Monday, March 23, 2009

Lisvane Baptist Chapel

The Baptist Church at Lisvane, outside Cardiff, dates from the final decades of the nineteenth century. In the 1780s, the church met in the house of Henry Rees, Tai Mawr, purchasing Fairoak farm, on the outskirts of the village, in 1789. The first chapel was built on the site in 1792, being rebuilt in 1818 and 1856. In 2003, the church moved to new premises in the village of Lisvane, and the chapel was sold for conversion to a private house. Sadly, on the Church homepage, there is little attention paid to this beautiful little chapel. The church seems to be charismatic and 'modern' without a thought for those who have gone before: I'm sure the church is wonderful, but it still feels as though something has been lost.

And those who have gone before have been left behind in a very tangilble way. The burial ground by the chapel is full of monuments to past members and their families. The stone to the Rev. David Edwards and his family gives his bardic name, 'Dewi Isan', indicating a literary, as well as religious interest. The gravestone is part Welsh, part English. With the datestone above the door, this shows that at one time the church worshipped in Welsh, although now they do so in English, the language changing as the language of the people changed. The son died aged only 5, a reminder of the high mortality of those days, as well as the griefs to which no-one in this life is immune.

The other gravestone pictured here represents the ordinary chapel member. Frederick Williams was the innkeeper at the Black Griffin Inn, opposite the church, in the village centre, a significant occupation for a chapel member in 1910, when many Baptists would have been teetotal, or at least professed teetotalism! More poigniant is the the second name, 'Arthur Llewelyn Williams, Gunner RFA/ Dearly Loved and only son of the above/ who fell in action at Poix du Nord France/ Novr 4th 1918, aged 20 years'. To have almost survived the Great War, dying in its last days, is truly tragic.
The last name is that of Jane Williams, the mother of Arthur Llewelyn, and widow of Frederick. She died in 1936, having buried the two men dearest to her.
The glory of the chapel is the most uncompromising statement of Baptist witness. The baptistry is located out door, behind the chapel. As the chapel faces away from the road between Lisvane and Rudry, however, Baptisms must have been visible from the road. The image of hardy Welsh men and women stepping down into the waters of Baptism, visible to any passer-by, is an inspiring one. And, on a beautiful spring day, not unappealing.

Now, however, the chapel is a house, and the visitor cannot linger for long without feeling that they do not belong here, even if the route is a public footpath. The job of the church is not to preserve history, but this building and its grounds are more than just history. They are a public witness to the lives and beliefs of generations of God's people. A few, ordinary members of that 'great cloud of witnesses'. The building is not large, and might have been preserved as a heritage centre, allowing the church to meet nearer to the centre of the village. One cannot help feeling that a chance was lost here.



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