The Revival

Evan Roberts - Image courtesy of National Library of Wales

The 'land of revivals' experienced the biggest one to date as Evan Roberts swept through Wales, converting thousands to the gospel.

From the middle of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th, Wales experienced some 15 major revivals, resulting in its reputation as 'the land of revivals'. The last great revival of this period had been in 1859, and although there was much local religious activity during the remainder of the 19th century, many people were wondering when, and if, the next great national one would happen.

When the revival did finally occur, it proved to be the biggest that the country had ever experienced. It seems to have its roots in southern Cardiganshire, where there were a number of meetings of religious leaders actively working on a revival. But when it did finally erupt, it became identified with one man in particular, an ex-collier from Loughor in western Glamorgan named Evan Roberts.

Roberts had begun to study for the ministry, and following a number of religious experiences during 1904, he had a revelation during a prayer meeting. This took place in Newcastle Emlyn, in the area of Cardiganshire where there had been a lot of work to prepare the way for a revival. He said, "I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour."

Shortly afterwards in the autumn of 1904 he first took the message with him back to his home chapel, Moriah, in Loughor, and following the ecstatic response he took it to other parts of Wales. The last great revival had begun.

Thousands of meetings occurred during the revival, from the southern valleys to Anglesey and north east Wales. Although Roberts garnered the headlines, preaching at around 200 meetings, there were also thousands of meetings led by other preachers held right across the country.

During those tumultuous months scarcely any aspect of Welsh life remained untouched. Work in various coalmines and metal works started with a prayer, and leisure activities like eisteddfodau, amateur dramatics and sport suffered a drop in support. A number of rugby clubs were disbanded by their members, who on receiving the message now felt rugby was an activity not compatible with being a true Christian. And it goes without saying that pubs and taverns saw a fall in consumption of the demon drink.

The up and coming politician, David Lloyd George, was caught up in the fervour. He said the movement was "rocking Welsh life like a Great Earthquake."

Even children began organising their own religious meetings, and communal hymn singing ('Cymanfa Ganu'), Bible reading and Temperance were now the favoured activities of many people across the country.

As a result, chapel building received a boost. Singing in particular had a prominent place, echoing the prophetic words of the famous musician Joseph Parry (composer of the love song 'Myfanwy') who said that "the next revival will be a singing revival."

Part of the appeal of the revival lay in Evan Roberts himself, a charismatic and sincere preacher. Although he came from the Welsh Methodist tradition, he wasn't a theologian, and he never finished his training to be a minister. His message was for all the people of Wales, regardless of denomination, and it was immensly appealing. Meetings would be a mixture of prayer, self examination and singing, and they could last for hours.

His mission was closely followed by the daily press, particularly the Western Mail, and the intervention of the media was something unique to this particular revival. Roberts become something of a personality, with his picture regularly in the papers as well as being featured on postcards. In today's terms he has been labelled a 'spiritual David Beckham'. According to one historian, a cynical interpretation might label the whole episode as an early exercise in press hype.

By the middle of 1905 the Revival was all but over and Roberts left Wales for a number of years. He eventually returned and died in 1951, to be buried in his chapel, Moriah. He is acknowledged by many Christians as the first charismatic leader of the 20th century, and among his legacies is the Apostolic Church , whose founders were inspired by this great revival.

During this time socialism was getting established with the founding of trade unions and socialist societies. One of its first MPs, Keir Hardie, was elected in 1900 to represent Merthyr Tydfil, and this new philosophy would threaten and eventually shatter the old Liberal and Nonconformist consensus which had effectively governed Wales since the late 19th century. The Wales that emerged from the cataclysm of the First World War was a very different country from the one that experienced the fervour of the young Evan Roberts.

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