The Catholic faith in the Senni Valley The following is based on information in 'From Darkness to Light. The Catholics of Breconshire 1536-1851' by Michael R Lewis. Old Bakehouse Publications (1992), Paperback, 119 pages. ISBN 0951218123

In 1536 Wales was incorporated into England by the first Act of Union. Welsh was the language of most people living in Breconshire. Catholicism was the dominant religious force in Wales. Breconshire was largely isolated from the rest of the world, linked only by sea or by some difficult roads. When The Act of Supremacy in 1534 and the 39 articles of religion came into force in 1563, people were forced to accept the King as 'Supreme Head of the Church', denying the links with Rome. Catholic priests who denied the King or his new title and those who were confessed papists were burnt as heretics.
In 1538 the old Priory in Brecon was dissolved and the land leased out. The Priory had been founded in 1093 and had religious links with the Benedictine Abbey of Battle at Hastings and Cluny in France. It's famous Golden Rood had been a place of pilgrimage. It was destroyed and the altar stone defaced and moved.
During the Civil War Cromwellian troops were quartered in the Priory buildings.
The Dominican Friary of St Nicholas in Brecon was suppressed in 1538. In 1541 a school was established there, Christ College. This was to train young men in the new form of religion. This was seen by many in the area as the imposition of a Saxon faith on a Celtic Welsh population.
The Roman Catholic faith was temporarily revived under Queen Mary (1553 to 1558). The new Testament was translated into Welsh in 1567. In 1588, the New Testament and the Old Testament with revisions were published in Welsh.
When Elizabeth became Queen, the new Book of Common Prayer in English was introduced and it was a serious offence not to use it in Church services. Attendance at the Church of England services became compulsory. In 1563 two refusals to take the oath of supremacy to the Crown was judged an act of high treason punished by death. This and similar laws were imposed by local magistrates. The continuing Catholic leanings of local people in the partsof Wales meant that 'recusants' who refused to attend services remained unpunished in some areas.
James I required everyone to attend Anglican Holy Communion. In 1606 a new oath of allegiance was introduced and more penalties were set up for Catholics. However the gentry in many places, including in remote parts of Wales, remained secret Catholics. For this reason, some itinerant Catholic priests could still celebrate the Catholic mass, resisting detection and arrest through the patronage of the gentry and local communities.
During the civil wars, Catholics were largely sympathetic to the Royalist cause, showing the importance of the gentry in continuing the old religious practices. During the Cromwellian period the Catholic faith continued.
The Senni Valley with its Catholic population became known as 'the Roman Dingle'. A chapel was built beside the river in Heol Senni. Later, when it was demolished, the porch survived at the front of the Neuadd farmhouse nearby. The farmhouse of Blaensenni became the 'mass centre' for the Senni Valley. Defynnog also contained many Catholics and one list in 1680 showed that there were 13 there in 1676 and 50 in 1680, despite it being a banned religion.
By the early 18th century the Catholic faith was beginning to be tolerated. Although in 1700 Catholics were barred from inheriting or purchasing land and a tax was imposed afterwards, these laws were seldom enforced.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the large Havard family, many of whom farmed in the Senni Valley remained strongly Catholic. Most of the Senni Valley community were still Catholics. Lewis Havard of Pentwyn farm in the Senni Valley became a Catholic priest and two younger brothers considered being ordained as well.
In the 19th century, the established Church in Devynock strongly opposed the Catholic Emancipation Bill of 1829, indicating a major split between the English leaning and Welsh Catholic members of this community. This may be partly becuase in the 1840s, some families left the Senni Valley and new (non-Catholic) immigrants arrived, although the Havard's continued to live there. Catholics were living in many houses in the Senni Valley including the 25 acres of 'Tir Gwalter Havard', which was sold by William Havard of Gwernllertai on 08/10/1864 to Thomas Price for £545. Thomas Price was probably an Anglican as the house name was then changed to Dan-y-graig isaf, where the webmaster has had a home since 1971.