Religion in early modern Wales


The Anglican 'middle way' did not satisfy everyone in Wales. Roman Catholicism had its strongholds, particularly in Monmouthshire and Flintshire. Following the anti-papal hysteria of 1678-9, Catholicism in Wales languished until it was reinvigorated in the 19th century as a result of Irish migration.

Image: Celtic cross in Wales (BBC)

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The Story of Wales
The Story of Wales

More information about: Religion in early modern Wales

Advanced Protestantism fared better than Anglicanism in Wales. With the influences of the Civil War and the Commonwealth and Protectorate, congregations in Wales adhering to a thorough evangelical Protestantism increased from two to several dozen. Following the Restoration they suffered persecution, but received some grudging toleration in 1689.

Progress was slow; in 1676, perhaps one in 20 of the inhabitants of Wales attended dissenting services and by 1716 the country had about 70 chapels compared with almost 1,000 parish churches.

The Methodist Revival

Evangelical fervour was heightened by the Methodist Revival, launched by Howel Harris and others in the 1730s. Welsh Methodists developed their own administrative structures, and, unlike the concurrent Methodist movement in England, embraced Calvinist theology.

By 1750 there were 428 seiadau or Methodist fellowship meetings in Wales. Methodist leaders saw their movement as a renewal force within the Established Church and denied that they had any intention of establishing a separate denomination.

As the 18th century advanced, they attracted increasing numbers of adherents and encouraged the Nonconformist denominations the Baptists and the Congregationalists to widen their evangelical appeal. Thus the Welsh were set upon the course which, by the 19th century, would make them a predominantly Nonconformist people.

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