Wednesday, February 27, 2013

10 years ago: Honourary Druid Rowan Williams is installed as Archbishop of Canterbury

On February 27, 2003, Rowan Williams was installed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, becoming the head of the Church of England, which has been described by a Canadian traditionalist Anglican minister as "the natural spiritual home of the Queen and Mr. Bean." Almost seven months earlier, Archbishop Williams had been inducted as an honourary Druid in a Celtic rite in Wales amid criticism that he was participating in a pagan ceremony. As reported by BBC News on August 5, 2002:

The new Archbishop of Canterbury has been inducted as a druid in a centuries-old Celtic ceremony.

Dr Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Wales, said that he had been "saddened" by the misrepresentations about the ceremony, which sparked concern about pagan links.

"Some people have reached the wrong conclusion about the ceremony," he said.

"If people had actually looked at the words of the hymns and text used they would have seen a very Christian service."

Dr Williams became a member of the highest of the three orders of the Gorsedd of Bards - a 1,300-strong circle of Wales' key cultural contributors - in a ceremony at this year's National Eisteddfod celebration of Welsh culture in St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

The ceremony, which took more than an hour, started with a procession from the main Eisteddfod Pavilion to a circle of stones on the edge of the site.

Dr Williams, 52, wore a long white cloak without any headdress as he arrived at the back of the procession.

'Paganism' row
The actual ceremony started with a trumpet fanfare and the partial sheathing and unsheathing of a 6ft 6ins sword.

Hymns and poems were said in Welsh before around 50 people were made druids.

Dr Williams was given the Bardic name of ap Aneuri, which he chose partly after a sixth century Welsh poet and partly after Aneurin Bevan, one of his personal heroes and the architect of the National Health Service.

Before the ceremony, some Church of England conservative evangelicals expressed concern about whether Dr Williams was doing the right thing.

Reverend Angus Macleay, who is on the steering committee of the Evangelical Reform Group, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This ceremony certainly looks pagan.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury designate needs to consider what will other people, non-Welsh members of the Anglican communion, think he is doing.

"How it will help African bishops and pastors seeking to draw people away from paganism to follow Christ, when they see him involved in this sort of activity?"

'Honours system'
But Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru MP and a member of the Gorsedd of Bards himself, said the group "clearly isn't a pagan organisation".

"It's simply a rather quaint induction... for assisting the development of Welsh language and culture.

"It is in a way akin to a Welsh honours system but devoid of any patronage."

The Gorsedd's recorder Jams Nicolas said any reports of links to paganism were "nonsense".

"The Gorsedd ceremonies are entirely Christian in tone, Christian hymns are sung and the prayers are made to God," he said.

The Gorsedd first gathered at Primrose Hill, London, in 1792, after scholar Iolo Morganwg decided the Welsh should promote themselves as the direct descendants of Celtic culture and heritage.

Its modern-day members number poets, writers, musicians, artists, sportsmen and women, and others who have made a distinguished contribution to Wales...
As for Mr. Morganwg (Edward Williams, in English), here's an excerpt from his entry in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography:

He went to London in 1791 and stayed there (but for one short period) until 1795. It was now that he began to explain the doctrines of bardism and to hold druidical gorseddau on Primrose Hill. He came in contact with men who sympathised with the French Revolution and also with Unitarian leaders...He was appointed as one of the editors of the Myvyrian Archaiology, and, in 1799, he journeyed through North Wales to collect the materials. By this time he had become a Unitarian and he was the leading spirit when a Unitarian Association was formed in South Wales in 1802; he it was who drew up the Rheolau a Threfniadau of that body published in 1803.

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