Being the child of a mixed marriage – mother from a Catholic background and father from a Protestant, non-conformist, family – I had thought that those two versions of Christianity were at opposite ends of a very broad spectrum.
But Whitsun (next Sunday) in Dinas proves me wrong as the local Baptist chapels continue a tradition that dates back to the ninth century. It is known that the people of Pembrokeshire were very reluctant to give up their Catholic faith and kept a lot of the old traditions. Welsh hymns to Mary were used in Cardiganshire long after the Reformation and although these are sung no longer, the Baptists in North Pembrokeshire still have ‘Pwnc’.
Pwnc to rhyme with ‘Nunc’, as in ‘Nunc Dimittis’, is a choral form peculiar to the tradition of a small number of chapels in this area. It comes from the Latin ‘punctus’, meaning a line of music and is an ancient form that survives only locally. It clearly goes back to pre Reformation times when the Bishop would catechise candidates who were to be confirmed and admitted to The Mass. The music uses the simplest form of the old Gregorian chants, plainsong, with the tenors and sopranos taking the higher notes and altos and bass the lower notes.
Fifty years ago at Dinas’ Baptist Chapel, Tabor, even the gallery would be full at Whitsun, and every member of the congregation would have to sit with their age group – even adults. Part of the service would involve chanting a chapter of scripture and then the minister would ask questions and the congregation would stand up in turn to give the answer which had been prepared in advance. There would also be hymn singing and an “anthem” which was a longer piece of music. Pwnc always takes place at Whitsun and now four Baptist chapels, Tabor in Dinas, Bethlehem in Newport, Jabes in the Gwaun Valley and Caersalem in Cilgwyn get together for the occasion.
Pwnc also survives in Maenclochog, as mentioned on this tourist information board in the village.
And finally to hear what Pwnc sounds like, click the link below.
(Many thanks to Ann and John Hughes who provided much of this information.)