Language, church and community

Iaith a diwylliant cymunedau yn, ac o amgylch y Mynyddoedd Cambria

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The Cambrian Mountains, in the heart of Y Fro Gymraeg (the centre of Welsh culture), have been an immensely important factor in the survival of the language and culture of Wales. In the middle years of the twentieth century, the region was unique within the UK in terms of religious and socio-linguistic characteristics. Whilst English was spoken, for the majority of the population Welsh was the first language and integral to the identity of these communities. Welsh place-names continue to establish a strong sense of place, and give an insight into the history and traditions of the area. Substantial areas of the region are still predominantly Welsh speaking, and indigenous Welsh culture survives in all areas. The life and culture of the farming communities of the Cambrian Mountains over the last 150 years are superbly portrayed in the writings of the shepherd, Erwyd Howells.

The language and culture of the communities living in and around the Cambrians are integral elements of the region’s distinctiveness, and an essential part of what makes it worthy of recognition and protection. The area was host to a distinctive religious movement, ‘Nonconformity’, a variant of Christianity staunch in its dissent from mainstream Anglican and Catholic churches. The development of Nonconformity in Wales owed much to the Methodist movement. The importance of literacy and direct access to the gospel, enhanced by the availability of the Bible in Welsh, instilled a close relationship between Welsh Methodism and education. Lay preaching and extemporised ‘oral prayer’ on the part of congregations created an ethos of personal reading and understanding. The doctrines and beliefs of Nonconformity led to a puritanical culture leading to public houses closing on Sundays and a suspicion of mass culture, although this has been eroding since the 1970s.

The close relationship between the farming community and religious culture means that the issues facing the Welsh language and Welsh culture in the region are indivisible from those facing the wider environment. Socio-economic change has served to erode the cultural and linguistic security of indigenous communities over recent decades, and a future continuation of this trend would result in an incalculable loss to the culture of the British Isles.

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Secret Wales Video

This film was commissioned by the Society as part of its work to raise the profile of the Cambrian Mountains. It was directed by Christopher Martin, filmed and edited by Charles Chabot, and has an introduction by the Society’s President, Iolo Williams.

It is available on-line (English language only) through YouTube, in four parts:

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The Arts

In addition, the natural beauty of the Cambrian Mountains has for centuries inspired artists, and writers in both Welsh and English.

The landscape is resonant with deep Welsh language cultural history, and with the mythology of King Arthur and the Mabinogion, a collection of 11th-14th Century tales relating deeds from the heroic (mythological) Welsh past.

Links: The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest

A discussion of the text www.mabinogion.info

Wales’ best known mediaeval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym, is believed to be buried at Strata Florida.  His poems, full of references to the hills, mists and wildlife of Wales, are evocative of the environment of the surroundings where he worked and travelled.

Link: Dafydd ap Gwilym

More recently, the Buddhist hermit and poet Ken Jones has written about the landscape, its history and evocations including his very personal experience of half a century living in the uplands.

In 2022, the National Eisteddfod was held in Tregaron, in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains.

Links:

Ken Jones – Stallion’s Crag, haiku and haibun

National Eisteddfod – more information

Several writers working through the medium of English have associations with this area – R.S. Thomas at Eglwys Fach; P.B. Shelley at Cwm Elan; T. Harri Jones at Llanafan Fawr; Ruth Bidgood at Abergwesyn.

Links:

ruth bidgood

Ruth Bidgood – Poetry Archive

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R. S. Thomas | Poetry Foundation

Contemporary artists find inspiration in the history and landscape of the Cambrian Mountains. Mary Lloyd Jones, born at Pontarfynach is an internationally recognised painter who interprets many sites in the landscape in an energetic, abstract, visionary style. A number of renowned landscape and wildlife photographers live and work in the region.

Link:

Mary Lloyd Jones – Biography