At the crack of dawn about 300 years ago, furtive figures scurried purposefully across Penyfai common. They were the non-conformists who, persecuted as heretics by the established church, were forced to meet in a secret cave cut out of the hillside.

Tradition has it that a minister used to travel on horseback from a village near Neath to hold a special service in the cave which was situated to the east of the present day Smyrna Chapel.

 It was at this time, when Charles II was restored to the throne, that the iron-arm of persecution was stretched forth with violence against all those people who would not conform to the rites and ceremonies of the Episcopal Church. The Non-Conformists in Wales were amongst the first in the kingdom to feel the effect of its powers. It could be said that it was the reaction against puritan intolerance and political incapacity, which characterised the restoration of 1660, that led to a period of severe persecution against the Baptist lasting with intervals until the final settlement of the Revolution in 1689 in the Religious Toleration Act. Dr Whitley informs us that Cromwell's New Model Army was largely recruited and officered from Baptists. 

Historian, Thomas Rees tells us that, as early as May, 1660 before the king had actually reached London the storm of persecution began to rage through South and North Wales. Before the end of June there was scarcely a prison in the Principality, which was not overcrowded with Non-Conformists. 

The early Penyfai Baptists gathered together in the secret cave to worship under the constant threat of heavy fines, imprisonment, transportation or death. The temporary Conventicle Act of 1664 inflicted such penalties on any person over sixteen who attended "any assembly, conventicle or meeting under colour or pretence of any exercise of religion, in other manner than according to the liturgy and practice of the Church of England".

The Penyfai Baptists eventually gained a more substantial roof over their heads, when a local farmer reputedly gave them the use of a barn for their prayer meetings. The present Smyrna Baptist Chapel is apparently built on the site of the old barn. Erected in 1706 Smyrna claims to be the oldest Welsh Baptist Chapel in use today. 

Taken from The Glamorgan Gazette, October 1976

The Bi-Centenary Celebrations

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The Tri-Centenary Celebrations

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Updated  18 March 2016
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