The Repository of all Things Historical for the Ancient Welsh Town of Carnarvon

  Castle Square, Carnarvon. Published by Williams & Hughes, Bridge Steet, 1850



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An Account
of the
Wednesday, August 31, 1842,
a Piece of Land,
as an addition to the
Parish Churchyard at Carnarvon.
In a Letter to a Friend.
James Hews Bransby.
Printed by Charles Whittingham.

Bron hendref, near Carnarvon,
September 5th, 1842.

My Dear **** ****

Having promised to give you some account of the Consecration of our new Burial Ground, I hasten to redeem my pledge. I am always unfeignedly glad to have an opportunity of writing to you. If I were to say, that no employment of the kind delights me more, I should not transgress the truth.

Carnarvon, you are aware, is in the Parish of Llanbeblig. When it was our happiness to see you here, a few months ago, the parish church was among the objects of interest which attracted your notice. You will remember that you approached it by an easy ascent, and that near the brow of the hill, you passed through the site of Segontium, the well known Roman settlement. The church is situated at the distance of about half a mile from the town, on the left hand of the road leading to Beddgelert. It has an air of quietness and retirement, and is the sabbath home of the inhabitants of a large district, comprising Carnarvon, several small hamlets, and numerous farms and cottages, together with the scattered residences of some of the neighbouring gentry:

"who there on bended knees
Find solace which a busy world disdains." 1

The building itself exhibits no architectural pomp; but is of remote antiquity. It has a quadrangular tower, which, under the direction, I believe, of the Trinity House, serves as a land-mark to mariners entering our romantic bay, and sailing amidst its treacherous hidden rocks and sand-banks.

Towards the south, the churchyard commands one of the finest prospects imaginable: the Snowdonian chain of mountains is stretched out before the eye in surpassing sublimity and grandeur. In the centre of this vast range, the mighty Snowdon rears its proud front to the skies. On Snowdon and in the great features of nature around it, the old Welsh bards found inspiration and matter for their animating and imperishable songs.

At Llanbeblig, the service, with rare exceptions, is in Welsh. The interior of the church has a neat appearance. It has of late been re-modelled: the pulpit and reading-desk are entirely new; new galleries have been put up, and the pews are so arranged as to furnish much additional accommodation. In the uppermost compartments of a broad and lofty mullioned window over the altar, are some small fragments of coloured glass. The font is ancient, octagonal, and capacious enough to admit of an infant's being completely immersed, according to the early practice of the established church, whenever it was certified to the officiating clergyman that the child "might well endure it."

There is a large and curious monument in a chapel, at the eastern end of the church. On its sides are several small alabaster human figures, "chiselled into life," the work, in all probablility, of an Italian sculptor; and on the upper horizontal slab are the recumbent effigies of a gentleman and lady of patrician rank, he in his coat of mail, she in the graceful costume of the age in which they lived. The two mats upon which they are lying, and the two pillows under their heads, are particularly fine, not very unlike those which constitute a part of the immortal creation of Chantrey's genius on the much admired tomb in Lichfield cathedral. The inscription around the margin of the upper slab is somewhat defaced by time; but we learn from it, that William Gryffydd, Esq., son of Sir William Gryffydd, of Penrhyn, - and Margaret, his wife, daughter of John Wynne, of Meredydd, Esq., are interred there.

The churchyard is a seclusion pre-eminently dear to Christian friendship and Christian love. Even a stranger must feel an interest, must be touched with concern, as he surveys it. There the universal conqueror asserts his right; there he is victorious, and displays his trophies - trophies not unhonoured, not unvisited. We are surrounded by images of death and stillness. We behold, in every direction, memorials of the young and the old, of the robust and the infirm; and some who were taken "in the innocent brightness of the new-born day," and of some who sunk down, decayed and weary; of some whom death cut off in the midst of their career, full of enthusiasm, full of enjoyment; of some whose vital harmony he dissolved, as it were, in a moment; and of others whom he subdued by a more slow and formal process. They have faded away and forsaken us, like the pictures of an undisturbing dream.

Where they repose, in unbroken, prefect rest, there is "neither working nor knowledge nor device." The orb of day sends forth its cheering light, but not to them; the seasons revolve, but bring to them no grateful vicissitude; the business of life goes on, but they have no share in it. Every thing proceeds without them, as though they had never been. Many, perhaps, who knew and esteemed them, walk by their lowly graves, and bestow not on "the forms beloved" a single thought:

So music past is obsolete-
And yet 'twas sweet! 'twas wondrous sweet!
But now 'tis gone away."

Most of the hillocks raised over the remains of such as have been lately interred, are picturesque in the extreme; for much care is taken by survivors to plant upon them evergreens and flowering shrubs, and to adorn them, "while summer lasts," with rosemary, eglantine, and pansies. The custom is very ancient. Shakespeare, as I need not tell you, alludes to the custom, with exquisite pathos.2 It is common throughout Wales, and also in Switzerland.

For some time, the cemetery at Llanbeblig, though by no means small, has been found inadequate to the wants of the parish. Through the liberality of Thomas Assheton Smith, Esq. an acre of contigious land has been annexed to it. Of Mr. Smith's courtesy and kindness you have yourself had pleasing experience, and I could point out many occasions on which he has shown a nobly generous spirit. How delightful it is to see those who are placed on an eminence, acting as the stewards and almoners of Heaven! To be so occupied, confers on them a far more exalted distinction than all the pomp and splendours of the world, and than all the wealth which the world can lavish at their feet.

On Wednesday, the new piece of ground was consecrated by the Bishop of the diocese, Dr. Bethell. From first to last, the service was most interesting. Again and again did I wish that you and your sister could have been present to witness it.

The Bishop was attended to the church by the Rev. Thomas Thomas, Vicar of the parish, Mr. Thomas's two Curates,3 a considerable number of the neighbouring Clergy, the Mayor and Town Council of Carnarvon, and a very large assemblage of the Inhabitants. Among them were persons of different religious communions, and of nearly all classes in social life.

At the church porch - in which formerly a part of the offices of baptism and marriage were performed - the Bishop, with the Clergy and the Registrar,4 was met by the Churchwardens of the parish, who presented to his Lordship the "deed of petition," as it is called. His Lordship handed it over to the Registrar; and then walked into the church, and took his seat near the altar.

After the morning service of the Liturgy, with appropriate Lessons, Gen. xviii. John v. 21-30, had been read by Mr. Thomas, the Bishop proceeded to address the congregation, from Gen. xxiii. 3, 4. "And Abraham stood up from before his dead, and spake unto the sons of Heth, saying, I am a stranger and a sojourner with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight."

His Lordship explained, at some length, the circumstance referred to in the text, and then shewed that the practice of separating a piece of ground for the decent and religious internment of the dead, is in accordance with the feelings of nature, with the dictates of reason, and with cases specified in the Holy Scriptures. In proof of its antiquity, he referred to profane history, and quoted from the Old Testament many passages that bear upon the subject, such as those which record the burial of Joshua, the embalming of the body of Joseph, and the solemn injunction which Joseph laid upon his brethren, to carry his bones to the land of Canaan. These instances of reverential care, the preacher contrasted with the disrespect manifested to the remains of Jehoiachim. According to the account given us of that monarch, there was an express divine command that he should not be buried in the grave of his forefathers, but that his body should "be thrown out beyond the walls of Jerusalem, and be buried with the burial of an ass."

The religious internment of the dead was shewn to have been regarded as a sacred duty, under the Christian dispensation. Mention is made in the New Testament, of distinct places of burial. It speaks of the grave of Lazarus; we are told that the body of our blessed Lord; after his crucifixion, was consigned to a new tomb in the garden; and we read of the burial of Stephen. Authentic history informs us that the early Christians were in the habit of assembling at the graves of their departed friends.

In places sacred to purposes of internment, to the solemn committing of "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," there is something which opens to the mourner's mind a consolatory view of the doctrine of a resurrection, when the unpitying destroyer shall be himself destroyed, and "this mortal shall put on immortality."

His Lordship justly remarked, that no lessons can be more impressive, and none of greater practical value, than those which we learn from the mansions of the dead.

The sight awakens us to a conviction that we too, the youngest, the gayest, the happiest of us, shall soon be gathered to our fathers, shall soon be gone - that since life is at best but short, it is our indisputable interest to spend the whole of it in the ways of wisdom and virtue - that no heir of mortality has a useless day, a day which he can afford to lose - that it is madness to put off repentance and reformation any longer. - and that we should have our lamps trimmed and our lights burning, and be always on the watch, ready to meet the bridegroom, the moment he shall appear. Surely it will also mellow our harsher passions; for the grave buries every error and covers every defect; from a lonliness so awful springs nothing but fond regrets and tender remembrances. It will, moreover, incline us to compassion and to love; - strange if we are not prompted, henceforward, rather to assist and relieve, than to aggravate the evils of our fellow-men, creatures so frail, so shortly, alas! to die: - strange, if we are not in future, more considerate and kind, more willing to encourage, more ready to forgive. And, oh! how can we go away, and not pour out our hearts in thankfulness to that God from whom all our departed and all our present blessings as well as all our hopes for eternity have been derived, and who sent the beloved of his bosom to seek and to save that which was lost! While he "waiteth to be gracious," shall we not turn to him that we may live, and call upon him, that we may be found?

Towards the close of his discourse, the Bishop adverted to the improvements which have been made in the church.

I was much pleased with his allusion to the purposes for which the venerable structure is used. Within its walls, infants are admitted to the privileges of the Christian covenant, at the baptismal font - the young, almost as soon as reason dawns are instructed in their duty to Him who brought them into being - the middle aged find a refuge from the sorrows, the tumults, the enchantments, and the fascinations of the world, enjoy communion with the Father of their spirits, are taught to feel a deeper concern in their salvation, and are supplied with purer and loftier motives to obedience - those who are in the vale of years, and whose shadows lengthen as the day declines, are warned of their approaching end - the nuptial rite is celebrated, and heart is knit to heart in the holiest, the most endearing and the happiest fellowship upon earth - the faith of the believer is strengthened as he partakes, at the sacred table, of the emblems of his compassionate Redeemer's sacrifice upon that cross in which he glories - when death has achieved its victory, the last solemnities are performed over the human frame in ruins - the heart-stricken mourner learns that, in the multitude of his thoughts within him, the comforts of God can cheer and delight his soul - and all who, from time to time, go up to worship, are led to the fountain of light and holiness and consolation which is opened in the gospel, and are assisted in preparing themselves for the nobler and more exalted services of the glorious temple above that is "not made with hands."

I have seldom heard a discourse which breathed a more truly Christian spirit, or which showed a more devoted earnestness in the cause of divine truth. It was great in its simplicity. It would have suited your thoughtful nature; it would have approved itself to your taste and judgement, while it would have gratified your sensibility and tenderness. It would have touched your heart. Never could such an appeal be more unsophisticated or more impressive.

The preacher's style, without ambitious decoration, was free and graceful: his arrangement was marked by that perspicuity which is the last attainment of art, and was happily calculated for effect. He possesses much skill in selecting and subjecting to his purpose the fine materials furnished by the sacred volume. His voice is distinct and commanding; the very little action that he employs is ease, persuasiveness, and sincerity.

If you were to ask me my opinion of him as an argumentative writer, I would say that I consider him to have arrived at an excellence which is not common. He thinks, and therefore expresses himself, clearly. A discriminating caution constitutes an important, perhaps the most important, feature in the character of his mind. He has a quick perception of what is appropriate and what inappropriate to any question that comes before him. He examines all the points of his subject, and makes himself well acquainted with its proportions. While he understands how to bring every thing to bear upon it, in the shortest and plainest way, he seems, even in the speculations to which he is most fondly attached, to have a dread of unfairness, and to be always on his guard, that he may not press his proofs further than they are calculated to reach.

His treatise on Regeneration in Baptism has been much read and much controverted. The design of it is to show that those who are baptized are immediately translated, notwithstanding the curse of Adam, to the grace of Christ; that the original guilt which they brought into the world, is mystically washed away; that they receive forgiveness of the actual sin which they have themselves committed, and become reconciled to God, partakers of the Holy Spirit, and heirs of eternal happiness. My impression is that you told me you were acquainted with the book.

Some of the early fathers of the church held the doctrine; and no doubt the Bishop's writings on the subject are the result of deep and deliberate conviction. The late Mr. Robert Hall, whom I regard it as an honour to have been permitted to number among my kind personal friends, called it "a pernicious doctrine;"5 he thought that it has a tendency to make what is vital in religion subordinate to what is ritual. It was vehemently opposed by Mr. Simeon and Mr. Scott, as blinding men with the confidence of a false security, or in other words, as undermining the practical reasons for any kind of exertion towards a Christian life.

The Bishop's whole manner, on Wednesday, had in it a chaste and deep feeling which would have been enough of itself to give an almost irresistable attractiveness to his reasonings and illustrations. I indulge in no extra-vagrant or unfounded panegyric, when I assure you that while I listened to him, I was more than once reminded of Chaucer's delightful description, as it is modernized in its language by Dryden:

"He bore his great commission in his look,
But sweetly temper'd awe, and soften'd all he spoke.
He preach'd the joys of heaven and pains of hell,
And warn'd the sinner with becoming seal,
But on eternal mercy loved to dwell.
He taught the gospel rather than the law,
And forced himself to drive, but loved to draw."

All the time the Bishop was delivering his discourse, the attention of his hearers seemed to be completely enchained. As he spoke to us of a better world and a better life, not a few bowed down their heads and wept. They were anxious to conceal their tears.

After the sermon, a collection was made, from pew to pew, under the superintendence of the High Sheriff of the County,6 the Member for the Carnarvonshire Boroughs,7 the Mayor of Carnarvon8 and the Churchwardens.9 The contributions amounted to a little more than 65, a sum creditable to the liberality of the congregation, but far below what has been expended in repairing the church and enclosing the burial ground.

Upon leaving the church, the Mayor and Town Council walked in procession before the Bishop and Clergy to the burial ground.

It was a fine autumnal day; the earth and the azure canopy above, "one imagery,"10 one spectacle of loveliness. The blessed sun had taken his place high in the firmament, rejoicing in his fields of light, ilumining with his softest radiance the wild and magnificent scenery around us, and bringing out all its beauty:

"the scenery, Nature's own,
Nature, the architect."

The ever-changing shadows of the clouds, a thousand giant forms of a thousand different shapes, were seen stalking along the sides of the mountains: a phenomenon which I have always admired, as one of the most striking peculiarities of this strikingly romantic country. The hedges were just beginning to assume their russet and golden dress, and the trees their exquisite gradations of colour.

To describe the affecting appearance of the churchyard is beyond my power. I will not make the attempt. You can picture it to yourself. But I must not omit to remark that the utmost decorum and seriousness prevailed among the spectators of every class.

The usual formalities were observed. The Bishop and Clergy traced the boundary of the new plot of land, reciting the prayers and other services appointed by the rubric. They then formed themselves into a circle, in the centre of the ground, and the consecration deed was read by the Rev. John Hamer, Vicar of Bangor, and signed by the Bishop and Churchwardens. The Llanbeblig choir sang Luther's Hymn, in Welsh, to a plaintive dirge-like tune, that thrilled the heart; the Bishop offered up a short prayer and pronounced a benediction, and the ceremonial was concluded.

You may well suppose that all which took place was delightful beyond measure to the heart of Mr. Thomas, our worthy vicar. I forbear to speak of him as attachment, respect, and gratitude would dictate; though words come to me unbidden. I will only say, - what you have seen, and what every one witnesses and feels - that he is indefatigable, that he loves his work, and that all his cares and toils are directed to the great ends of the gospel ministry, the real spiritual improvement and lasting welfare of his fellow men. From the parade of useless knowledge and the glitter of a showy eloquence, he is entirely free; they would not be in unison with his unpretending spirit. He seeks not to amuse but to convince; happy if he can awaken his hearers to a sense of their responsibility and danger, if he can teach them their whole duty and the awful consequences of neglect: thrice happy if he may hope that he is instrumental in leading them to the true rock, and in persuading them to drink and live. For this he counts all but loss. What may we not look for from his assiduity? Indeed it has been abundantly blessed.

Let me add, that in my endeavour to describe these proceedings, I have been desirous of not leaving a more favourable impression on your mind than truth will warrant. And is there not, my dear friend, in all this an admonition? is there not a warning? He must be fearfully insensible, lost to the most pure and gentle sympathies which belong to man, who could retire from such services with a heart unmoved. In the most imperfect representation of them, there is enough to solemnize the whole frame of our being.

Well will it be for us, if they induce us not only to value as we ought those delightful charities by which God has bound us to each other, but to think on ourselves, to look within and see what passes there, to inquire what we are, what we should be, and what we are capable of becoming; and then, to turn our thoughts, desires, and hopes towards a happier world.

Should we have grace to be faithful to our Christian profession, we shall exult in the prospect of that world; - for when we too shall have crossed the gloomy stream, our souls will be without the alloy of human frailty, our affections will be quickened into a holier and more spiritual life, we shall comprehend all the fulness of a Saviour's love, and shall put on robes of glory.

In that land also - that heaven of heavens, - we shall fasten our eyes again on those who have been the companions of our earthly sojourn, and whom Christ has redeemed and purified and inspired with immortal goodness.12 We shall stand by their side before the throne of God and of the Lamb, shall renew with them the sweet counsel that we took together in this the scene of our probation, and shall bear a part in their song of praise, and in their everlasting triumph over sin and death and the grave.

Oh, do not tell me that on a topic so interesting, so unutterably interesting to the heart, there is danger of substituting imagination for truth. There is no danger, if we go to the best of all books, and inquire of Him who is "the resurrection and the life." "Let us rejoice," - said one whom I greatly honoured, and who is gone to receive his crown - "let us rejoice that there is no darkness or shadow of death that can take from the eye of faith those visions of future glory which reconcile the heart to all the dispensations of heaven and to all the troubles of our weary pilgrimage."

Most certainly, we should not love our friends so well, so tenderly and so deeply, they would not be so dear to our bosoms, we should not enjoy so high a gratification in their society or in their correspondence, if we did not believe that they are to be our friends for ever. In such a world as this, friendship cannot grow to its full maturity, cannot put forth its fairest blossoms, cannot yield its richest fruit. It requires a milder and more genial clime.

I am conscious that I have trespassed upon your indulgence, and were I writing to any one but you, I should deem it necessary to apologise. You will at once forgive me.

Before I break off, I must beg of you to present my very kind regards to your sister. It affords me more pleasure than I am able to express to hear that she is better. Oh, may your fond prophetic hopes all be realized! She knows that sickness is adapted to call forth the highest excellencies of the Christian character, and she has learnt on what arm to lean, and whither to lift up her patient confiding heart. Adieu!

Assure yourself that I am,

my dear **** ****,

Yours, with the most sincere and

affectionate esteem,


1 Wordsworth's Yarrow Revisited.

2 "With fairest flowers,
Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
I'll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose; nor
The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
Out-sweeten'd not thy breath. Bring thee all this;
Yea, and furr'd moss besides, when flowers are none,
To winter-ground thy corse." Cymbeline, Act iv, Sc. 2

3 The Rev. Robert Williams, A.M. and the Rev. J. P. Morgan, - both of them diligent in the performance of their duty, - both exemplary heralds of the cross.

4 John Hughes, Esq., of Bangor.

5 Hall's Works, vol. iv. p. 174, ed. 1830.

6 J. G. Griffith, Esq.

7 W. B. Hughes, Esq.

8 T. B. Haslam, Esq.

9 Mr. John Lloyd and Mr. Robert Griffith.

10 Spenser's "Faerie Queene."

11 Roger's "Italy."

12 "that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." - 2 Pet. i. 4.

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