Llandeilo Past and Present

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Catholic Llandeilo - Part 1

A History of St David's Parish

Preface

To most British people Christianity, if they think of it at all, is effectively a synonym for Protestantism. But of course, this particular branch of the countless Christian belief systems is less than five hundred years old. It made its first appearance in northern Europe in the 16 th century as a breakaway from the much older Catholic Church, which had itself emerged out of the ashes of he Roman Empire in the fifth century.

The German Catholic priest Martin Luther famously made the break with Rome when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church in 1517 in protest at what he, and many others in Europe, saw as the degeneration of the Roman-controlled Catholic Church. What became known as the Reformation had begun. The English King Henry the Eighth initially took the side of Rome in this controversy, earning himself the title Fidei Defensor ( Defender of the Faith ) from Pope Leo X for writing a treatise against Martin Luther.

Henry the EighthHenry VIII, the creator of English Protestantism

But when Henry the Eighth couldn't persuade the same Pope to grant him a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, he hit upon the novel idea of forming his own church instead, making himself head of it in the process, and was thus able to grant himself his own divorce. And so the English Protestant Reformation was born in 1536, in unique circumstances that owed nothing to the religious convictions that had steered other churches in this direction. Ever since William and Mary came to the throne jointly in 1688 all English monarchs have been Protestant, yet despite this the letters FD, standing for the Catholic -conferred title Fidei Defensor , are still engraved on the British coinage to this day, proving that English monarchs either have a well-developed sense of irony or are too stupid to notice the contradiction.

But it wasn't long before the new Protestant religion of Henry VIII was to experience splits of its own, eventually leading to the bewildering number of non-conformist faiths we see today, and even more which have since disappeared. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a whole menagerie of weird and wonderful Protestant sects was loosed on an unsuspecting England. Within a century of Henry the Eighth's death in 1553 a bloody civil war would be fought between Royalists and Republicans with religion at its heart. Here, Puritans and Quakers; Presbyterians and Episcopalians; Arminians, Baptists and Anabaptists; Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Congregationalists, Fifth Monarchists, Millenarians, Muggletonions, and more, jostled for position and Henry's Anglican Church was in serious jeopardy for a while.

Some sort of order was finally restored only in 1660 when the monarchy, and with it the supremacy of the Church of England, was restored after twenty years of a Cromwellian interregnum. And it wasn't until 1688, when the English unceremoniously dumped the Catholic King James II in favour of a Dutchman, William of Orange, that the Protestant ascendancy was finally secured.

And in the midst of all this ferment Catholicism was still bubbling away, often clashing violently with the Protestant authorities.

For many years Catholicism was persecuted in England and Wales and those who celebrated the Catholic Mass did so in secret and at genuine risk to their lives, for literally thousands died in pursuit of their faith. In the Catholic regions of Europe, Protestants were subject to the same persecution, torture and violent death by the Inquisition, so no-one comes out of this infamous period in European history with any credit. (Today's wars between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism for control of middle-eastern oil is only the latest demonstration of how indifferent organised religion can often be to human life.)

But despite this persecution, Catholicism still hung on in Britain, often receiving a boost to both morale and numbers by immigration from Catholic countries, most notably Ireland, or the missionary work of Jesuit priests smuggled into the country from Catholic France and Spain. One particularly outdated legacy of this anti-Catholicism is that the King or Queen of the United Kingdom cannot marry a Catholic. They could in principle marry any serious criminal or deranged mass-murderer who takes their fancy, but not a law-abiding Catholic. Some English monarchs have actually been serious criminals or deranged mass-murderers so perhaps that's why there's no prohibition against marrying any.

What follows is the official history of the Catholic Parish of St David's in Llandeilo, a parish which, due to considerably fewer Catholics in the area, has a far larger geographic range than the Anglican Parish of Llandeilo Fawr. For Llandeilo, like the rest of Wales, is overwhelmingly Protestant, with its non-conformist denominations outnumbering Henry the Eighth's Anglican creation, both in the number of worshippers and the number of places for them to worship.

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