the latter. It is not so soft as Irish or Cornish, yet very musical. Its gutturals and aspirate lls sound rough to foreigners, and an English writer has picturesquely described Welsh as “a language half blown away by the wind”; but there can be no question as to its richness in pure vowel-sounds or its masculine force. During the past century English has unceasingly encroached upon the ancient tongue, driving the linguistic boundary ever further west. Industries, railways, and public elementary schools have been the chief enemies of Welsh, and the extinction of this venerable speech must be looked for in the next generation or two. The language, nevertheless, shows marvellous vitality in the face of odds, and a widespread literary revival has brightened its declining years.
After the departure of the Romans from Britain, the native inhabitants retained a semblance of Roman institutions. Considerable vestiges of these remained among the Welsh in the time of the Saxon Heptarchy. The clan system and other Celtic customs, however, which Roman rule had recognized, continued in force long after imperial forms were forgotten. Only for a brief period were the Welsh united under one sovereign, in the successive reigns of Rhydderch Mawr (Roderick the Great) and his son Howel Dda, or the Good, both of whom were strong rulers and wise legislators. The laws of Howel Dda are yet extant. They commence with a declaration that the king had obtained their sanction by the Pope of Rome, and their tenor is one of reverence for the Christian Faith and Church. It was only by slow degrees that the native laws and customs were ousted by Anglo-Norman usages and the machinery of feudalism. The feudal system, indeed, hardly penetrated beyond the borderland (called the Marches) where, in their castles and walled towns, dwelled the Palatine lords who held those lands by right of conquest. By Henry VIII the laws of the principality, native and feudal, were assimilated to those of England—though certain peculiar legal institutions, such as the courts of great session, remained till the reign of William IV. At the same time Wales was divided into counties or shires, some of which were based on and named after the ancient lordships. Though possessing many old boroughs, Wales had no capital town until a few years ago. In 1905 King Edward VII by royal charter conferred on the county borough of Cardiff the rank of a city, and gave to its chief magistrate the title of lord mayor. This action afforded great satisfaction to the Welsh people, inasmuch as Cardiff is superior to any other town in Wales both in commerical importance and in antiquity. Its history goes back to the Roman occupation, and the place is linked with Llandaff, the oldest episcopal see. These considerations have earned for Cardiff universal recognition as the capital of Wales.
RELIGION.—The religion of the pre-Aryan inhabitants of Britain was a nature-worship which included certain animals among its divinities. The Celtic religious system was likewise a nature-cult, but resembled that of the Greeks, Latins, and other Aryans in deifying abstract ideas rather than material objects. Hence the gods of the Britons were equations of those of their Roman conquerors—Nudd, or Nodens, being the Celtic equivalent of Neptune; Pwyll (Pen Annwn, “the head of Hades”) the Welsh counterpart of Pluto, and so of the rest. The primitive totemism of the earlier inhabitants, however, made a deep impression on the religious ideas of the Celts, and has even left permanent traces in Welsh nomenclature. Such names as Mael-ser (servant of the stars), Gwr-ci and Gwr-con (man of a dog, or dogs), and Gwr-march (man of a horse) are examples.
By the end of the Roman occupation, the Britons of Wales had for the most part become Christians, Paganism lingering only in a few remote districts, and chiefly among the Gaelic tribes. At first the discipline of the Celtic Church followed closely that of Rome. whence (if we may trust Welsh and Roman traditions alike) the first missionaries had come to Britain. According to the “Annales Cambriae”, the earliest and a very reliable native authority, the Britons complied with Rome‘s reform of the Easter cycle in the year 453. There was frequent communication between the British Christians and the pope, and British bishops took part in the Council of Arles, at which papal representatives assisted. When Saint Augustine came to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons, his first step was to invite the cooperation of the Welsh clergy—a fact which proves that these latter were in full communion with Rome and the Catholic Church at large. By that time, however, the British or Welsh Christians had already long been practically cut off from personal communication with the rest of Christendom by the Germanic invasion, and thus had to some extent lost touch with the Roman See. The result was becoming gradually apparent. Peculiar usages in ritual and discipline, known as “Celtic customs”, had been evolved from principles orthodox enough, and in some cases actually Roman in origin, but which had petrified into abuses. Rome would gladly have abolished these, but the Welsh cherished them in her despite, as symbols of nationality. They condemned Saint Augustine as the apostle of their Saxon foe, and, deeming the latter more worthy of eternal reprobation than of the joys of heaven, refused to have a hand in their conversion. This attitude of the native bishops, no doubt, brought the Welsh Church into a situation perilously near schism; but the period of tension was of relatively brief duration. In the ninth century Wales renounced all such national customs as were held unorthodox by Rome, and even accepted (with a bad grace, perhaps) the metropolitan jurisdiction of Canterbury. Thereafter it was the boast of Welshmen that their countrymen had never swerved from the true profession of the Catholic and Roman Faith.
The Reformation came to Wales as a foreign importation, imposed upon the nation by the sheer weight of English officialdom. Of this there is abundant evidence from contemporary records. Protestantism was against all the sentiment of Welsh nationality, all the traditions and associations dearest to the people. Barlow, the first Protestant Bishop of Saint David’s, proposed that the see should be removed to Carmarthen, to avoid the Catholic memories and atmosphere which hung around the shrine of Cambria’s patron saint. The bards denounced the Reformation with invective, satire, and pathos. Sion Brwynog of Anglesey, who flourished in the reign of Edward ‘VI, composed a poem entitled “Cywydd y Ddwy Ffydd” (Ode to the Two Faiths), portions of which may be baldly translated as follows:”… Some men are resolute in the new way, and some are firm in the old faith. People are found quarrelling like dogs; there is a different opinion in each head… The Apostles are called pillars; poor were they while they lived (a thing not easy to the generation of today). Away from wives and children, to Jesus they turned. With us, on the contrary, a priest (of all persons) leaves Jesus and His Father, and to his wife freely he goes. His malice and his choler is to be angry about his tithes… At the table, with all the power of his lungs, he preaches a rigmarole… not a word about Mass on Sunday, nor confession, any more than a horse. Cold, in our time, as the grey ice are our churches. Was it not sad, in a day or two, to throw down the altars! In the church choir there will be no wax at all, nor salutary candle, for a moment. The church and her perfumes [sacraments] graciously healed us. There was formerly a sign to be had, oil anointing the soul. Woe to us laymen all, for that we are all without prayer. There is no agreement in anything betwixt the son and his father. The daughter is against the mother, unless she turn in mischance…. Let us confess, let us approach the sign [of the cross, in absolution]; God will hear and the Trinity…. Let us go to His protection, praying; let us fast, let us do penance….The world, for some time past, does not trust the shepherds. It behoves a man to trust the God of Heaven. I believe the word of God the Son.”
In the Cardiff Free Library is a Welsh prose manuscript of the age of Elizabeth, by an unknown author. It is a defense of the old religion against the doctrines of the Protestants, whom it terms “the New Men”. The book has leaves missing at both ends, but was divided into twelve chapters, each dealing with a leading point in the controversy, as the Real Presence; communion in one kind; purgatory, and prayer for the dead; prayer to, and the intercession of, the saints, and the veneration of relics; pilgrimages, images, and the sign of the cross. The composition is excellent, and the matter, for those fierce times, moderate in tone. A good deal of national feeling is apparent. Referring to the recent translation of the New Testament into Welsh by the state Bishop of Saint David’s, and especially to the preface, he says that, though the bishop claims to hold the primitive Faith, it is only the misbelief of which the ancient heretics boasted. In another chapter the author compares Naaman’s Jewish maiden to a Welsh girl recommending her master to try the virtues of Saint Winifred’s Well, in Flintshire; and he rebukes the “New Men” for mocking the Catholics when these go to Holywell on pilgrimage and bring home water, moss, or stones from it. The heretics seek a natural reason for the virtues of that well, which cures all manner of sick folk Great, he says, are the miracles wrought at Saint Winifred’s Well, even in these evil days, since the false new faith came from England. Ignorance has increased in Wales, adds the writer, since the churches were cleared of pictures and images, which were books of instruction to the unlettered. The glory of Britain departed when the crucifix was broken down. The legend of the cross of Oswestry is referred to, as also the miraculous appearance of the figure of the cross in a split tree-trunk (at Saint Donat’s) in Glamorgan. This last event had occurred a very few years previously, and made so remarkable an impression on the people that the authorities prohibited any reference to the marvel.
For a hundred years after the Reformation manuscript books containing Welsh poetry and prose of the most distinctly “Popish” character continued to be cherished in mansions and farmhouses, and passed from hand to hand until they were worn out. Many still survive, tattered and soiled, but eloquent witnesses of the Catholicism which died so hard in Wales. The bards’ favorite subjects were the Blessed Virgin, the national saints, the rosary, the roods (calvaries) in the churches, the Mass, the abbeys,. and the shrines of the city of Rome. From such a manuscript as is described above, the following poem may be noticed, almost at random. It is entitled “Cywydd y paderau prennau” (Ode to the wooden beads) and commences thus: “There is one jewel for my poor soul, in a life which desires not sin; it is the beads, in four rows. A son of learning [a cleric] gave them to an old man. Holy Mary, for that he gave it from his keeping, grant thy grace to Master Richard. The Canon sent ten fine beads [decades], that may hang down to one’s knee. I obtained ten of God‘s apples [the large beads], and I carry them at my side—ten were obtained from Yale with great difficulty. Those ten are in memory of you. Ten words of religious law, ten beads follow after them,,,, The man to the cleric of the glen gave beads on a string; Mary’s ornament, in tiny fragments, placed upon silk…. Wood is the good material—wood from Cyprus in Europe. Suitable are these for a gift-bits of the tree of Him Who redeemed us….”
The bard was Gitto’r Glyn, who flourished about 1450; the transcript was made about the year 1600.
Writing soon after the Reformation, the bard Thomas ap Ivan ap Rhys begs his lord not to stay in England. He is sure to encounter treachery. The Mass is cut up as a furrier does his material; Matins and Vespers are a thing detested. Nobody attends to the seven petitions of the Pater Noster. People eat meat on Wednesdays and Saturdays—even on Fridays, on which day it used to be thought poison. It is no wonder that streams, orchards, and ploughed fields no longer yield their increase. Every man of them is no better than a beast, for they never bless themselves with God‘s word-while others have their heads cut off as traitors and are punished more and more (Creawdwr Nef arno y crier).
The “Carols” of Richard Gwyn alias White, who was cruelly martyred in Elizabeth‘s reign, had (though never printed) a great popularity, and must have borne a large share in the work of the Counter-Reformation in Wales. White was a schoolmaster at Wrexham, and a man of considerable attainments. His attachment to Catholicism was that of the scholar and the martyr combined, and the influence of his controversial rhymes was widespread and profound. In form and style he is evidently the model of Vicar Prichard’s “Canwyll y Cymry” (Welshman’s Candle), written in the reign of Charles I. This Protestant work, though, unlike the verses of Richard White, it was not only printed but also circulated with the support of the state Church, is by no means the equal of its prototype either in the purity of its Welsh or in the force and picturesqueness of its diction. White describes the Catholic Church as “a priceless institution conspicuous as the sun, though smoke mounts from Satan’s pit, between the blind man and the sky”. He gives nine reasons why men should refuse to attend the heretical worship: “Thou art of the Catholic Faith; from their church keep thyself wisely away lest thou walk into a pitfall. [This is his main argument.] The English Bible is topsy-turvy, full of crooked conceits. In the parish church there is now, for preacher, a slip of a tailor demolishing the saints; or any pedlar, feeble of degree, who can attack the pope. Instead of altar, a sorry trestle; instead of Christ, mere bread. Instead of holy things, a miserable tinker making a boast of his knavery. Instead of the images, empty niches. They who conform to the new religion will lose the seven virtues of the Church of God, the communion of all saints, and the privilege of authority given by Jesus Christ Himself to pardon sin.” White’s scornful description of the heretical ministers is founded on the fact that the difficulty of finding educated men to fill the places of the ejected Catholic clergy had necessitated the appointment of handicraftsmen of various kinds, and even grooms, to act as teachers of the Reformed religion.
The sacking of a secret Jesuit college in the Mennow Valley, South Wales, in 1680, led to the discovery of a store of “contraband Catholic” printed books and manuscripts, some in English and some in Welsh. Many of these are now in the library of the cathedral of Hereford. At that date there was living in Monmouthshire a learned Benedictine, Dom William Pugh. He had led a chequered life. Born of an ancient Catholic family in Carnarvonshire, he became a doctor of medicine. On the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the Royalist army as a captain, and was one of the garrison besieged by Fairfax in Raglan Castle. Afterwards he became a monk and a priest, and wrote a large manuscript collection of prayers and hymns in Welsh, many of which are his own composition, others translations and transcripts. To him we are indebted for the preservation of White’s “Carols”. In 1648 Captain Pugh composed a Welsh poem in which loyalty to his temporal sovereign is combined with devotion to the Catholic Church. He begins by saying that the political evils afflicting Britain are God‘s punishment for the country’s abandonment of the true religion. People were far happier, he proceeds, when the Old Faith prevailed. But a better time is coming. The English Round-heads will be made square by a crushing defeat, and the king will return “under a golden veil”; Mass shall be sung once more, and a bishop shall elevate the Host. Here we have evidently a mystical allusion to the King of Kings on His throne in the tabernacle, and this is the theme underlying the whole poem.
It would be easy to quote similar examples from the Welsh literature of any period previous to the Civil Wars-after which time Catholicism rapidly lost its hold on Wales. As a consequence of that political and social upheaval, an entrance into the country was effected by the Puritanism which was destined, in the course of little more than a century and a half, to transform the Welsh people spiritually, morally, and mentally—and, as many people judge, not for the better in either respect. This loss of the Church‘s ground was, humanly considered, entirely owing to the failure in the supply of a native clergy, brought about by racial jealousies between the Welsh and English seminarists in the English College, Rome, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Within a hundred years, this circumstance led to a dearth of Welsh priests able to minister in the native tongue. After the Titus Oates persecution (1679-80) the few Welsh-speaking clergy who had remained in the country were either executed or exiled, and the chill mists of Calvinism settled on Cambria’s hills and vales. Thenceforward, Welsh Catholics were a genus represented by a few rare specimens. Mostyn of Talacre, Jones of Llanarth, Vaughan of Courtfield are almost the only ancient families of Catholic gentry left to Wales at the present day; and the only old Welsh missions still containing a proportion of native hereditary Catholics are Holywell in the north, and Brecon and Monmouth in the south.
The eighteenth century saw but a very small output of Welsh Catholic literature, either printed or manuscript. Almost all there is to show for that period is a version of the “Imitation of Christ“, and “Catechism Byrr o’r Athrawiaeth Ghristnogol” (London, 1764), a short catechism of Christian doctrine. It is in excellent Welsh by Dewi NantbrAn, a Franciscan. The number of Catholic books for Welshmen increased rapidly in the course of the nineteenth century. In 1825 appeared “Drych Crefyddol”. Its full title translated is “A religious mirror, shewing the beginning of the Protestant religion, together with a history of the Reformation in England and Wales”. Of this small work, by William Owen, only two copies are known to exist-one being in the possession of the present writer. It is embellished with a few rude woodcuts, and comprises an account of the Welsh martyrs. A catechism in Welsh called “Grounds of the Catholic doctrine contained in the profession of faith published by Pope Pius IV” (Llanrwst, 1839) is now very rare. Since then many such publications have appeared. In 1889 Saint Teilo’s Society was founded at Cardiff, with the sanction of the Right Rev. Dr. Hedley, O.S.B., Bishop of Newport and Menevia, for printing Welsh Catholic literature, and produced many pamphlets and books, including a prayer-book, “Llyfr Gweddi y Catholig” (Cardiff, 1899). The Breton Oblates at Llanrwst publish a bilingual monthly magazine called “Cennad Catholig Cymru” (The Catholic Messenger of Wales), which is doing an excellent work among the people.
Wales possesses an extensive vernacular Press, whereof by far the largest portion is controlled by the Nonconformist and Radical party. All the Dissenting denominations have their literary organs, and the Established Church is similarly represented. As a general rule, the Welsh Press deals with Catholicism only in a hostile manner; but in quite recent years a more moderate tone has been adopted in a few of the less Puritanical newspapers and magazines. The largest denomination in Wales is that of the Calvinistic Methodists (now often styled the Presbyterian Church of Wales). The Baptists, Congregationalists, Wesleyan Methodists and Unitarians are also strong in the principality—the latter particularly in Cardiganshire. Mormonism has made large numbers of recruits in the chief centers of population. Puritanism is slowly but steadily ceding ground to Agnosticism and Anglicanism.
The Catholic Church is strong only in the large towns of Wales, the Catholics of the rural districts having participated in the exodus consequent on the decay of the old country life. The hierarchy consists of two bishops, deriving their titles from Menevia (Saint David’s) and Newport. The former see comprises the greater part of Wales; the latter includes Glamorgan, Monmouthshire, and Herefordshire. The present cathedral of the Menevian diocese is at Wrexham in North Wales, that of Newport (a Benedictine see) is the priory church of Belmont, near Hereford. The Church‘s progress among the Welsh people is incredibly difficult, and very slow; but it is perceptible. Advance would be easier and more rapid if greater use could be made of the Welsh language in the propaganda.
The Bishop of Newport is the Right Rev. John Cuthbert Hedley, O.S.B., the dean of the English and Welsh hierarchy, who resides at Llanishen, near Cardiff. The Bishop of Menevia is the Right Rev. Francis Mostyn, whose residence is at Wrexham. Out of a total population, which may be estimated approximately at 2,000,000, the Catholics number about 54,400, whereof 45,000 belong to the Diocese of Newport, and 9400 to Menevia. Newport has 91 priests and 75 missions; Menevia, 85 priests and 43 missions. Of religious, there are Benedictines at Hereford, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Swansea, and Cardigan; Jesuits at St. Asaph, Rhyl, and Holywell; Capuchin Franciscans at Pantasaph and Penmaenmawr; Passionists at Carmarthen; Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Llanrwst, Pwllheli, Holyhead, and Colwyn Bay; Fathers of the Institute of Charity at Cardiff and Newport; and 35 convents of nuns of various congregations, whereof 9 communities are Daughters of the Holy Ghost (Soeurs Blanches), exiled from Brittany.
JOHN HOLSON MATTHEWS