In this free course, Methodism in Wales, 1730–1850, you learned about a neglected strand of Welsh history and identity.
Below are the three questions posed in the introduction to this course. Based on the work that you have done with resources like Dictionary of Welsh biography, a Vision of Britain through time, Coflein, the People’s Collection Wales, and Welsh Newspapers Online, you have hopefully started to come up with your own answers to these questions. Below are some thoughts, which you should view as starting points only rather than the final word on the subject.
- Where did this new form of religion come from?
It arose in the 1730s and 1740s from the teachings of charismatic and energetic preachers who felt uneasy with the direction that the Church of England had taken, particularly in terms of its hierarchical organisation, and wanted to inspire people to feel closer to God. It grew from a wider context in which Nonconformity, i.e. dissent from the doctrines and institutions of Anglicanism, was already an important part of the religious landscape in Wales.
- Why did it become so popular?
Calvinistic Methodism, like Nonconformist denominations such as the Baptists and Congregationalists, benefitted from a religious fervour which gripped large parts of Wales in the middle of the eighteenth century. However, it was the growing literacy of the Welsh population which helped it to become the leading form of Christianity in Wales by the middle of the nineteenth century. You should also bear in mind that there was an element of fatalism to Welsh Methodism, a sense that events were pre-ordained. In a society where poverty was the norm, this may have been some comfort. As a result, Nonconformity generally and Methodism in particular went from strength to strength in the 1800s. This led to a growing confidence amongst Methodists, reflected in some of the imposing and expensive chapels that they built later on in the nineteenth century.
- How did it become so intertwined with ideas about Welshness?
The democratic nature of Calvinistic Methodism in Wales, especially once the movement had seceded from the Church of England, also played well with Welsh people who increasingly viewed Anglicanism as an English import. Indeed, the popularity of Welsh Methodism was boosted significantly by growing criticisms of Anglicanism. The Treachery of the Blue Books galvanised that anti-Anglican feeling and turned what had been a religious quarrel into a matter of national pride. In addition, the Calvinistic Methodists were able to build on the longstanding connection between Nonconformity and the Welsh language and, in so doing, to position themselves as heirs of the sixteenth-century reformers who had first begun to translate religious texts like the Bible into Welsh. Moreover, as Wales’s most popular denomination, Calvinistic Methodism’s association with Welsh identity was further bolstered by the fact that it remains the only form of Christianity to be able to claim a specifically Welsh origin.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course.