Powys Digital History Project 

Religion in Wales
The beginnings of dissent

Questioning the role of the church
While on the one hand older catholic traditions were proving hard to eradicate among the ordinary population, on the other there was a growing questioning of the role of the church itself. Men like John Penry of Llangamarch were more open to Protestant teachings, and unhappy with the state of pastoral care in the church.
There were too many priests who were enjoying the incomes of the glebe lands and who were absent or inactive among their parishioners, and far too many ill-educated curates and clergy on very low stipends.
Penry’s publications calling for reform among the clergy were seen as a challenge to the authority of the church, for which he eventually paid the ultimate penalty of execution.

The influence of Puritanism
Puritanism, although recorded in Wales in Cardiff and Wrexham, had only a small presence in Wales at this time,and Penry should be seen as important in retrospect rather than influential in his own day. In the early 17th century a small number of Welshmen were coming under the influences of English Puritanism and building up a small following. Some, like Rhys Pritchard, vicar of Llandovery from 1604 to 1644, tried to steer the established church towards Puritanism, encouraging the reading of the bible in Welsh and preaching to large crowds in the open air. In some parishes endowments were used to create lectureships giving puritan preachers a voice from the pulpit.
Some puritans left the established church entirely and attempted to set up separatist congregations. William Erbury and William Wroth, both former vicars of the church, attempted this at Llanfaches, and a Baptist church appeared at Olchon in the borderlands around 1633, where separatists from Herefordshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire could hope to worship away from public attention.

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