4: The Name of Christ
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The name of Christ had been heard in Britain during the period of
Roman rule, but we do not know who first sounded it. There are many
beautiful legends—that the great apostle of the Gentiles himself
came to Britain; that Joseph of Arimathea, having been placed by the
Jews in an open boat, at the mercy of wind and wave, landed in
Britain; that some of the captives taken to Rome with Caratacus
brought back the tidings of great joy.
We know that the name of Christ, between 200 and 300 years after His
death, was well known in Britain, and that churches had been built
for His worship. Between 300 and 400 we have an organised church and
a settled creed. Between 400 and 500 there was searching of heart
and creed, and heresies—a sure sign that the people were alive to
religion. Between 500 and 600 there was a translation of the Bible
from Hebrew and Greek into the better-known Latin. The whole of
Wales becomes Christian; and probably St David converted the last
pagans, and built his church among them.
Between 450 and 500 a stream of pagan Teutons flowed over the east of
Britain, and the British Church was separated from the Roman Church.
By 664 British and Roman missionaries had converted the English; and
the two Churches of Rome and Britain, once united, were face to face
again. But they had grown in different ways, and refused to know
each other. Their Easter came on different days; they did not
baptize in the same way; the tonsure was different—a crescent on the
forehead of the British monk, and a crown on the pate of the Roman
monk. In the Roman Church there was rigid unity and system; in the
British Church there was much room for self-government. The newly
converted English chose the Roman way, because they were told that St
Peter, whose see Rome was, held the keys of heaven. Between 700 and
800 the Welsh gradually gave up their religious independence, and
joined the Roman Church.
But there was another dispute. Were the four old Welsh bishoprics—
Bangor, St Asaph, St David's, Llandaff—to be subject to the English
archbishop of Canterbury, or to have an archbishopric of their own at
St David's? By 1200 the Welsh bishoprics were subject to the English
archbishop, and Giraldus Cambrensis came too late to save them.
But through all these disputes the Church was gaining strength.
Churches were being built everywhere. Up to 700 they were called
after the name of their founder; between 700 and 1000 they were
generally dedicated to the archangel Michael—there are several
Llanvihangels (1) in Wales; after 1000 new churches were dedicated to
Mary, the Mother of Christ—we have many Llanvairs. (2)
Times of civil strife, or of popular indifference, came over and over
again; and the old paganism tried to reassert itself. And time after
time the name of Christ was sounded again by men who thought they had
seen Him. In the twelfth century the Cistercian monk came to say
that the world was bad, that prayer saved the soul, and that labour
was noble.(3) He was followed by the Franciscan friar, who said
that deeds of mercy and love should be added to prayer, that Christ
had been a poor man, and that men should help each other, not only in
saving souls, but in healing sickness and relieving pain. In the
fifteenth century the Lollard came to say that the Church was too
rich, and that it had become blind to the truth, and Walter Brute
said that men were to be justified by faith in Christ, not by the
worship of images or by the merit of saints. In the sixteenth
century came the Protestant, and the sway of Rome over Wales came to
an end; Bishop Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh, and John Penry
yearned for the preaching of the Gospel in Wales. The Jesuit
followed, calling himself by the name of Jesus, to try to win the
country back again to Rome. Robert Jones toiled and schemed, and
some laid down their lives. The Puritan came in the seventeenth
century to demand simple worship, and Morgan Lloyd thought that the
second advent of Christ was at hand. The Revivalist came in the
eighteenth century, and, in the name of Christ, aroused the people of
Wales to a new life of thought.
After all this, you will be surprised to learn that many of the old
gods still remain in Wales, and much of the old pagan worship. Who
drops a pin into a sacred well, or leaves a tiny rag on a bush close
by, and then wishes for something? A young maiden in the twentieth
century, who sacrifices to a well heathen god. Until quite recently
men thought that Ffynnon Gybi, and Ffynnon Elian, and Ffynnon
Ddwynwen, had in them a power which could curse and bless, ruin and
Lud of the Silver Hand was the god of flocks and ships. His caves
are in Dyved still, and his was the temple on Ludgate Hill in London.
Merlin was a god of knowledge; he could foretell events. Ceridwen
was the goddess of wisdom; she distilled wisdom-giving drops in a
cauldron. Gwydion created a beautiful girl from flowers, "from red
rose, and yellow broom, and white anemony." I am not quite sure what
Coil did, but I have heard children singing the history of "old King
Cole." Olwen also walked through Wales in heathen times, and it is
said that three white flowers rose behind her wherever she had put
(1) Mihangel=Michael. Llan Fihangel = Si Michael's.
(2) Mair=Mary. Llan Fair=St Mary's.
(3) About 1291 the abbeys of Aberconway and Strata Marcella had over
a hundred cows each, Whitland over a thousand sheep, and Basingwerk
over two thousand.
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