Nazareth Chapel - NAZARETH PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF WALES
If you were giving instructions to a stranger on how to find Nazareth Chapel, it would not be difficult. It has grey walls facing the street, with four lance-shaped windows, a slate roof and an entrance porch behind the blue painted iron gate. The gable end of the building is made of red brick with yellow stone facings. You may be disappointed at this modest-looking building but its appearance belies the great fervour felt by those ardent people of the eighteenth century who lived here when Nonconformism was finding many followers in this remote part of Wales.The title Non-Conformist was given to the Welsh churches established by those who failed to agree with the 1662 Act of Uniformity. A subsequent Act of 1689 allowed freedom of worship but there was a desire not to appear aligned to the established English Church. This led to the building of the independent chapels in the villages and towns of Wales. Their ever-increasing popularity in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries led to the establishment of more and more denominations. Often two or more chapels of different persuasions co-existed in the same village.
At this time, there was no official place of worship. Howell Harris was a frequent visitor in his early years before venturing into the wider world; William Williams Pantycelyn was a curate at Llanwrtyd and Abergwesyn from 1740 to 1743 and many of the meetings these men held were in the open air. It is known that as early as 1742 a “Society” was established at Llangammarch. Services were held in farms at Dol-y-Gaer, Coryn and Llwyn-Einon.
A remarkable story is told of how the Gwynnes of Garth House came to espouse “The Great Awakening”, as the movement was called. Marmaduke Gwynne JP was angry about the irregular methods of the young reformer from Trefecca, Howell Harris. Hearing that he was to preach at Cefnllysgwyn, he rode there on his horse. He was a just man and didn’t want to condemn Harris without himself hearing him. He waited on the outskirts of the crowd and found that he was compelled to listen. He was so moved by Howell’s eloquence and sincerity that he was dumbfounded, so much so, we are told, that “conviction entered his soul”. Ever afterwards he became an avowed advocate. Mrs Gwynne ultimately became a follower and in time their daughter became the wife of Charles Wesley, marrying him in Llanlleonfel church in 1749. Garth became an open house to the Methodist Revival and its protagonists.
An interesting fact connected with this neighbourhood is that, unlike other parts of the country, its gentry were espoused to “The Great Awakening”. In addition to the Gwynnes, the Thomases of Llwyn Madoc and the Pritchards of Dol-y-Gaer all threw in their lot with the young reformers. In 1818, a central meeting place was decided upon. This was a thatched cottage, while Sunday Schools were still held in some of the farms. During this period, nonconformist baptisms were held in the home, usually the paternal grandfather’s house.
The first chapel was built in 1829. Two leading lights in this project were John Morgan and David Lloyd. John Morgan was an excellent Sunday School teacher and made Nazareth a famous institution here. He was aided by Thomas Elias, who worked here as a tailor before entering the ministry. His exceptional wife helped him in all his endeavours and she was held in great esteem. These were men of great character, rich in religious experience and capable organisers.
One such man was John Bevan MP of Aberannell. A man of different type was Evan Morris, the wheelwright from Tychwarel, incisive of tongue and smart of repartee. “Jacko” Lewis of Neuaddau was meticulous in the smallest detail in the needs of the Chapel. Another fine man was John Davies of Glancamddwr, agent to the Llwynmadoc estate, deliberate and dignified. The Reverend John Watkins of Gorwydd became the first pastor there and of Llangammarch in 1869. He was a great preacher and worked here the whole of his ministerial life.
In 1878, the Chapel was entirely reconstructed at a cost of £700, of which £600 was cleared at the re-opening service. In 1909 the Hall, named after Queen Alexandra, was built and meetings and Sunday Schools were held there. The Hall is still in use today for entertainments and meetings, and it is used as a polling station on election days.Sometime after the rebuilding of the chapel, new heating apparatus was installed, together with “the new illuminant – acetylene gas”. These improvements cost £300, well spent, we all feel that we can sing better when our feet are warm and our hands are not too cold to turn the pages of a hymn or prayer book.
The interior of the chapel is a delight and so unexpected, its grey rough-cast and brick exterior giving no indication of the elegant windows letting in the light, the curved gallery panelled in mahogany and the iron pillars supporting the gallery which bear the date 1829. The pews are arranged in a herringbone pattern, very well made of oak and entered by low doors fastened with brass plates and hasps. There are several plaques on the walls in honour of the men who served in both World Wars and also to those who gave their lives. Two white marble tablets face the congregation, recalling the deaths of two of our Llangammarch men, Davy James Jones, who was killed in 1944 at the age of 21 while serving in the famous Parachute Regiment, and Ryan Cadwgan Powell-Jones, killed in the far-off Korean War in 1953.
Sunday School was held in the chapel, about twenty to twenty-five children attending. Among the school teachers prominent in the Sunday School in post-war years were Gareth Bevan and his wife, Katie. It fell to Gareth to organise the annual trip by train to the seaside. The children were given a bag of crisps and a bar of chocolate to sustain them on the journey but I am told that these items were invariably consumed before the train reached the first stop at Llanwrtyd!
Singing was hugely enjoyed by adults and children alike. Eisteddfodau were held every year and there would be social gatherings and meetings of Societies and Guilds. Prayer Meetings were a regular event in chapel life all over Wales. There was an added excitement for the children as The Anniversary approached, for every effort would be made to provide new dresses for the girls and new shirts for the boys. This was the time, too, when brand new shoes were worn.
A great coal-fired heating boiler had been installed in the cellar of the adjacent chapel cottage. This great monster gave out lots of heat, the hot pipes running round the outer walls making the whole place warm and cosy, lit by the gas lights still in position on the gallery but no longer lighting the interior.
Throughout the years, Nazareth Chapel has been fortunate in its elders and has had a strong leadership. In recent years, the chapel has moved from the Welsh-speaking North Carmarthenshire Presbytery to the English-speaking Brecon, Radnor and Hereford Presbytery.
The nineteenth century was a time of great expansion in the membership of the chapels in Wales. In 1882, there were sixty-two places of worship in the presbytery but a steady decline in chapel and church attendance continues everywhere in Britain. Llangammarch Wells is one of those rare villages where church and chapel are still active.
Today Nazareth Chapel continues with the traditional Welsh Nonconformist services. It has a membership of nearly forty people and is now part of the joint pastorate with Ithon Road Church at Llandrindod Wells, ably served by The Reverend Brian Reardon.
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