We continue our regular look at Merthyr’s chapels with an aptly named chapel in the run up to Christmas – Bethlehem Chapel in Caepantywyll.
Bethlehem Chapel was one of the oldest Welsh Calvinistic Methodist movements in Merthyr.
In 1840, a number of the congregation of Moriah Chapel, Cefn Coed decided to start a new cause in the rapidly growing area of Caepantywyll, a chapel was subsequently built in 1841 and called Bethlehem.
During the mid 1800’s, the residents of Caepantywyll, mostly employees of Cyfarthfa Iron Works, had established a unique educational network, with three ‘front room’ schools as well as six schools held in public houses.
Bethlehem Chapel was in the forefront of the education of the residents of Caepantywyll, and indeed its first minister Rev John Roberts was a strong leader in education.
Rev Roberts, who was also known by the bardic name Ieuan Gwyllt, was also famous as a musician. As well as composing many famous hymns, he founded the Cymanfa Ganu and also in 1859 he produced “Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol” which took him six years to complete.
The publication of this book began a new era of Welsh congregational hymn singing.
By the 1960’s, with the number of residents of Caepantywyll decreasing, the small congregation dropped to such an extent that the chapel closed and services were held in the vestry of the chapel until that too closed in 1979. The chapel was demolished in the early 1980’s.
In years gone by, the most important event for the chapels of Merthyr (and indeed all of Wales) was the annual Cymanfa (literally translated as assembly or festival). As well as the Cymanfa Bregethu (preaching festival) there was also, more significantly and more famously the annual Cymanfa Ganu or Cymanfa Gerddorol (singing or music festival).
The first ever Cymanfa Ganu was held in Aberdare in 1873, and was inaugurated by Rev John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt) formally of Bethlehem Chapel, Caepantywyll, and the first Cymanfa Ganu was held in Merthyr Tydfil by the Calvinistic Methodists in 1874 at Pontmorlais Chapel.
The Welsh Baptists held their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1886 at Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and the Welsh Independents followed two years later holding their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1888 at Zoar Chapel.
Traditionally, the Welsh Baptists held their Cymanfa on Easter Monday, alternating between Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and Tabernacle Chapel; the Independents held their Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday at Zoar Chapel (and later at Gellideg Chapel) and the Methodists held their Cymanfa on the first Monday in May at Pontmorlais Chapel until it closed and then at Zoar Chapel until 1984 and afterwards at Hope Chapel.
As well as this, the Dowlais Baptists and Independents held their own separate Cymanfa’s, with the Independents holding theirs on Easter Monday and the Baptists on Easter Tuesday – both Cymanfa’s being held at Bethania Chapel. This continued until the 1960’s when both denominations amalgamated their Cymanfa’s to hold a joint Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday.
The Treharris and district Baptists and Independents also held their own Cymanfa’s – respectively on Easter Monday at Brynhyfyd Chapel and Easter Tuesday at Tabernacle Chapel.
Below are copies of: the programme for the 1911 Cymanfa Ganu held by the Methodist Chapels of Merthyr at Pontmorlais Chapel 106 years ago today; a programme for the Merthyr Independent Cymanfa of 1918; a programme for the Merthyr Baptist Cymanfa of 1937 and a programme for the Dowlais Joint Cymanfa of 1972.