Friday, September 25, 2009

St Therese and Bishop Hedley of Newport writes about a rare book...

The Reliquary of St Therese, Archbishop Peter, Archbishop Peter, Bishop Tom and Bishop Edwin of Wrexham receiving the Reliquary into the Cathedral.


If you would like a full report on the first day of the pilgrimage to see the relics of St Therese in Cardiff, please scroll down to Tuedays report on the whole day-complete with pictures. I have posted some more from the Church;s website under the commons license.

Rare Book

A couple of weeks ago I published in three parts the first chapter of Mr Hirsch Davies’ book on Welsh Catholicism in Mediaeval times. Contrary to the popular view, the Church was thriving in Wales as everywhere else. People were devout and ardent in their devotions and the great monasteries of Valle Crucis, Strata Florida, Llantarnam, Tintern, Grace Dieu, Margam , Neath and Basingwork ar their height, and it is here that many of the stories of the bards were written down in the famous ‘books’ of Camarthen and in many places. The new Cistercian order lived in little distant places, identified themselves with the native population and became centres of Welsh nationalism in the creeping Saxon domination of Wales. However, Mr Hirsch Davies in 1804, being a Welsh speaker, draws much of this together. Because this book is out of print, and few like it have been written, I hope everyone who is interested in Welsh Catholic history may cut and paste it into a word document and make and bind their own copy before it is forgotten in the back of some ecclesiastical library, and to remind our Catholic children of the true history of their ‘hen fydd’-the old faith.

Introduction to ‘Catholicism in Mediaeval Wales’ by Edward E Hirsch Davies

This book is a reproduction , much enlarged, of a paper read by the author at the National Catholic Congress held at Cardiff in July 1914.

There is probably no living Catholic or non Catholic who could treat of the Catholicism in Mediaeval Wales with the knowledge and sureness of Mr de Hirsch Davies. When he was received into the church two or three years ago, he was a well known Anglican clergyman of North Wales, and had already published a history of the Church in Wales, which, though written from an Anglican point of view, is marked by a fair and candid spirit, and bears the impress of the hands of an expert. A student ,possessing the Welsh language perfectly, and thoroughly at home in the vernacular records, he was just the man who might be expected to give an authentic and illuminating account of a period of Welsh history which has received very scanty justice, even from catholic writers.

The 'Celtic Church' in Wales (Romanised Celts) was in complete communion with the Universal Catholic Church, and not allied to some sort of non-conformism.

Howel Dda

His first chapter is devoted to a brief but telling picture of Catholicism of the early church of Wales , up to the Norman interruption. There are few Non Catholic writers in these days who venture to deny that the early Celtic church was united to the rest of Christendom in allegiance to the See of Peter. The remarkable assertion of Mr Willis Bund, that early Celtic Christianity resembled nothing so much as modern non-conformity, like similar pronouncements to the Christianity of St Patrick, has become out of date after the labours of Professor Bury, Professor Lloyd of Bangor and others. Mr de Hirsch Davies here accumulates historical testimony showing that, although no Welsh manuscript now exists that is older than the twelfth century, yet the records of the ‘Age of the Saints’ the words of Gildas, and the texts of numerous collections of documents that are evidently far more ancient than the date on which they were collected, prove to demonstrate that from the earliest period, the Church in Celtic form celebrated the Mass, used the Sacraments, believed in the Real Presence, honoured the Blessed Virgin and was in Communion with the Papal See’.

Mr de Hirsch Davies spoke and wrote and understood Welsh and understood Bardic Tradition

But it is with the Catholicism of Wales in the Middle Ages that the present useful volume is chiefly concerned. Catholic Wales of the Mediaeval period is much less generally known than Welsh Christianity of the centuries from AD 400 to say 700. Mr de Hirsch Davies begins his researches with the Laws of Hywel Dda (The Good) who flourished about the time of St Dunstan, and died around 907AD. The six centuries of religious history that elapsed between that date and the ‘Reformation’ have never received adequate attention either from Catholics or non-Catholics. One principal reason of this, is that our historians have not been able to read Welsh-and the religious records of Mediaeval Wales are almost exclusively in Welsh.

They consist chiefly of two classes of writings-chronicles and poems; the former compiled for the most part in the great monasteries, and the latter produced by the Bards at the courts of the Welsh princes. It is only very recently (sic.1915) that these sources of religious history have begun to be scientifically reproduced and used. This is more emphatically true in the poetry of the Bards. Bardism, as I need not say, was an institution peculiar to Wales. Every Prince or chieftain had his Bard or Bards, whose duty it was to compose verses on present and past events and chant them to the accompaniments of the harp at banquets and festivals. These bards did not always live in friendship with the Church.

The Llanover Connection

We often hear of them being denounced by Friars for evil life and unseemly language. But on the whole, they reflected the current life of the country, and their poetry presents a vivid picture of settled and dominant Catholicism. As an illustration of the way in which light is thrown on the religion of the Welsh people by the Bardic poems, I may point to the collection published in 1910 by the Reverend Hopkin James, which he calls Hen Gwndidau-being Sermons in Song.We find in these compositions-the originals of which are chiefly at Llanover (near Abergavenny in Monmouthshire)-all the variety of feeling that existed in Wales in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary and Elizabeth; lamentations for the changes that are taking place, regrets for the Mass, the Confessional and the old church services, and at the same time a not of bitter discontent, and of welcome to the novelties of te so-called reformers. Materials like this exist in greater or less abundance for the whole of the Middle Ages and Mr de Hirsch Davies has not failed to make use of them.

Undervaluing of Welsh Catholicism in Mediaeval Times by the English

There can be no doubt that English churchmen in the Mediaeval period undervalued and slighted the Catholicism of Wales. No one, who is acquainted with the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald the Welshman-Archdeacon of Menevia) or again with the ‘Injunctions’ of Archbishop Peckham, can fail to see that, by the English, the Welsh were looked upon as semi barbarous and badly instructed. No doubt in Wales, as in all sparsely populated countries, there were many districts where priests and sacraments were rare and the Word of God seldom heard. Moreover the Normans occupied too many of the Episcopal Sees and parishes, and were not too exemplary in pastoral work among the native inhabitants. But in spite of these drawbacks , it is now seen to be absolutely true that Catholicim in Wales , from the days of Hywel Dda to the reign of Henry VIII and even later, was as deeply and fervently Catholic as any other part of Christendom.

The Great Cistercian Abbeys

Wales had few considerable towns; but what we know of Cardiff, for instance or Newport, or Haverfordwest, or Pembroke, or Kidwelly or the buried city of Kenfig-to confine ourselves to South Wales-demonstrates a normal and fervent Catholic life. Numerous great abbeys, like Neath, Margam and Strata Florida, were shrines of veneration for Kings and nobles and upheld Catholic learning and the majesty of the liturgy. Dominican and Franciscan Friars travelled over the whole country and penetrated everywhere, and the people learnt their prayers, followed the Mass, listened to sermons, prayed to Mary for intercession,went on pilgrimages and died in Christian fashion, as did their fellow Catholics across the Wye and Severn. All this Mr de Hirsch Davies brings out with learning and fullness ; the contents of this book will be , to some extent, new to all his readers. Those who remember his brilliant paper at the National Congress at Cardiff in June of last year (1914) will welcome this enlargement as a permanent memorial of the Congress, and, we may hope, will renew their interest in the work of the conversion of Wales.

Second Bishop of Newport (1880-1895)
September 1915


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