Now that I have a car I have abandoned the Eglwys Blwyf (Parish Church) for a Welsh Chapel in Machynlleth. There was nothing wrong with the parish church, I hasten to add. The congregation been very welcoming. But I’ve only got a few months more in Wales and I want a Welsh language service.
I had not yet been to a service at Capel y Craig. But I knew where it was located. I got there nice and early and did a hill park under the scrutiny of two old men.
‘Good morning! They said as I trudged past.
‘Bore da!’ I replied, as is my wont.
I walked to the church gate. It was locked. But I saw through the wrought iron fence that Capel y Craig had two street fronts. The other gate was wide open. I walked back past the two old men. They weren’t slow, this pair, and had noted my earlier greeting.
‘Wyt ti ar goll cariad?’ (Are you lost sweetheart?)
This was the first time anyone had called me cariad (a common form of endearment in Welsh). I must say, I felt a flush of warm pride. Like I’d been welcomed into their world.
I walked to the front gate. Tried both doors. Locked. I read some old gravestones. Tried the doors again. Still locked. Read some emails. Looked at my watch. Okay, so there must be another entrance. I walked round the block. The vestry lights appeared to be on but…? The deacons might be in there, praying!
Fortunately, at this moment, a fellow Merched y Wawr member arrived. I decide to follow her in. ‘Dw i ar goll! I said by way of explanation. (I am lost)
‘Mae’r drws yn cuddio (the door is hidden), she replied. Hidden, I thought, just like Cymru Cymraeg on this greyscale morning – a rich seam of gold beneath the surrounding mountains.
The service was thoughtfully arranged by another Merched y Wawr member. She read a poem and talked about the meaning of Christmas after which various members of the congregation read from a modern translation of the Beibl. I must say there is something magical about hearing familiar scripture in another language. It makes you sit up and notice.
Mae’r bobl oedd yn byw yn y tywyllwch
wedi gweld golau llachar.
Mae golau wedi gwawrio
ar y rhai oedd yn byw dan gysgod marwolaeth.
Between the readings, we sang hymns and listened to reflective music. I’ve got to the point where I can pretty much find the hymns before the congregation start singing (no, they aren’t written on a board). But this is less impressive than it sounds because the custom is to read out the whole hymn aloud before commencing. So as long as I understand the first part of the number – pedwar cant pedwar deg …? I’ve got plenty of time to work out whether it is 446, 447 or 448.
At one point, an elderly man made his way to the front. He read a Christmas carol, explaining it had been written by Hedd Wyn a Welsh poet killed in the First World War. Then he began to sing. And, oh, the voice – deep, pure, unaccompanied. Who says you don’t need to learn Welsh? Language was the key to this quiet, dignified Sunday morning.
After chapel, I went to Siop Alys, my favourite cafe in Machynleth. Imagine my surprise to open the door and to see Sion Corn (Santa) sitting on a rocking chair by the wood stove. I had a long chat to Sion Corn who, incidentally, speaks Welsh. I then had the pleasure of watching him sing and tell stories to a group of children. As I was leaving cafe, Sion Corn told them I was from Australia which meant they and to sing the songs all over again.
I finished the afternoon with a walk along a small section of the Owain Glyndwr Pathway while listening to a podcast on Welsh mythology by Gwilym Morus-Baird. I have been doing a short course with Dr Baird on the Mabinogi. The said course was all in Welsh. So, I thought I may have missed one or two of the finer points. I decided to follow it up with the English version for good measure. To my surprise, I had understood a great deal more than I realised.
Tan wythnos nesaf!