Image: St. Govan’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire
When Christianity began spreading through Britain in the fourth and fifth centuries, the island was primarily populated by tribes of indigenous people collectively known by those on the outside as the ‘Britons’ (Latin: Brittanni). They were also associated by some Roman and Greek historians with a trans-European barbarian people called ‘Celts’ (Greek: Κελτοί). After centuries of immigration from Continental Europe in the form of Romans and Germanic tribes, the original inhabitants were ‘pushed back’ to inhabit the extreme regions of the island, especially the west and south west. As Germanic tribes began to supplant the native inhabitants numerically between the fifth and seventh centuries, they began describing natives who spoke the British dialect as ‘foreign’, or walha. The designation stuck for those tribes who lived in the west, being known as Welsh ever since. However, in their own language, these Welsh tribes knew (and still know) themselves as the Cymru (pronounced kum-ree).
To say that Llan’s spirituality is ‘Cymric’ is to say that we deeply value and try to embody the ‘spirit’ of Christianity that emerged amongst the Cymru during these formative centuries. The spirituality of the holy men and women of early Christian Wales was bold, pioneering, contextual, deeply connected to the land and also earlier forms of spirituality (e.g. druidic). It was strongly influenced by the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt, Anatolia and Syria, and indeed aimed to re-contextualise much Eastern practice for their own culture (for example, the tradition of saints heading out into the ‘desert’ of the sea). It was often a little ‘rough around the edges’, with marginal concern for orthodox practices (and in some instances, belief) and a capacity to accept and incorporate somewhat morally dubious behaviour.
We also root ourselves in a Cymric identity by connecting ourselves with the land and its history. Our community ‘home’ is in Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, and we regularly have retreats to sacred places from the early Christian spiritual landscape of Wales, such as ancient monastic foundations and areas of saintly activity. We also use Welsh saints’ days as foci for contemplation and reflection.
Although we unapologetically claim a Cymric spirituality, this does not mean one has to be Welsh (or have Welsh ancestry) to connect with Llan. It is more of an approach to, or a perspective on Christian spirituality that we advocate, one which we believe characterises the early monastics of Wales. This approach is also characteristic of other Celtic regions, and it should be remembered that in early Christian Britain contact and travel between Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Ireland and indeed the Continent was regular and commonplace. Many of the most prominent saints of Wales are Irish, and many Welsh holy people ended their days in Brittany, Cornwall and Ireland!
Currently we are not a Welsh speaking or bilingual community, but we do have members who speak Welsh. This is an area we would like to develop should the opportunity arise.