June 13, 2007

Nonconformism in Wales


After the Reformation, a number of denominations began to emerge out of the Established Church including Baptists, Independency, Methodism (Calvanistic and Wesleyan), Quakerism and Unitarianism. The first dissent in Wales emerged via John Penry who was martyred in 1593. The first Dissenting denomination (apart from that of the Celtic Church) was comprised of Independents and Baptists in 1639 in Llanfaches, Mon. However with the rise of Methodism, by 1851, seventy percent of places of worship were Nonconformist. After the ‘golden age during the first half of the nineteenth century’, Nonconformity continue to exert an influence on ‘private, social and political responsibility’ (“Nonconformity”). This manifested itself in ‘Nonconformist Conscience’, which symbolised ‘the battle for religious and educational equality, missionary enterprise and the Temperance Movement’ (“Nonconformity”). Nonconformity also went hand-in-hand with radicalism in its ‘political responsibility to lead the Welsh people’ and this role did not ercede until after the Second World War when writers like Caradic Evans and Rhys Davies began to criticise Chapel culture.

Much literature in Wales came out of Nonconformism: ‘biblical commentaries, sermons, biographies […], doctrinal and controversial books, scriptural dictionaries and concordances, periodicals, historical works, poetry (especially hymns), moralistic novels and translations of Nonconformist writings in English’ (“Nonconformity”). Through the chapel and Sunday School, Welsh people were introduced to ‘the experiential sublimity of the hymn’, although Nonconformism was suspicious of novels, the theatre and the Eisteddfod. Writers inspired by Nonconformism are Morgan Llwyd, Charles Edwards, William Williams, Ann Griffiths, Thomas Jones of Denbigh, Islwyn, Daniel Owen and Gwenallt as well as Glyn Jones, Emyr Humpries and Roland Mathias.

“Nonconformity”. The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales. Ed. Meic Stephens. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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