THE EGRYN LIGHTS AND THE GREAT WELSH RELIGIOUS REVIVAL OF 1904-1905. SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND BY KEVIN McCLURE
From even a brief investigation into the subject, it is clear that a sequence of Revival and falling away has been as much a historical feature of Welsh religion as gradual decline has been of English religion. Moral and religious shortcomings among, in particular, the working people have, for some centuries, caused sufficient concern among various non-conformist groups for revivals of various proportions to have resulted on several occasions. Previous to the 1904-05 revival, the last major revival had been that of 1859, during which it was estimated that there were some 110,000 converts. In the intervening 45 years there were local revivals in 1866, 1871, 1882-83, 1887, 1892 and 1893, and in the early part of this century even a senior Welsh churchman sought for a revival. In December 1902, shortly before his death, Dean Howell, Dean of St Davids, wrote a last message on the need of Wales:
“If I knew that this was my last message to my countrymen all over Wales, before I am summoned to Judgement, and with the light of eternity already dawning over me, this is my message, viz. that the principal need of my country and dear nation at this time is spiritual revival through a special downpouring of the Holy Spirit.”
Both because and in spite of contemporary social and religious conditions, a climate was created in which the spark of Welsh revival tradition burst into dramatic, if short-lived flame: its main force was expended by the middle of 1905.
There is little sociological material about this revival. The major study is probably, ‘The Welsh Religious Revival, 1904-5′, by C R Williams, in the British Journal of Sociology, 1952. In a succinct and informative essay, Williams juxtaposes two factors: the concern of the Welsh industrial workers over the churches’ apathetic attitude towards their poor living and working conditions: and the concern of the churches over the religious and moral decline of the working people. Both non-conformist and established churches shared this concern. It was a response to falling church and chapel memberships and attendances, to the onset of Darwinism and modern, non-Fundamentalist Biblical criticism, and to the growth of agnostic Welsh socialism. It was also a similarly conservative response, in a puritan tradition, to an increase not only in drunkenness, swearing and gambling, but also in the theatre, dancing, and rugby football. Williams quotes an anonymous writer in a contemporary Welsh journal: “Everybody who has taken a little trouble to observe the condition of the country must agree that there was a heart-breaking sight to be seen before the commencement of the present Revival. Most people seemed to have given themselves up to the Devil. Agnosticism had raised its ugly head very high. There was a terrible apathy inside the chapels and churches. The workers had fallen into a state of frightful callousness, and the whole country had descended into a pit of corruption. Lust and drunkenness, worldliness and worthless things had possessed the minds of all people.”
It would seem, simply, that the power of the Revival tradition was stronger than the combination of socialism, immorality, Darwinism, dissipation and the rest. Despite the changes in behaviour and the political aspirations of the social groups that had been the traditional backbone of non-conformism the latest and, to date, the last of the great Welsh revivals began.
Through the work of the Forward Movement, of the Llandridnod Convention of 1903, and the persistence of a few evangelists, a foundation was laid. The Revival developed gradually through 1904, and was national news by the end of that year. A mere handful of missioners and evangelists – R B Jones, Evan Roberts, Joseph Jenkins, Seth Joshua, Mary Jones, Jessie Penn-Lewis, Sidney Evans and a few others were responsible for perhaps 90% of its achievements.
The very nature of the Revival was emotional, involving those who attended its many, lengthy meetings. It often depended as much on the contributions of the congregation as of the evangelists (R B Jones, one of those involved, speaks of preachers entering the pulpit only to be ‘closured’.) Conversion is an intense experience, as anyone who has witnessed or undergone anything of the kind will be aware. In the context of the revival tradition it was even further intensified. C R Williams assesses the nature of the experience: -
“Another factor of importance was the new element which the Methodists had introduced into the religious life of Wales – the mystic doctrine of salvation by personal experience. The Methodists taught that the only way to be saved was to repent and to experience, directly, forgiveness from God. This insistence on direct personal experience . . . tended to make religion an emotional thing. People suddenly became conscious of the sinful lives which they had been leading, and this realisation of sin was followed by very moving and, often, distressing scenes as the repentant sinners prayed for forgiveness and, eventually, experienced an emotional crisis which convinced them that they had been saved.”
The Index of the London Times has references for the Revival only from 3.1.05 to 20.3.05. The Revival was undoubtedly flourishing prior to the former date, and ebbed only gradually after the latter, but it seems that it was in January 1905 that it became newsworthy on a national scale. The Times presents most of its material in its regular ‘Ecclesiastical Intelligence columns. It clearly took a particular interest in Evan Roberts, and several of his meetings are mentioned in the extracts that follow, which contain most of the salient material published during this period: -
3.1.05 An account by the Welsh correspondent tells of a conversation with their Host at an Inn, Where they were staying prior to one of Roberts’ meetings,
“There’s too much of it , sir, there’s no sense in it. I b’ain’t against religion, but this goes too far. It’s out of all reason. Me and my missus were only saying last night as how our takings have fallen by the half this last fortnight. What’s to become of the people if this goes on? The men must have a drop of drink if they are to do their work proper. Why, only last night I see’d a score of our best customers pass our door with their heads down, looking that miserable as if they were going to the Asylum, and I’ll tell you what it is, (he said in a voice husky with emotion) that’s where a lot of them will be if they don’t drop it soon!”
The report continues with an account of the meeting itself,
“A rough sturdy collier in a fervent prayer thanked God for the Revival. He recounted his personal blessings and added that when he and his fellow drivers went back to work from the revival the pit ponies, hitherto cursed and sworn at, would not at first move to the strange and chastened biddings of their masters. This graphic detail may raise a smile, but I found upon enquiry that it was literally true.”
10.1.05 “The result of the work (the revival) upon the morals of the district have been specially manifest; for last week, for the first time, there was not a single case of drunkenness at the Swansea County Petty Sessions . . ” A description of a Roberts meeting at Llansamlet follows,
“The whole congregation fell on their knees and in their fervour beat upon the seats and became almost besides themselves in their frenzy. So great was the tension that the missioner himself broke down. The Rev F B Mayer, President of the National Free Church Council was at this meeting, and said afterwards in describing the scene, “It was a tornado of prayer, and quite the most extraordinary thing I have ever been a spectator of.”
The Chester Correspondent telegraphs that “10 patients suffering from religious mania are already in . . the Joint Counties Asylum at Denbigh . . one or two show signs of improvement, but the general condition of the others is stated to be very bad.”
17.1.05 Lloyd-George is due to hold a political meeting at Pwhlelli, but decides to cancel it, saying, “I am very anxious nothing should interfere in the slightest degree to break the full force of Revival”. ” . . a great revival meeting will therefore be substituted, and Mr Lloyd-George will take part.”
24.1.05 Concerning Evan Roberts, “The results of his work in the Neath Valleys have been unmistakeable, despite the fact that the chapels in these districts have proved quite inadequate to accommodate the crowds of people, a number of whom have walked many miles over the hills to attend his services.”
31.1.05 The Revival movement now covers South Wales so completely that there is little opportunity of increasing the area of its influence . . so far between 70,000 and 80,000 converts are claimed.” “At a meeting . . on Sunday (29.1.05) at Pontmorlais, Merthyr, Mr Roberts declared that there were two prominent persons present at emnity. He said he could not go on unless they made peace or left the building. He fell forward on the pulpit desk in a vioent paroxysm of agony, completely giving way, and sobbing and groaning. An extraordinary scene followed. Prayers and loud outcries were heard all over the chapel. A stern appeal was made to persons indicated by a Deacon, who declared that Mr Roberts was ‘going to pieces’. Several persons left the building, and subsequently the missioner, who had intended to go out, resumed.” “Careful enquiry throughout North Wales shows that the total number of converts secured during the present revival is approximately 9,000.”
6.2.05 “There is, up to the present, no indication of ‘waning influence’ . . Seth Joshua meeting in Cardigan . . 1,200 people present were on their knees praying simultaneously, and they remained in this attitude for two hours.” “Mr Roberts begins his mission in Cardiff on Wednesday. Owing to an attack of nervous prostration, he was unable to fulfil his engagement at Nelson on Friday.”
13.2.05 “The chairman of the Cardiff licensing magistrates last week bore testimony to the extraordinary decrease in drunkenness in the town during the past year, apprehensions having decreased from 446 in 1903, to 217 last year.” “Mr Roberts has been within the past week the recipient of lettersfrom all parts of Europe and America, asking him to visit the respective countries.”
20.2.05 “During the 6 months before the Revival began the number of people summoned at the Bridgend Police Court from Llynfi Valley numbered 700, but the average since the revival movement spread there has been not more than two per week.”
7.3.05 “His Honour Judge Gwilym Williams called attention, at a meeting of the Glamorgan County Council yesterday, to the statistics in the Chief Constable’s quarterly report. These figures, he said, showed that during the last quarter there was a decrease in the number of persons proceeded against of 1,364, and the Chief Constable remarked that, “the decrease in drunkenness has undoubtedly been most marked where the revivalists have had the largest following.” The Judge congratulated the County upon this very excellent report and added that those who administered justice in the County considered that they were indebted, in a great measure, for the improved state of affairs, to the efforts of Mr Evan Roberts and his co-revivalists. He certainly did not approve the cavilling that had taken place with regard to the Revivalists’ methods. To him the methods were nothing: the results were everything.” “It is estimated that the number of converts up to the end of February is 76,000 in South Wales, and 7,000 in North Wales, which would give a total of 13,000 for the month of February alone.”
20.3.05 Although a good deal of unobtrusive work is being carried on in many churches, there is no denying the fact that during the last week or so the Revival Movement in Wales has lost somewhat in its power. This is partly due to the fact that Mr Evan Roberts is now in Cardiganshire, suffering from a nervous breakdown. He took part in one meeting last week in Newquay, but was evidently far from well. Two Glasgow ministers, who brought him an invitation to conduct a mission in Glasgow, considered it inadvisable that he should go north at present. Mr Dan Roberts is still conducting largely attended meetings in the Rhondda Valley. In the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire there is considerable activity among the Free Churches. Meanwhile in several centres conferences have been held with a view of determining what steps can be taken towards keeping the converts. One of the largest of these was held in Pontypridd, at which the speakers included Dr Pearson and Mr A A Head (President of the Keswick Conference), Dr Pugh, and Principal Edwards of Cardiff. At this and other conferences of a similar nature, the general view favours a movement in the direction of institutional churches.
Within the past few days a party of eleven revivalists, including several ladies, have left South Wales for Scotland, where they are conducting meetings in Glasgow. Mr Evan Roberts is expected to proceed to Liverpool, but when his visit will be he is not yet able to determine.”
This is the last specific reference to the Revival in The Times. The fortunes of the Revival Movement would seem to have depended very much upon the health, vigour and credibility of Evan Roberts, who never again achieved successes to parallel those in South Wales. Despite major missions to Liverpool and North Wales, by October of 1905 he was virtually inactive, and so was the Revival.
If I had a couple of years to spare I would happily spend it writing a book about Evan Roberts. Though his mission was at no time accompanied by visible signs or portents, his inspiration often came from direct communication with the Almighty or His messengers, and he wrote and spoke many times of the visions he had seen, and the voices that he heard. From the age of 12, in 1890, his preoccupation was with revival, salvation, and the fight against Satan. He was the co-author of a rare and remarkable book, ‘War On The Saints’, which chronicles his own experiences of the Christian’s struggle with objective and cognescent evil. With the exception of a brief spell in 1928-30, during which he returned to South Wales, preached, and performed both spiritual healing and exorcism he, to quote a private letter to me, “lived as a protestant solitary contemplative from 1906 until his death in 1952. All this time he was supported by friends and admirers, and took no paid employment, but prayed for at least eight hours every day and also issued letters of spiritual direction, which is a very unusual thing for a Calvinistic Methodist.”
North Wales and the Lights
The Revival as reported in the Times was largely that in South Wales. In the North, considerably less densely populated anyway, the Revival had only a minimal impact till the last few weeks of 1904. In six months perhaps 10,000 conversions were effected, though Evan Roberts, much the most numerically effective of the Welsh evangelists, did not visit North Wales till the summer of 1905. Much of the fervour of revival was channelled through the incumbents of the varios chapels and churches: to this extent the revival in the North was more home-grown than that in the South. The one outstanding revivalist to emerge in the North was the centre of our investigation, Mrs Mary Jones of Egryn.
Egryn was a scattered hamlet on the coast of Merionethshire, between Barmouth and Harlech. A local celebrity for three months, and a national wonder for about a week, the reports of the events surrounding Mary Jones’ mission constitute some of the most remarkable accounts of paranormal events in British history.
Mary Jones, a farmer’s wife of 35 when her mission began, is something of a mystery herself. So far as I can tell, her early life was spent at the farmhouse at Islawrfford where she lived throughout the Revival, and is remarked on only for its tragedies. She and her sisters had been left orphans, her own son died at an early age, and four years later her sister also died. At the commencement of the Revival she and her husband had no domestic servants (though a servant girl was later hired when she was away much of the time), and owned only the bleak farmhouse and sparse farmland that can still be seen today to the south-east of Talybont Halt on the coastal railway line. In the British Weekly ( a sort of Christian news review) of 2.3.05, an account is given of Mary Jones speaking of her own spiritual development at a revival meeting in Talybont.
“It had been a work of slow growth, which she attributed to the reflective mood brought about by bitter trials and tribulations. Those bereavements caused her to seek relief in prayer, which continued for 12 years before she felt any constraint to take any prominent part in public worship.”
On 26.1.05 a longer article, perhaps more romanticised, had appeared in the British Weekly, written by the Rev. Elvet Lewis, a regular contributor, under the title, ‘A Mystic of the Revival’. This was also published in the excellent local paper, the Barmouth Advertiser, on 2.2.05. While tending to the dramatic, the tale of seeking and conversion rings true. The article, the product of a meeting with Mrs Jones, reports in part -
“I will give the narrative, so far as my memory serves me, in Mrs Jones’ own terms. She has been religious from her childhood. Some several years ago she lost her little boy, and four years later her only sister. The two had been left orphans, so that the elder had been both mother and sister, and her loss was so severely felt by the younger, that her faith in God was over-clouded. She felt herself hardening against Him more and more; ‘I do not believe’, she said simply, ‘that anyone ever had harder thoughts of Him than I did then’. She lost her taste for the services of the Chapel, for the Bible, for prayer. Her husband was not a member, but a faithful attendant, while she who was a member stayed away more and more.
One Sunday evening, a little over a year ago, she met his request to accompany him with the usual reply; it was no use; there was nothing in the chapel for her. So she remained at home alone. After they had gone, something strongly moved her to ask, ‘Is there no book in this house that can help me?’ There was the Bible, but that had become a blank book. Searching among the few odd volumes in the house, she found Sheldon’s ‘In His Steps’. She began to read listlessly at first, and then with growing interest, almost awe. When her husband came home he was struck by the changed face – a face which had been softened by no tears, lighted by no smiles for months, and now it alternated with both. She told him how the light had come. ‘What would Jesus do?’ was from that night her one question . .”
These are the only accounts I have found of Mary Jones’ own conversion, and of her own early life. It is still true that newspapers are only concerned with what is pertinent to what is news, and it would seem that at the time, nobody thought to investigate further. The first media report of her work, in the Barmouth Advertiser of 15.12.04 is brief. “It is a remarkable thing that at Egryn a lady, who has long been known for her devotion to the cause, has taken the lead, and those who were eye-witnesses admit that no-one could have been better entrusted with it.”
This is slightly expanded the following week. “The Revival at Egryn. At Egryn, the revival has made wonderful strides, close upon 40 converts being enrolled during last week.”
Her remarkable conversion work at the tiny roadside chapel in Egryn, a little dilapidated but still in regular use, is recounted in two sources. Firstly, by the Rev. Elvet Lewis, in the British Weekly article already quoted. The claims and reports of paranormal events are already present -
“She returned to her chapel, and became a most faithful but silent helper, her only public part being the giving out of a hymn. But when the news of the South Wales movement came she was deeply moved, and at last asked her brother, who superintended the mission – or branch chapel – to announce meetings for prayer. She was full of expectation but the first meeting, on a Monday evening, chilled her very heart. However, another was announced for the Thursday. It was better attended, and people took part more readily, she herself making the first attempt.
There was no doubt now about continuing, night after night. She became, without knowing how, the leading worker in these meetings, speaking little, except in prayer and hymn, but possessing an influence that would be almost strange, in winning others to take part, and leading others to Christ. In the daytime she visted and invited – in the evening she had her reward. When the fortnight’s meetings were completed, to the day, fifty-one had been brought to Christ in that rural, thinly populated neighbourhood.”
She gave many a striking incident of this fortnight’s meetings, which I need not chronicle here. She made no reference to the signs, until my friend and I asked her. She answered as simply as if she were speaking about the fire on the hearth that she had seen, almost from the first, each evening, a fire or light, between her and the hills which rise from the marshy shore – a quickly vibrating light, ‘as though full of eyes’ so another described it. It had revealed to her what to expect at the meetings? Yes, without fail. One evening, she had interpreted the sign to mean four converts. But only three responded when the test was made in the crowded little chapel. ‘But there must be four’, she said. No, there could not be: all the rest, except the three who had declared themselves that evening, were already members. ‘But there ought to be four tonight’, she repeated. No fourth could be found till the door of the little vestibule was opened, and one stood there halting between two opinions. The opening of the door, and a kindly word of invitation brought the inquirer inside. The four were completed . . .
She had seen the light hovering over some houses on the hill-tops; she was puzzled, for she thought there was no one in those houses unconverted, or at least out of church membership. But one day she was told by the Wesleyan minister at Barmouth and another friend, who visited her, that there was one old woman in one of the houses, not now on Christ’s side. ‘Ah, that must be it’, she said. The two friends went up, found the woman in concern for her son. Mrs Jones visited her; she became one of the fifty-one in that marvellous fortnight.”
The second article dealing with the early period of Mary Jones’ mission is by one Beriah Evans, a journalist from Caernarvon. His name crops up with an almost disturbing frequency in Revival material, and it is clear that without him the national daily papers would probably not have afforded the Egryn Lights the coverage they actually received. He was clearly adept at selling his work to a number of different outlets at once, and papers as diverse as the Manchester Guardian and the Occult Review depended on him to provide the essential ‘facts’ of the matter of Mary Jones.
However, though his repeated, and no doubt remunerative involvement must be stressed, save for a mild comment in the Manchester Guardian of 16.2.05 that “the evidence Mr Evans now furnishes is not the result of his own observations, but is based on Communications from Reliable Correspondents”, I am unaware of any adverse comment as to his integrity or accuracy. Certainly, no internal inconsistency becomes apparent between his different versions of the same material. Evans was clearly a successful journalist, but that in itself is not reason to doubt his word.
The fullest account Evans wrote of the Revival in North Wales appears in three parts, in the March, April and June 1905 editions of the Occult Review. Similar accounts had already appeared in the Manchester Guardian and the Barmouth Advertiser, but essentially all of Evans’ contributions to the literature can be found in the Occult Review. The March edition includes the following, which begins to delineate the variety of reported phenomena -
“1. The Beatific Visions. It was in the beginning of December last that these were first accorded to Mrs Jones. She had prayed long and earnestly to be allowed to become the accepted medium for spreading the spirit of Revival through Merionethshire, and particularly to be the means of converting her immediate neighbours among whom she had spent her life unnoticed and unnoticing. In the stillness of the night the Saviour appeared to her in bodily form clothed in bright raiment. His message was not encouraging; ‘The work thou seekest,’ he said, ‘has been reserved for another. Go to ____ _____ and tell her that she is called upon to do the work thou seekest.’ Bending, though with a sinking heart, to the heavenly will she sought her friend the next morning and conveyed to her the holy commission. She, in alarm, cried out, ‘Oh, I could never undertake it!’ That evening Mrs Jones attended the little chapel at Egryn, related her vision, told of the proffered commission being refused, and added; ‘She has missed the one opportunity of a lifetime, and my service is accepted’. From that night forth she threw herself into revival work with a zeal and energy that nothing could damp – and with a success beside which, in proportion of converts to the relative population dealt with, even that which accompanies Evan Roberts’ movement in Glamorgan, pales into insignificance. The ethical results are equally marked. The ‘stars’ and ‘lights’ appeared for the first time on the night that Mrs Jones commenced her public mission at Egryn. The star was heralded by a luminous arch, of the character of the ‘Aurora Borealis’, one end resting on the sea, the other on the hill-top (a distance of well over a mile), bathing the little chapel in a flood of soft effulgence. The star soon after appeared, its light flooding the chapel itself. Ever since then, up to the middle of February, the star and the lights have always accompanied Mrs Jones’ mission. The star invariably heralds the lights, and when they come it disappears. The star seemed to rest above particular houses, whose rooves are thrown out in bold relief amidst the surrounding darkness. When this occurs in the Egryn district a convert or converts invariably turns up at the next meeting from that particular house; when it occurs at a distance the house is the one selected for the Revivalist’s temporary lodging. Similarly it glows placidly on the roof of the chapel where her service is held, and when it does so the spiritualcharacter of the meeting is very marked. On two occasions only, so far as I know, has the star or light stopped short of the chapel fixed for the service – and on each occasion the service proved a frost.”
Though the above accounts refer to the early part of the mission, roughly prior to Christmas 1904, neither was published till some weeks after the reported events. Essentially, both statements do little more than rephrase Mary Jones’ own remarks. While it is true that Mrs Jones appeared to be a shy person, not comfortable with pressing what was claimed (she did not allow photos to be taken of her till well into 1905), we can hardly regard either piece as objective reporting. However, it is apparent that by 13.1.05, when the following piece appeared in the Aberystwyth published Cambrian News, the Lights were a matter of common knowledge and interest along this stretch of coast -
“Mrs Mary Jones of Islawrffordd, Dyffryn has raised in Merioneth a wonderful upheaval of religious fervour, which is gathering strength throughout the country. So far she has confined her mission work to the villages between Barmouth and Portmadoc . . . As has been previously stated, she claims to have had spiritual visions, and to have been guided by the unseen power. In her own neighbourhood, she has already been the means of converting scores of people, and carries wherever she goes a remarkable influence which stirs in large congregations a fervid enthusiasm.
Her claims to have had spiritual visions have possibly appeared as a vague thing to sceptical minds, but now her declarations are being confirmed in a strange manner. She has on several occasions called attention to a strange light which she says is frequently seen in the district. To her the light is a divine guidance. It appears about houses where there are converts, and she has gone to these houses to find converts awaiting her visit. This has been regarded as one of her own inspiring thoughts until the light was seen by other people who, though in earnest sympathy with the religious awakening, are not apt to be led by wild imaginations . . . On Thursday night of last week Mrs Jones attended a meeting at Pensarn, where hundreds of people congregated. The chapel can be seen from the railway and as a train, driven by a Machynlleth man, was passing, a strange light was seen shooting out of ten different directions, and then coming together with a loud clap. “Never do I wish to see anything like it again,” said the driver in relating his experience. Both he and his mate saw the light which, since then, has been seen by other people, but in a different form. A strange light was also seen near Towyn.”
Apart from brief mentions in the Cambrian News, Barmouth Advertiser, the Daily News and the Guardian, this story seems, at this stage, to have become something of a ‘sleeper’. There is no reason to think that events did not continue, as when the newspapers and the Society for Psychical Research investigator later sought out material, it was not hard to find. It was the ubiquitous Beriah Evans who provided the spark that really set the story alight. The following account appears in slightly different forms in the Daily News of 9.2.05, under the title ‘A Visit to the Welsh Seeress’, in the Guardian of 9.2.05 as ‘Religious Pathology or Natural Science’, in the Barmouth Advertiser of 16.2.05 under the same title, and also in the Occult Review articles. the version that follows is from the Daily News, with the title of ‘Signs in the Heavens or . . . ?’
“This is a story of midnight visions, of mysterious manifestations, of signs in the heavens, and of portents upon the earth which I myself have seen, and which have been witnessed also by scores of others.
These manifestations, as I have already stated in the Daily News, appear in connection with the mission of a Welsh lady revivalist, Mrs Jones of Egryn, who is becoming celebrated as the Welsh Seeress . . .
When after several hours friendly chat with Mrs Jones in her own house, I rose to leave, she stopped me with the remark: “You had better wait that you may see the light for yourself. It would be a pity for you to go back without seeing it.” I waited, and saw.
After tea, having two miles to walk to the chapel where the service was to be held, it behoved us to be early on the move. Besides myself, there were present the Rev.Llewelyn Morgan, the Rev.Roger Williams, Dyffryn, and one other. Mrs Jones came in dressed for her journey. Going outside, she immediately returned, remarking: “We cannot start yet, the Light has not come.”
Five minutes later she again went out, returning promptly to say: Now we can go. The Light has come”, just as though she said ‘the cab was at the door’.
The announcement was received with a perceptible tremor by one – the only unbelieving member of our company. We had just passed the level-crossing of the Cambrian railway in the fields, when Mrs Jones directed our attention to the southern sky. While she yet spoke, between us and the hills, and apparently two miles away, there suddenly flashed forth an enormous luminous star flashing forth an enormously brilliant white light, and emitting from its whole circumference dazzling sparklets like flashing rays from a diamond.
“It may be the head light of the train?” faintly suggested our doubting Thomas.
“No”, was Mrs Jones’ quiet reply; “it is too high for that.”
Even as she spoke, and as though in corroboration, the star made a sudden huge jump towards the mountains, returning almost immediately to its old position, and then rushing at an immense speed straight for us. Then came the unmistakeable rumbling roar of the train approaching from the direction of Bournemouth.
“I thought it was the train,” came with a sigh of relief from our unbeliever. False hope
“No,” was Mrs Jones’ confident contradiction. “That is not the train light, which has yet to come.”
And a second light, very different in character from the first, became as she spoke perceptible at some distance below the star, both obviously rushing towards us. As the train drew nearer the ‘star’ disappeared. With a rush and a roar the train was past. But before our Thomas’ sigh of thankfulness at the disappearance of the star was well out the mysterious star reappeared nearer, and if possible more brilliant than ever. Then it vanished as suddenly as it had first appeared.
“Wait!” was Mrs Jones quiet injunction. In a moment, high up on the hillside, quite two miles away from where the ‘star’ had been a moment previously, a ‘light’ again flashed out, illuminating the heather as though bathed in brilliant sunshine. Again it vanished – only again to reappear a mile further north evidently circling the valley, and in the direction for which we were bound. But our experience was to be stranger still before we got to the meeting.
So far the ‘light’ and ‘star’ had been equally visible to and seen alike by the five who formed our company. Now it made a distinction. Having left the fields and proceeded some distance along the main road, all five walking abreast, I suddenly saw three brilliant rays of dazzling white light stride across the road from mountain to sea, throwing the stone wall into bold relief, every stone and interstice, every little fern and bit of moss, as clearly visible as at noonday, or as though a searchlight had been turned on that particular spot. There was not a living soul near, nor a house from which the light could have come.
Another short half-mile, and a blood-red light, apparently within a foot of the ground, appeared to me in the centre of the village street just before us. I said nothing until we had reached the spot. The redlight had disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come – and there was absolutely nothing which could conceivably account for its having been there a moment before.
“Mrs Jones,” I said – and this was the first intimation the three other members of the party had of what I had seen – “unless I am mistaken, your light still acompanies us.”
“Yes,” she calmly replied. I kept silent on both occasions to see whether any of you had perceived it for yourselves. The first time you know it was white; but I have seen it sometimes blood-red, as you saw it now!”
I had not told Mrs Jones what the nature of the Lights I had seen was, but no sooner had I intimated that I had seen the Light than she described the two appearances precisely as I have described them above, thus establishing beyond question the fact that we had both seen the self-same manifestation. Those are the simple facts. I offer no comment on them. I only state what I saw.”
Suddenly, the story was alive and important; editors realised that this was an attractive and intriguing business; only the Times declined to mention Mary Jones and the Lights. The other newspapers responded in different ways. The Mail and the Mirror both sent correspondents who had, like Beriah Evans, remarkable experiences of the Lights. these became the more remarkable bearing in mind that it is very rare to seek out a phenomenon and actually experience it; but then, it was the news-men who had the experiences – the investigators were singularly unsuccessful. The Mirror reporter did not have the report he wanted published. The following is from an account he sent to the Society for Psychical Research -
“The meeting, which was marked by many of the signs of religious exaltation which characterise the meetings of Evan Roberts, ended at 10.30pm, and I then told Mrs Jones how anxious I was to see the light for myself, and she said she would pray that it might appear to me. I made arrangements to drive back behind her carriage. Both drivers consented to drive without lights. In the first carriage were Mrs Jones and three ladies, in my own with me, the Daily Mirror photographer, a keen witted, hard headed Londoner. The weirdness of that drive in semi-darkness at breakneck speed by river and mountain round deadly corners and down precipitous hills, I shall never forget. For three miles we drove in silence, and I had given up hope. It was close on midnight, and we were nearing Barmouth when suddenly, without the faintest warning, a soft shimmering radiance flooded the road at our feet. Immediately it spread around us, and every stick and stone within twenty yards was visible, as if under the influence of the softest limelight. It seemed as though some large body between earth and sky had suddenly opened and emitted a flood of light from within itself. It was a little suggestive of the bursting of a firework bomb – and yet wonderfully different. Quickly as I looked up, the light was even then fading away from the sky overhead. I looked up to see an oval mass of grey, half open, disclosing within a kernel of white light. As I looked it closed, and everything was once again in darkness. Every one saw this extraordinary light, but while it appeared to me of snowy whiteness, the rest declared it was a brilliant blue. Mrs Jones considered it a direct answer to her prayer. Is there any possible explanation? Was it a flash of summer lightning? No lightning I saw ever took that form, and the idea was laughed to scorn by others.”
Unfortunately, this report is not dated, but as most of the interest from the national daily papers ran from the 9th to the 20th of February, I think we can place it somewhere between those dates. The Daily Mail reporter had perhaps the most exciting time of anyone in the accounts we have to hand, and he conveys an excellent impression of this part of the coast -
“Lights of unknown origin and dazzling brightness are shining out by night on the hillside above the little chapel of Egryn, in North Wales. The people of the countryside, keenly alive to superstitious influences, regard the strange lights with steadfast faith and calmness, believing them to be material signs from heaven in connection with the Revival.
Two months ago, the Revival spirit touched the little Merionethshire village of Egryn, roused much fervour in the village, and gathered many converts. Soon after this local revival began, rumours were afloat that strange lights were to be seen in the sky when Mrs Jones went abroad, that sometimes they accompanied her to the place of worship she was visiting, that they were always to be seen when she was preaching, and that they made their most frequent appearances over the chapel at Egryn where the revival started. It was freely stated that these lights were never seen before in the locality, and were divine manifestations. Dismissed at first as mere superstitious rumours, the reports grew in exactness, and eventually unbiased visitors had to confess that the mysterious lights were indeed a fact, and that they could give no explanation of their cause. In these circumstances a special correspondent of the Daily Mail was sent to investigate the matter, and here is his tale:
Walk in the Moonlight
“I arrived at Barmouth, four miles from Egryn, on Friday afternoon, and in the early evening walked along the hillside road past the Egryn Chapel to the lonely farmhouse of Mr and Mrs Jones, half a mile beyond Egryn. In the moonlight lay a scattered hamlet of half a dozen houses at the foot of black, precipitous hills. The range of hills ran parallel with the murmuring sea, and in the lonely strip of meadow between the hills and the sea I found the home of Mrs Jones. She was away that night, preaching at a distant village. I walked on to Dyffryn, two miles away, keeping an eye on the hills and lonely countryside for lights. I saw none. Country people that I met told me, “Yes, they had often seen the lights – they were messages from Heaven”. I came back from Dyffryn to Barmouth later that night, but saw not a single light.
In the broad daylight of Saturday morning I went again to the lonely farmhouse home of Mrs Jones, and found a pleasant-spoken well informed countrywoman of 35, her hair touched with grey, her brown eyes alive with the light of the enthusiast.
She did not associate the lights particularly with herself, she said, although it was true they had been seen during the time she was on her way to the chapel but, she added with low-voiced intensity, she knew they were heaven-sent, and that they were connected with the revival.
At 7 o’clock that evening I was on my way through Egryn, watching the black hillsides. I walked to Dyffryn, and back again across the lonely meadows, and still saw nothing. At 8 o’clock I had decided the whole thing was a local superstition.
Half an hour later my views had changed. At 8.15pm I was on the hillside, walking from Dyffryn to Egryn. In the distance, about a mile away, I could see the three lighted windows of the tiny Egryn chapel, where service was going on. It was the only touch of light in the miles of countryside. Suddenly at 8.20pm I saw what appeared to be a ball of fire above the roof of the chapel. It came from nowhere, and sprang into existence simultaneously. It had a steady, intense yellow brilliance, and did not move.
Not sure whether or not I was deceiving myself, I called to a man 100 yards down the road, and asked him if he could see anything. He came running to me excitedly, and said, “Yes, yes, above the chapel. The great light.” He was a countryman, and trembling with emotion.
What the Lights are Like
We watched the light together. It seemed to me to be at twice the height of the chapel, say fifty feet, and it stood out with electric vividness against the encircling hills behind. Suddenly it disappeared, having lasted about a minute and a half.
I leaned against the stone wall by the wayside, and waited for further developments, the countryman leaving me and making his way alone. Again the chapel windows were the only lights in all the countryside. The minutes crept by and it was 8.35pm before I saw anything else. then two lights flashed out , one on each side of the chapel. they seemed about 100 feet apart, and considerably higher in the air than the first one. In the night it was difficult to judge distance, but I made a rough guess that they were 100 feet above the roof of the chapel. They shone out brilliantly and steadily for a space of thirty seconds. Then they both began to flicker like a defective arc-lamp.
They were flickering like that while one could count ten. Then they became steady again. In the distance they looked like large and brilliant motor-car lights. They disappeared within a couple of seconds of each other.
After this it was suggested that the lights would not appear again till Mrs Jones, who was driving back from her service at Bontddu, was on her way home. I set off to walk the four miles to Barmouth, stopping here and there for ten minutes to watch for fresh lights. The meadows and the open sea were whitened by the moonlight, the rocky hillsides alone were black. There was no house in sight, and the only sound was the continuous, low-voiced gurgle of the water on the shore. Just after half-past ten I was startled by a flash on the dark hillside immediately on my left, and looking up I saw I was comparatively close to one of the strange lights. It was about 300 feet up the hillside, and about 500 feet from where I stood. It shone out dazzlingly, not with a white brightness, but with a deep yellow brightness. It looked a solid bulb of light six inches in diameter, and was tiring to look at.
I ran at the stone wall by the side of the road, climbed it, and made a run for the light. It was gone before I had covered a dozen yards, and I could find nothing but the bare hillside. When I reached the road again I looked back along the way I had come, and saw in the roadway near the Egryn Chapel another of the bright lights.
That is, baldly, what I saw. The lights are probably capable of some natural explanation, but I give the coincidences for what they are worth. There is a little strip of marshy land close to Mrs Jones’ house, and thinking of the will o’ the wisp I asked if the lights had ever been seen here. I was told no. They were always seen on the hills in the neighbourhood of the chapel.”
We will come later to the comments of the Daily Mail investigator, Bernard Redwood, as we will to the intelligent appraisal of the phenomena by ‘A Visitor’ in the Guardian. However, at this point Beriah Evans produces a further report to sustain interest in the phenomena. Again, he does so in slightly different forms in different publications. The version quoted here appears in the Daily News of 16.2.05, but similar accounts were published in the Guardian of the same date and, later, the Occult Review. This is the piece that the Guardian reasonably pointed out was wholly secondhand – none of the events were witnessed by Evans himself -
CARNARVON Wednesday Night
“The scientific investigations now being conducted at Egryn into the source of the mysterious lights detailed in my article a week ago may materially assist in establishing valuable data for further consideration, but if they proceed on the assumption that the manifestations are confined to Egryn Valley, they must prove inconclusive and necessarily misleading.
In closing my article, I said Mrs Jones was proceeding far afield, mentioning centres she proposed visiting, and expressing anticipatory doubt whether lights would accompany her on her distant missions. Communications now received from reliable correspondents establish the essential fact that these manifestations have accompanied her mission to the most distant places yet visited. At Bontddu, near Dolgelly, on Saturday, the brilliant effulgence of a star paled the lights of the room she occupied. Returning homewards after a meeting, her carriage was suddenly bathed in mysterious light descending from a radiant ball in the heavens. Many Barmouth people witnessed this as they were rushing to meet the carriage on entering the town.
On the preceding night, at Bryncrug, between Towyn and Abergynolwyn, twenty-five miles from Dyffryn, the chapel where the meeting was held became bathed in mysterious light. After the meeting a professional gentleman returning homeward suddenly saw a gigantic figure rising over a hedgerow, with right arm extended over the road. Then a ball of fire appeared above, a long white ray descended and pierced the figure, which vanished. This extraordinary manifestation was witnessed simultaneously by a prominent local farmer from another standpoint.
A party of youths returning from a Bryncrug meeting saw a ball of fire preceding them high above the road. Hastening forward they overtook the light, which then remained still. They knelt in the roadway, bathed in this mysterious light, and united in prayer, while the light remained stationary.”
Slightly different in tone to the above account is the following, from the Manchester Guardian of 17.2.05. It seems to hint that the phenomena might not all be related directly to the Revival.
The Movements of a Mysterious Star
“Mr R Bowen, the stationmaster at Towyn, yesterday stated to a correspondent that he had seen in the Manchester Guardian that Mr Beriah Evans claimed to have seen a luminous star which made a dart towards the hills of Dyffryn, and other erratic movements. The star was observed by Mr Bowen about a month ago. It is a large, luminous body, with 3 large sparklets emanating from it, apparently about a foot in diameter, similar to that observed round the moon, (this seems to refer to a yellowish ring seen around it) and generally accepted as an indication of a coming storm. One night it remained practically in the same position from 6.30 to 7.50pm When sought for again, it had travelled in 12 minutes from a point opposite Towyn to the North-West, and stood opposite, as far as he could judge, Bardsey Island. On Monday night the star was kept under observation through a telescope by Mr Bowen, and it travelled nearer to the land at 10.30pm. When opposite Harlech, as near as he could guess, it suddenly disappeared, and although watched for some time did not reappear. The night was clear, with a frost in the air. He added that the observations here recorded were made on clear, bright, calm nights. The star is not to be seen on cloudy or wet nights. What connection the star has with Mrs Jones’ mission Mr Bowen did not pretend to say. He made these observations before he knew that such a connection was claimed for it.”
For the national newspapers (and I believe that the Sunday Chronicle, to which I have not had access, also afforded the events some coverage) this seems to have been the whole of the original material representing the phenomena as paranormal. However, though nationally it had been almost exactly a nine-day wonder, the local papers continued their coverage. This account, from the Cambrian News of 17.2.05, refers to the events of the same Saturday night covered by the Daily Mirror reporter -
“A thing of greater wonder still is the appearance of strange lights in Merionethshire which have been seen in different forms and different places by men of intelligence and trustworthiness. When the light does not appear, the meetings Mrs Jones attends are cold and unsympathetic, and she can give no explanation for the light except that it signifies the divine power and inspiration with which she has been blessed.
The light was distinctly observed on Sunday evening when Mrs Jones was driving home from Bontddu, and it appeared to envelope the carriage which she occupied, although she herself at first thought it was the illumination of a bicycle lamp coming behind. This phenomenon was witnessed by a special correspondent who had requested Mrs Jones to extinguish the carriage lights but, together with other explorers, he confessed himself bewildered, and those who pride themselves on being free from superstition and supernatural notions have acknowledged that there must be something unnatural.”
After this, as will be seen, the Cambrian News started to take a different attitude to Mary Jones and the paranormal events of the Revival, and the continuing story was left to the Barmouth Advertiser. In a way, the reports are surprisingly sparse, considering their subject-matter, but I rather suspect that by March 1905 the whole business was becoming something of and embarrassment to the respectable society of the Barmouth area. Perhaps that is why such reports as were published were less credulous than before. Three reports follow – the last seems particularly valuable. The first, again by Beriah G Evans, appeared in the Barmouth Advertiser of 23.3.05. For once, witnesses are clearly identified:
“The Rev. H D Jones, Baptist minister of Llys Iolyn, Llanbedr RSO Merionethshire, has just given me particulars of a remarkable personal experience of these lights in connection with Mrs Jones’ mission. I give here his statement in full, with the names and addresses to authenticate it:
“Mrs Jones was holding a revival meeting at a Methodist schoolroom, Ty’n-y-Drain, a mile and a half from Llanbedr in the direction of the mountains. We had a most effective meeting, Mrs Jones being at her best. A local farmer, Mr Morris Jones, Uwch-law’r-Coed, drove Mrs Jones back to her home at Egryn, there being three others also in the car. I, in company with Mr and Mrs Hugh Jones, Bryn Hyfryd, Llanbedr, followed on foot a short distance behind the vehicle. It was about 11 o’clock at night, Monday, March 13th, with a little drizzling rain, but not very dark. Mrs Jones had previously assured us that the ‘Lights’ had accompanied her there that night, though none of us had seen them.
After proceeding some distance the mysterious ‘light’ suddenly appeared above the roadway, a few yards in front of the car, around which it played and danced, sometimes in front, at other times behind Mrs Jones’ vehicle. When we reached the crossroads where the road to Egryn makes a sharp turn to the left, the ‘Light’, on reaching this point, instead of following the road we had travelled and going straight on as might have been expected, at once turned and made its way in the direction of Egryn in front of the car!
Up to this point it had been a single ‘light’ but after proceeding some distance on the Egryn road, it changed. A small red ball of fire appeared, around which danced two other attendant white lights. The red fire ball remained stationary for some time, the other ‘lights’ playing around it. Meanwhile the car conveying Mrs Jones proceeded onwards, leaving the ‘lights’ behind. These then suddenly again combined in one, and made a rapid dash after the car, which it again overtook and preceded. For over a mile did we thus keep it in view. Mr and Mrs Hugh Jones were together the whole time, and saw what I have described, and we are each prepared to make sworn testimony to that effect if desired.” Replying to questions I put to him, the Rev.Jones said he had frequently travelled that road before, late at night, but had never seen any such ‘light’ there before. He had made inquiries of respectable farmers, lifelong residents of the neighbourhood, and they all affirmed the same thing.”
The second report is from the edition of 20.4.05, an article titled, ‘The Merionethshire Seeress – the Lights seen at Wrexham.” It would seem to be by a staff writer -
“This week Mrs Mary Jones of Egryn, the ‘Merionethshire Seeress’, is conducting revival meetings in the Wrexham district. Some of the women present at the afternoon meeting on Monday declare that they saw a light hovering over the head of Mrs Jones while she was speaking and praying.
At the evening meeting, during the time she delivered a very powerful address, and while she offered a most earnest prayer, the ‘lights’ were seen by a large number of people in the chapel. The first was a flash like lightning while she delivered the first part of her address; a second flash appeared when she began in her address to describe the ‘lights’ in the Egryn district, and a third flash was seen when she was praying. She said in the course of her address that the ‘lights’ had appeared wherever she had visited, with two exceptions, and now she knew that she had not been divinely guided to go to those places where the lights did not follow her. The visit of Mrs Jones, followed by the lights, has created quite a sensation in the district.”
A report of an investigation by apparently responsible witnesses, from the Barmouth Advertiser of 27.4.05. The places mentioned are in the area of Llangollen:
“Mrs Jones told a correspondent she had seen the lights at Pontcysyllte, Cefn Mawr and Vroncysyllte. The ‘lights’ appeared over several cottages in Vroncysyllte in which were persons who were spiritually troubled . . .
To test the claims of the seeress, a party consisting of the Revs Huw Parry, Congregational Minister, Acrefair, A Lloyd-Hughes, Wesleyan Minister, Cefn Mawr, and Thomas Jones, of Vroncysyllte was organised and visited the ‘infected’ area at ii.30pm on Wednesday night.
Interviewed on Friday afternoon, Mr Parry said, ‘We posted ourselves on the north end of the Pontcysyllte (Agueduct) at 11.30pm, and watched continuously for over an hour over the valley of the Dee, and particularly over some fields near the Argoed farm. Twice I distinctly noticed a large ball of fire rise from the earth and suddenly burst luridly. On the third occasion I saw a similar light travelling towards Vroncysyllte.’ Mr Hughes, who was also interviewed gave corroborative evidence of the third manifestation, and all three persons stated that they saw the lights twice afterwards. Mr Hughes says the light resembled electricity. It rose from the earth, and was certainly not sheet lightning. He was certain it was no light from any carriage, as no conveyances were about at midnight. Mr Parry added that all thre were sceptical at first, but they returned to their respective homes thoroughly satisfied that some mysterious phenomenon had appeared in their midst simultaneously with the visit of the seeress.”
The only serious and protracted enquiry made at the time of the Revival was that conducted by the Society for Psychical Research. The major part of this enquiry, which was organised by the Rev.A T Fryer, a member of the SPR Council, was a postal questionnaire. While this produced a considerable response, and while the Rev.Fryer displayed great perception in his discussion of the events in the SPR Proceedings of December 1905, the frequent anonymity of the reports, and their vague dating both present significant problems. The accounts are, however, worth quoting at length. These letters were sent in response to questionnaires distributed by the Rev.Fryer.
1. From Mary Jones herself, on 16.1.05 -
“I have seen the light every night from the beginning of the Revival, about six weeks ago. Sometimes it appears like a motor-car lamp flashing and going out, and injures nothing at all; other times like two lamps and tongues of fire all round them, going out in one place, and lighting again in another place far-off sometimes; other times a quick flash and going out immediately, and when the fire goes out a vapour of smoke comes in its place; also a rainbow of vapour and a very bright star.” I asked if they had been seen by anyone who had not been converted and the answer was yes. She said that the lights were always seen out of doors, and at about six o’clock in the evening.”
2. A young woman of some education wrote (4.2.05). I saw the light you refer to one night at the beginning of January (between 10 and 10.30pm). At first I saw two very bright lights, about half a mile away (it was between Dyffryn and Llanbedr) one a big white light, the other smaller and red in colour. The latter flashed backwards and forwards, and finally seemed to have become merged in the other. Then all was darkness again. It did not appear in the same place again, but a few minutes after we saw another light which seemed to be a few yards above the ground. It looked like one big flame, and all around it seemed like one big glare of light. It flamed up and went out alternately for about ten minutes, very much in the same way as some lighthouses.”
3. “It was hovering above a certain farmhouse, and it appeared to me as three lamps almost three yards apart, in the shape of a Prince of Wales’ feathers, very brilliant and dazzling, moving and jumping like a sea-wave under the influence of the sun on a very hot day. The light continued so for ten minutes. All my family saw it at the same time. It was 10.40 at the time.”
4. An account, originally in Welsh, from Mr J.J. of D – - – (possibly Dyffryn), Merionethshire. Dated January 1905: “In reference to the fire concerning which you wrote to me. There are several here who have seen it in varying forms – sometimes near Chapel Egryn, sometimes on the roof thereof, and sometimes some half mile or more from the place. When I saw it, it was about half a mile from the chapel, and about a mile from where I stood. That was about 5 o’clock in the evening. The first form in which it appeared to me was that of a pillar of clear fire quite perpendicular. It was about 2 feet wide, and about three yards in height. Suddenly another small fire began by its side some two yards distant from the first pillar, and increased rapidly until it assumed the same size and form as the other two pillars. So there were three pillars of the same size and form. And as I gazed upon them I saw two arms of fire extending upwards from the top of each of the pillars. The three pillars and their arms assumed exactly the same shape and remained so for about a minute or two. As I looked towards the sky I saw smoke ascending from the pillars, and immediately they began to disappear. Their disappearance was equally swift with their growth. It was a gradual disappearance; the fire became small and went out. I thought they were natural fire, but it was a very wonderful fire. I never saw fire the same as it in my life – three pillars or columns of the same measure and of exactly the same shape and equidistant from each other. I do not propose to offer any kind of explanation. I leave that to you.”
5. From Mr L.M. of H – - – (Harlech?) “The night which I am going to relate you my experience was Saturday evening, March 25th, 1905, when Mrs Jones, the evangelist of Egryn, was conducting a service in the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel at Llanfair, a place about a mile and a half from Harlech, on the main road between Barmouth and Harlech.
My wife and myself went down that night specially to see if the light accompanied Mrs Jones from outside Egryn. We happened to reach Llanfair about 9.15pm. It was a rather damp evening. In nearing the chapel, which can be seen from a distance, we saw balls of light, deep red, ascending from one side of the chapel, the side which is in a field. There was nothing in this field to cause this phenomenon, ie. no houses, etc. After that we walked to and fro on the main road for nearly two hours without seeing any light except from a distance in the direction of Llanbedr. This time it appeared brilliant, ascending high into the sky from amongst the trees where lives the well-known Rev.C.E. the distance between us and the lightwhich appeared this time was about a mile. Then about eleven o’clock when the service which Mrs Jones conducted was brought to a close, two balls of light ascended from the same place and of a similar appearance to those we saw first. In a few minutes afterwards Mrs Jones was passing us home in her carriage, and in a few seconds after she passed, on the main road, and within a yard of us, there appeared a brilliant light twice, tinged with blue. In two or three seconds, after this disappeared, on our right hand, within 150 or 200 yards, there appeared twice very huge balls of similar appearance as that which appeared on the road. It was so brilliant and powerful this time that we were dazed for a minute or two. Then immediately there appeared ascending from a field high into the sky, three balls of light, deep red. Two of these appeared to split up, while the middle one remained unchanged. Then we left for home, having been watching these last phenomena for a quarter of an hour. Perhaps I ought to say that I had an intense desire to see the light this night for a special purpose; in fact, I prayed for it, not as a mere curiosity, but for an higher object, which I need not mention. Some will ridicule this idea, but I have great faith in prayer.”
6. A report from a professional man, Dr.R.J.M. of Tylorstown, of an incident on 27.5.05.
“About 10pm on Saturday night I was coming home with Mrs M. when she drew my attention to a bright light which could be seen over the Libanus (C.M.) chapel, towards the side of the mountain. It appeared as a ball of fire about the size of a cheese plate; it was perfectly fixed. As soon as I saw it I marked its position, in order to be sure that it could not be due to some one with a light on the road which passes over the mountain, but its position was far enough away from the road.
I then looked towards Stanley Town – which is on the same side of the mountain in another direction, and which is nearer to the place I was standing – in order to compare the lights from the gas lamps on the road. There was no comparison between the lights, as the gas lamps were not nearly so brilliant as this light, and the light I saw was of more reddish colour. It remained fixed in the same position for about three minutes, and then disappeared instantaneously. Mrs Jones was in the chapel at the time, holding the meeting. I may say that I was not thinking of the light at the time.”
7. From the Rev. E. W. E. Report of incidents witnessed by him and his wife after attending a meeting with Mrs Jones, on 24.5.05. “It appeared to us in the form of a column of fire about two feet wide and several feet high, quite distinct, and of the tint of a fiery vapour. After looking at the column for a second or two, then some bright balls of fire appeared in the column near its base, then these brilliant balls would burst and disappear upwards. Then the column would disappear, but in a moment would appear again in the same form, in the very same spot, and then the balls would appear in the column, and the balls burst and disappear upwards in the same way. This we distinctly saw six times. It was, as nearly as we could judge, about 12.45 on Thursday morn, May 25th, and lasted in all about three minutes.”
8. Two reports from a multi-witness incident at Ynysybwl, near Pontypridd, Glam., on 23.7.05. Chronologically, this is the latest report we have of this type of event. It occurred some three weeks after Mary Jones’ mission there, but it may be reasonable to associate it with her. Apparently, the percipients of this event were at the time involved in a spontaneous prayer-meeting, begun while returning from a more formal one on the mountain-side.
“The manner in which the lights appeared to me at the Robert Town Hotel Square was as follows: firstly, there appeared in the heavens a very large and bright ball of fire. It was of a much more brilliant lustre than an ordinary star – very much the colour of a piece of iron white-heated. It had two brilliant arms which protruded towards the earth. Between these arms there protruded a further light or lights resembling a cluster of stars, which seemed to be quivering with varying brightness. This was its form when I saw it, but others who had seen it before had noticed it growing from smaller dimensions. It lasted for ten minutes or more.”
“The manner in which it appeared to me was, firstly, a ball of misty light in the heavens about 7 or 8 inches in diameter. It was very misty when it appeared first to me, then it got very much brighter, and as its brilliancy became indescribable, the ball grew very much larger and forming an oval shape, it quivered and glittered very much. Then there appeared to be two great long streaks of misty light coming from the ball forming something like the shape drawn; those almost reached the earth.”
It is perhaps worth mentioning that the participants in this Ynysybwl incident were at the time involved in a spontaneous prayer-meeting, begun while returning from a more formal one on the mountainside.
Though limited by the available technology, attempts at scientific investigation were made, and reported by the newspapers:
“Three lonely watchers stood on the mist-swept slopes of the Egryn Hills throughout Monday night waiting for the lights which the local people believed to come from heaven. They were the two special commissioners and the special correspondent from the Daily Mail.
Powerful glasses ranged the hillsides black with night, but never was there a sign of a light appearing except from the two windows of the little Egryn Chapel a mile away, where worshippers were praying and singing with ecstatic fervour.
“Ah, said an old Welshman, you won’t see the light tonight, for Mrs Mary Jones has gone away.” It was true, we did not see the lights, telegraphs our special correspondent, and it was also true that Mrs Jones was away, but it is only the local villagers who connect the two facts. Mrs Jones, whom the lights are said to follow, had gone to a village fifteen miles away. She is not expected back till tomorrow, but numbers of people believe that the neighbourhood of her residence will continue to be the scene of the lights, in spite of her temporary absence.
Along the lonely road between the hills and the sea scores of devout watchers waited for the lights, but throughout all the dark hours there was no sign of the now well-known balls of fire. Outside the little Egryn Chapel some of the watchers joined in the hymns which were being sung within. On the hillside our long watch was varied by the following incidents, described by Mr Redwood:
“It was growing dusk when my assistant and I had completed our installation on the lonely hillside. The spot we finally selected had been pointed out to us as the scene of the most frequent occurrences of the mysterious ‘Lights’. We were employing most delicate instruments capable of being influenced by any extraordinary electrical condition of the atmosphere, however small. We therefore felt confident that if these ‘lights’ had an electrical origin we should be able to detect it.
It grew darker and the moon, which had hitherto been giving us welcome assistance by its rays, was completely obscured. Rain was now falling heavily, and the situation began to strike us as uncomfortable. For some time we employed ourselves in testing our ‘lines’, and were pleased to find that we obtained a notable deflection of our instruments by means of one small battery, thus proving our insulation.
The hours passed slowly, and the weather improved, but no abnormal manifestations were visible. The lights shone steadily from the windows of the little chapel at Egryn. we had again tested our ‘line’which we did at intervals throughout the night, using a somewhat powerful electric hand lamp, when we became aware of two figures breasting the hillside at headlong speed.
I walked some distance towards them with the lamp in my hand and, calling out, asked who they were. Giving no answer they rapidly separated, one on each side of me, and rushed straight at our apparatus. I gave chase and arrived in time to see one of the men on his knees before our instruments, taking a snapshot with a camera by the light of a bulls-eye lantern.
“Thought I’d tree’d Mrs Jones’ lights”, he gasped breathlessly and, jumping to his feet, tore on up the hill.
After this diversion time dragged on heavily again, and we had given up all hopes of seeing any abnormal illuminations, when suddenly in the northern sky a brilliant flash appeared, and shortly afterwards a second one, the first flash being followed by a distinct report. This light appeared momentarily, and did not seem to partake of the characteristics of lightning, but was peculiarly like the illumination produced by a magnesium flash lamp. Our delicate instruments did not respond in the slightest degree, and what these flashes really were it is impossible to conjecture.”
Next, a piece from the Daily News of 15.2.05. Mr Castell-Evans has not returned to Wales for the occasion, and takes a different approach to Mr Redwood and his electricity:
‘A Luminous Mystery – Possible Clues to Welsh Lights’
“Before the supernatural basis of the strange lights which are being seen in connection with the revival work of Mrs Mary Jones in and about Egryn, Merioneth, will be generally accepted, evert possible natural solution of the mystery must first be considered. Even those who have seen these mysterious lights and believe that they are manifestations direct from Heaven, are anxious to have every clue to their nature exhausted, in order that their meaning may then be investigated and made evident.
In the course of an interview yesterday afternoon Mr J Castell-Evans, who is a professor of Chemistry at the City of London Technical College, Finsbury, told a number of remarkable experiences. Mr Castell-Evans is himself a North Welshman, and knows the district of Llanegryn intimately.
“When I was a youth at home near Bala Lake, in the Valley of the Dee,” said this well known scientist, “I saw many lights the nature of which was firmly believed by all the local people to be supernatural. On three occasions I broke one of those lights into pieces, and greatly horrified those who witnessed what they felt was a sacrilegious act.”
“One night my elder brother and I were out salmon spearing up a brook which runs into Bala Lake. In the solemn silence of the night, broken only by the trickle of the stream and the occasional splash of a leaping salmon, we came upon a young love-sick farmer, who was hiding behind a bush watching the distant lights in the windows of his sweetheart’s home. Before he had recovered from the scare our sudden appearance gave him we all three saw in the distance a great ball of light coming directly for us, dancing over the brook, and spinning round in circles in the most fearsome and uncanny fashion. Our young farmer friend nearly fainted with fright, and could barely stand. My brother also was considerably upset, and I don’t mind confessing that I, too, felt uncomfortable. the others wanted to bolt; but I said, “No, let’s wait, and whatever it is I mean to have a cut at it.”
By everything holy his memory could recall, the young farmer implored me to do nothing so impious. He was over thirty years of age at the time, and I was a lad. He really believed that something terrible would happen to us if we dared to interfere with this awful portent. But when the ball of light came near enough, I picked up a big pebble and took careful aim. My shot went right through it, and the ball broke into a thousand little pieces. My brother and friend hid themselves.
A few moments later the little pieces joined together again; and once more the ball of light went dancing down over the course of the stream. It was nothing but a cluster of luminescent insects.. Till the day of his death my friend believed that it was a supernatural light.
Catching a Ghost
Such insects are common in the marshy districts of Wales during the Autumn. As you walk over the ground your footsteps become luminous. When I first took my wife to see the old home she was greatly alarmed. her very boots seemed to become on fire.
One of my father’s men, while blasting some rock, met with a fatal accident. He had been working alone, so no one knew until the next day when his body was found. The spot at once became haunted by his ghost in the form of a strange light. Some of us tried to catch it, thinking some scoundrel was playing a wicked trick upon us. But the faster we ran the faster it glided away from us, keeping always just out of our reach.
Eventually I succeeded in persuading a number of the bolder young fellows to join in a circle round the ghost and close in on it. When we got close enough I put out my hand. The thing was cold. It gave me a nasty shudder. It broke into little bits as I touched it. Then we all bolted. But the ghost was nothing but phosphorescent insects. Later I came across, and momentarily dispersed another ball. They are greatly dreaded by the superstitious. Few of the people who see them will believe they are natural . . .
Unfortunately I am unable to get down into Wales just now, so I cannot, much to my regret, make any investigation of Mrs Jones’ light. I wish I could, because the Celtic nature is so prone to jump at the supernatural as the only explanation of anything which is unusual that I should like to investigate the mystery on the spot, and see whether a natural explanation cannot be found . . . ”
The Daily News report concludes, “At Llanegryn the people are now highly strung and expectant. Mrs Jones is highly strung by religious emotion. Even by unconscious volition it would be possible for her to make the greater part of a vast crowd see the light that is spoken of. By unconscious volition I mean that she would be quite unaware of the fact that she was using or even possessed of this influence.”
The Manchester Guardian of 14.2.05 features perhaps the best of the newspaper investigations. The lengthy article, entitled ‘Fire without and within’, and credited to ‘A Visitor’, ends with conclusions that the Revival does not need the Lights, and that the Lights may not necessarily depend upon the Revival. Surprisingly imaginative as these ideas are, his (or her!) more material investigations are important:
“Until two months ago, Mrs Jones never had a domestic servant . . “I am always going to meetings now,” she said, “and I have to get a servant girl to do the work in the house.” . .
While everybody speaks of Mrs Jones with great respect, a good many of her neighbours smile when the Lights are mentioned. They have not seen them, though they are always sweeping the heaven with their eyes. One man saw two arc-like lights one night which were neither stars nor lamp-lights but may, he thinks, have been produced in some oblique way by the rays of the moon. “I have often seen Mrs Jones driving to Revival meetings,” said the same man, “but I have never seen any lights attending her, save the lights of her trap.” A woman who thoroughly believes in the lights says she saw a large star one evening as she was going into chapel, “Nearly as big as the moon – well, not quite so big, and a bluish colour.” It had disappeared when she came out of the chapel two hours later. This woman’s husband saw a much stranger thing one night. There was a great light in the sky, and in front of it there were two legs, as of a man, but nothing more . . .
Taking the existence of the lights to be admitted – and there seems to be abundant evidence – it may be hoped that some competent enquiry will be directed as to their cause. Has the St Tudwal lighthouse, on the other side of Tremadoc Bay, anything to do with them? Or have any experiments in the atmosphere been undertaken within the last two months which might have some such unlooked-for results – perhaps at a distance? As against the purely physical character of the lights, they are said at the same time to be visible to some and invisible to others.”
Finally in our reports of the Egryn Lights themselves, an account of a different kind of investigation from the Occult Review.
“Police-Constable Jones of Duffryn, with commendable zeal, endeavoured to apprehend the light as a disturber of the King’s Peace. His evidence is to the effect that on his late night beat he saw a light flashing on the road, and then resting on the top of a wall, and radiating in all directions. There also arose from the top of the wall three columns of fire of brilliant copper-colour, each of them about three feet in height, and about three feet wide. When he approached, they disappeared.”
It seems reasonable, as I have done, to group together all the similar phenomena – lights, stars, flashes, firework effects, etc – that occurred in the geographical vicinity of Mary Jones, or in circumstances that seem to relate directly to her influence, or the belief of others in her. It is not so easy to categorise the many other signs and visions – most, though not all of a fairly conventional religious nature – that were reported throughout Wales during this period. The ‘Egryn Lights’ gain some credibility from the marked internal consistency of reports over a fairly long period and in different towns and villages. The same cannot be said of the accounts which follow, to which it is hardly possible to attribute a pattern or consistency of any but the most Fortean kind. Of course, psychics, mystics and ecstatics continue to have these kinds of experiences irrespective of Revivals or any other special circumstances. With a few obvious exceptions, there is no way of telling which cases are a product of the Revival, and which might have happened anyway. It is clear that the Revival caused journalists and others to actively seek out experiences that would in other circumstances have probably gone unnoticed and unreported.
These are almost all single-witness accounts, which can only be judged from two, very different starting points. Firstly, the reputation of the witnesses – for honesty, sobriety, accuracy and so on – and secondly, in the context of other reports of anomalous events before and since, which frequently echo these accounts from 1904 and 1905. The point must also be made that both religion and reporters tend to attract cranks and attention-seekers. All we have is the written reports; there are limits to the possible depth of any analysis.
To start with, the remainder of the phenomenal events associated with Mary Jones herself, which Beriah G.Evans collected in ‘Dread Apparitions’, in the Occult Review for March 1905:
“To Mrs Jones, Satan is as much a living reality as any of her neighbours are. Every reference to him in public prayer or song is accompanied by a clenched fist and a vigorous stamp of a well-soled boot. Returning home late one night, long after midnight, from one of her mission meetings, she dismissed her driver at the head of the lane leading from the main road towards the farm. ‘My brother always comes to meet me when I am late’, she said, ‘and there he is coming!’, pointing to the figure of a man dimly seen approaching up the lane. The car drove off, and she went to meet her brother, as she thought. As she walked, the man turned and walked before her down the lane. She called her brother by name. the figure looked back over his shoulder, and she realised it was not her brother. She began singing softly one of the Revival hymns, when the man suddenly stopped, , turned upon her, and became transformed into an enormous black dog, which ran from bank to bank across the road in front of her as though preventing her advance. ‘And then’, she told me, ‘I knew it was the Devil himself, angered at my assault upon his kingdom. I prayed aloud for strength – and as I prayed he rushed growling into this very hillock on the side of the lane, her story losing none of its effect in being told me at night on the very spot.
In the neighbourhood dwells an exceptionally intelligent young woman of the peasant class, whose bedroom has been visited three nights in succession at midnight by a man dressed in black, whose appearance corresponds with that of the person seen by Mrs Jones. This figure has delivered a message to the girl which, however, she is forbidden to relate. Her prayers in public are marked by all Mrs Jones’ earnestness.”
Aficianados of the ‘men in black’ of ufology, and the Black Dog legends that occur in many mythologies will find something familiar in these quotes. I am intrigued by the parallels, in this strict Methodist context, with the ‘hidden secrets’ divulged by the Roman Catholic visionary figures at Lourdes, Fatima and Garabandal, among others.
The same article continues:
“During Mrs Jones’ visit to Bryncrug, in the neighbourhood of Towyn, a similar apparition was seen from different standpoints, but simultaneously by, (a) a local professional mand and, (b) a gentleman farmer of good standing. The former, startled, uttered an involuntary prayer. Immediately, one of Mrs Jones’ mysterious ‘lights’ appeared above, a white ray darting from which pierced the figure, which thereupon vanished.
An apparition, appearing first as a man and then transforming itself into a large black dog, was seen at Abergynolwyn, a mining centre not far distant.”
So much for men – and dogs – in black. Now for two more prosaic visions, though none the less odd. Again, from the Occult Review:
“The Vision of the Saviour.
Among Mrs Jones’ converts is an aged Welsh bard of some repute (name and address not published, but furnished for verification). Had he been able to forego the temptations of the tavern, and its accompaniments of cup and bottle, he might have attained to high rank as a poet. Crossing the fields one day in December, he suddenly found himself in a strange land, the familiar hedgerows having unaccountably disappeared. A number of ravening beasts coming from he knew not where rushed to attack him. Striving with these for his life, he was unexpectedly assisted by a man dressed in white garments, at whose appearance the beasts slunk away as suddenly as they had come – and the bard found himself still on the footpath of the familiar field. The vision deeply impressed him, ‘But’, he says, ‘I sought to drive it from my mind by more frequent recourse to the bottle, and for a couple of days I drank more deeply than ever.’ Crossing the same field on his homeward journey, and again in broad daylight, the same thing happened. The familiar landscape disappeared, and again he found himself in a strange land. The same mysterious figure again appeared, and taking him by the hand led him to the banks of a great river, beyond which he could see happy crowds arrayed in white, disporting themselves, their sweet songs faintly reaching him from across the rolling waters. His guide turning to him said, ‘That is where thou shouldst be, and where thou mayest be. But thou hast work to do first. Thou must first conquer the beasts – and to do that I give thee my help. Then shall thy voice be heard swelling the chorus yonder.’ The vision vanished, the bard found himself on the old field path. ‘Then’, says he, ‘I realised I had seen mySaviour!’ From that day to this he has touched no intoxicants, has thrown himself zealously into Revival work, and has influenced for good many of his old boon companions.”
From the ‘SPR Proceedings’ An account translated from the Welsh, from Mrs W —. Sent in June 1905.
“I was praying in the house one night, and afterwards went to the door, and saw on the opposite side of the valley, on the side of the hill, a column of fire like a cloud, and I prayed for seeing it nearer, and it appeared nearer in a round dark column, and a light appeared underneath it. On another night I saw it appearing in the shape of a house with three windows. Afterwards it appeared in the shape of a chapel – very much like the chapel attended by Mrs Jones in North Wales.
Afterwards I saw it in the shape of an eye right in front of me, and the eye broke in two, and the two parts fell downwards and joined again, and appeared in the form of a man.
Another vision appeared to me in the form of a man approaching me with a small dish in his hand, and he said, ‘Take and eat’. I did not feel inclined to take it, but as I respected the person, I took it. And after I took it, he said, ‘Go and preach the gospel to every creature.’
With this last account, which seems to owe something to the visionary format of the Book of Revelation, we move away from the influence of Mary Jones, and towards a more ‘normal’ kind of religious symbolism. It is hard to evaluate what significance, if any, these religions may have, and their relationship to the Revival, but they clearly affected their percipients. Two similar reports follows:
‘SPR Proceedings’ A letter from C.R.G. dated 20.6.05.
“I certify that on Sunday evening the 18th of December, 1904, I did see a vision of an angel by the font of Garth Church, which was sheltering a small candle which seemed to be standing out of nothing, coming up out of the water in the font. There was a draught coming in from the door, but the angel with his wings stopped the candle from douting. It was at the time Mr M. (a minister of Maesteg, S.Wales) was speaking of Christ. I did not believe in Christ before that he was our God and Saviour, and was baptised in the river Cerdin on Christmas Day. I am 26 years of age. An Englishman.”
If the symbolism of this last report is reasonably obvious, in terms of the candle flame representing the faith of the percipient then so too, in a way, is that of the next account. However, it would appear that this percipient’s religious ambitions are considerably greater. The events reported are archetypal, and the desire for mystical experience is an important factor in assessing its significance. If this was an objectively real experience, it would be quite remarkable. From the ‘SPR Proceedings’ Translated from a letter in Welsh, dated 26.8.05.
“In the month of November (1904) missioners in connection with the revival came to the neighbourhood . . . I understood that Jesus of Nazareth was walking through our country, but I was unable to feel him, nor see him to myself, and that was my anxiety for many days, lest Jesus of Nazareth should pass by, and I without receiving a renewing view of him. But on the 12th of December, on a Monday night, I had this heavenly vision which the tongue of man cannot relate or describe appropriately . . .
And this is the vision. On the night stated, I was travelling by myself on the high road on a work night which was very dark, but in the darkness overhead I beheld a faint light playing over my head and approaching earth, and as it came nearer it increased and strengthened; and lest I was being deceived by my own eyes, I determined to close them, but I was seeing it (the light) in the same way. Then I opened my eyes to behold the vision, and then it came downwards and stood before me, about the size of a man’s body, and in the bright and glorious light I beheld there the face of a man, and by looking for the body in the light a shining white robe was covering it to its feet and it was not touching the earth, and behind its arms there were wings appearing, and I was seeing every feather in the wings, but they were not natural or material feathers, but the whole was heavenly beyond description. And then the palms of the hands were appearing, and on each hand there were brown spots as they appeared at first. But after I had noticed more minutely, I beheld that they were the marks of the nails, and then I recognised Him as Jesus and I went forward shouting, ‘O my blessed Jesus!’, and then He ascended on his wing without noise, moving a little further ahead, and appearing much more bright and clear, so that the marks of the nails were so fiery and plain that I can say they were square nails of the cruellest description, and by the work of Joseph of Arimethaea and Nicodemus pulling him down from the Cross, the sores of His dear flesh had come out to the palms of His hands; and this appearance gave such peace to my breast, so that it filled through with love, so that from that time forth I love every man without difference.
And in the light of this presence, the old, ugly world came before me in its entirety, so that I saw its mountains, its rocks, its moors, its rushes, its thorns, its entangled growths, its stones ans all hindrances on my way, so that I was retreating (moving away or aside) lest its stones should throw me over, lest its thorns and its entangled growths should rend me. Which journey I would think every true Christian must go through. And after He had led me through this journey in that way, and I beseeching him to come with me, and when he had stayed the third time, behold he ascended up and out of my sight. And then I besought his forgiveness if poor and unworthy dust had asked too much to the Great and Holy Being . . . The appearance of the world I saw by means of the light was one vision – not a light showing the earth around, because I am well acquainted with the place – but the surface of the whole world losing itself in the distance. None of the family experienced the same thing. Not a word was uttered by Jesus, but the movements went on silently and noiselessly.”
To complete this series of visions, a surprising case of communication that may be best explained in terms of telepathy, or as a ‘crisis apparition. From the ‘SPR Proceedings’, it is recounted by the Rev.W.M.M. of Maesteg:
“A young man by the name of B. prayed very fervently at one of our Sunday evening revival services for the salvation of his father. Early on the morrow he received a telegram to say that his father had died very suddenly on Sunday evening. It transpired that his father passed away just at the time that he was praying, or shortly after. Young B. explained to me that he was moved by an irresistible urge to engage in prayer on behalf of his father – ‘I distinctly saw his face, and heard him asking me to pray for him’. His father, up to the hour of his death, was apparently in perfect health. The young man had never before prayed extempore, and I don’t know that he has since. My people came to believe, as they still do, that the prayer was inspired. It certainly was a remarkable one.”
In his short story ‘The Great Return’, which adapts several of the Revival phenomena, Arthur Machen makes use of the incidence of mysterious sounds. I imagine that he was aware of the SPR investigation, because it mentions several cases. Perhaps because there aren’t many ways to describe a sound, all the reports are quite brief.
In his short story ‘The Great Return’, which adapts several of the Revival phenomena, Arthur Machen makes use of the incidence of mysterious sounds. I imagine that he was aware of the SPR investigation, because it mentions several cases. Perhaps because there aren’t many ways to describe a sound, all the reports are quite brief.
Reports of incidents in Montgomeryshire:
“D.D., J.J. and R.J. during the service at the Parish Church, heard bells chiming on 29th January. The sound was over their heads. There were many by them, but they were the only ones that heard it.”
“E.B., on wednesday previous, heard about four o’clock what appeared to him to be a thunderclap, followed by a lovely singing in the air.”
“E.E., on Saturday evening, between seven and eight, while returning home from his work, heard some strange music, similar to the vibration caused by telegraph wires, only much louder, on an eminence, the hill being far from any trees and wires of any kind, and it was more or less a still evening.”
“J.P. heard some lovely singing on the road, about half a mile from his home, on Saturday evening three weeks ago, which frightened him very much.”
“A report from the Rev.J.M.E., Vicar of —-
A few days before Christmas, 1904, I was riding to see some parishioners. They lived about three miles up the hillside. as I was gradually ascended I fancied I heard voices singing. I took little notice for the moment, believing it was pure fancy. Gradually, the voices seemed to increase in volume, until at last they became quite overpowering. I was trying to imagine it could be nothing outside myself, as it were, but the wonderful harmony seemed to be borne on me entirely from the outside, and was as real to my senses as anything I have ever heard. I could distinguish the words distinctly. (Here follows four lines of a type of hymn in Welsh – the percipient had never heard it before).
The moment the refrain would come to an end it would be restarted, the volume becoming greater and greater. To me it was an exquisite sensation. When about arriving at my destination the voices suddenly ceased. I have had no trace of the recurrence of such a thing, and never had such an experience previously. I am not given to study or dwell upon any such manifestations.”
I must stress that the above oddments are only the product of one man’s postal enquiries, following up leads. It is likely that many other experiences occurred during the Revival, that some would have occurred anyway, and that some occurred because of the effects of faith, and the sense that it was permissible, even proper, to make such reports. It is not always so. As it is, this selection of accounts from the latter part of 1904 to mid-1905 covers most of the prominent motifs of mythology and folklore, with some hints of later UFO reports. It is a microcosm of claimed anomalous experience.
The Strange Case of the Cambrian News
The Barmouth Advertiser maintained an objective approach to Mary Jones throughout the Revival in North Wales. The latest mention I can find in the Advertiser is a brief report of her conducting a service in May 1905. The Aberystwyth-published Cambrian News, however, responded differently.
Up to 17.2.05 its weekly reports concerning Mrs Jones, as we have seen, were intelligent and intrigued. And the paper had previously given vigorous support to Evan Roberts in a vehement dispute with the Rev.Peter Price over criticisms of Roberts’ mystical and dramatic approach to his mission. Yet in the editorial content of the weekly issue dated 24.2.05, a distinct, incomprehensible change in attitude becomes apparent. The news report concerning Mary Jones is calm and informative -
“At Tre’rddol, several state that they saw the lights which are associated with Mrs Jones’ mission. Mrs Jones was followed by a number of journalists and photographers, and it is noteworthy that, unassuming a person as Mrs Jones is, she succumbed on Wednesday to be photographed for the first time since she has become so prominent. She is reported to have stated elsewhere that she was glad that none of the ‘snap-shotters’ had been able to photgraph the Lights . . Mrs Jones has evidently been the means of spreading the Revival to a great extent.”
However, in three other parts of the same paper the following, surprising commments appeared -
“The Lampeter rappings (a poltergeist-type phenomenon seemingly unrelated to the Revival. KM) and the Merionethshire light-flashings are so elementary and so obviously indications of individual mental disturbance that it is not an easy matter to write about seriously. If the ALMIGHTY wants to give manifestations he can hurl this earth into the sun, and can throw the moon so far into infinite space that it would not return in a million years, and yet mentally-upset revivalists of the feebler sort represent God as playing at rappings, and as flashing about tricky fireworks among the hills of Merionethshire. This is absurd . . .
We have no shadow of belief in the rappings, or the visions, or the flashings, or in the miraculous insight. There is no need for them . . . the tendency of the Revival is to lower the average religious tone . . .
The Revivalists would be wise, if they do see ghosts, and hear knockings, and voices, and see strange lights, to say nothing whatever about them. When a person sees flashing lights he may take it for granted that he has jim-jams. Jim-jams are really dangerous, and when he hears knockings as well he is in a fair way to find himself locked up in a padded room . . . The Revivalists are killing the movement by their own superstitions and imaginings. The laws of the world are not altered. How conceited the individual who thinks that God communicates specially with him.”
And so it goes on. 3.3.05, in the ‘Up and Down the Coast’ section – ‘Merioneth Lights’ -
“There can be no doubt that the people see lights and hear sounds. A buzzing in the ears is a very common complaint. When the buzzing begins to sound like voices the case is getting dangerous. The Towyn star has gone out. How credulous people are.”
10.3.05 (Editorial Notes) “The worse than silly talk about revival visions and flashes and spirit compellings goes on. The revival is being discredited and the neurotics are monopolising attention.”
17.3.05 (Editorial Notes) “The individuals who begin to see visions, hear voices and rappings cannot be too carefully tended by their friends. Mr Evan Roberts and Mrs Mary Jones must take care of their stomachs and nerves. They may be upset . . . God is not reduced to conjuring tricks of a very low order.”
17.3.05 (‘Up and Down the Coast’)
Have you seen the lights that shine
Have you heard almighty tappings
Do there come commands divine
Are you sure of Angel flappings
If these things you see and hear
Sometimes distant, sometimes near
Don’t you seek to reconcile ‘em
They’ll do that in the Asylum.
Some historical material emerged from enquiries made because of the Revival phenomena. The only ‘high-strangeness’ event was reported in the Barmouth Advertiser of 26.1.05 from a geography and Atlas of Wales by Robert Morden, published over 100 years previously:
“‘Tis creditably reported that in the year 1692 a fiery exhalation was seen to cross the sea, and to set fire to the ricks of hay, corn, and barns near Harlech, and to infect the grass, but was not mischievous to men, though they were in the midst of it. It proceeded in the night from the same place for some months, commonly on Saturdays or Sundays. The only remedy to extinguish or drive it away was to sound horns or trumpets, or to discharge guns.
As it was natural in those days of dark superstition, all this was attributed to witchcraft. Bishop Gibson contended that it was caused by the corrupted bodies of a great number of locusts that had visited these parts about that time. This, however, cannot be regarded as a satisfactory explanation. All agreed that this was a luminous mist, but as to its origin scientists do not agree.”
The remainder of the historical material either relates, pretty clearly, to marsh gas, or to places away from the Barmouth to Harlech coast, the centre of the ‘Egryn Lights’. The Occult Review mentions several possible explanations – the planet Venus, Marsh Gas, St Elmo’s Fire, the Aurora Borealis, the ‘Fata Morgana’ (the seaborne fairy of the Bretons) astral projection and more. It discounts most, and apparently favours none.
The Barmouth Advertiser presents a number of historical cases from all over the world, primarily of ‘phosphoric lights’, but gives the impression that it would really like most to believe that the Holy Spirit was walking abroad among its regular customers.
The Rev.A.T.Fryer’s introduction to his collection of reports in the SPR Proceedings is an excellent work in itself. Explanations were not his priority – which was to present the best of the available source material – but the summary of possible explanations given in his introduction warrants quoting in full -
“It is important to note that the coast in the neighbourhood of Dyffryn has been favoured or disfavoured with lights of many shapes and sizes in former times. Pennant, in his ‘Tour in Wales’, gives a full account of the appearances of mysterious blue flames that alarmed people and did material damage near Harlech in 1694 (or 1692, as above). Lights of a blue colour appeared also in the neighbourhood of Pwllheli in 1875, and the publication of Mr Picton-Jones’ account of what he then saw elicited from a correspondent the relation of a similar occurrence in 1869 or 1870. Again in 1877 lights of various colours were seen moving over the estuary of the Dysynni . . .
I am not satisfied (Fryer continues) with the investigations that have taken place, and I think now, as I did at the first, that the Society might well employ a geological expertto go over the district and discover, if possible, what conditions are favourable to the natural production of incandescent vapours. Mr B.Redwood was sent down by the Daily Mail in February 1905, but his report is not to me conclusive. He planned his investigation on the supposition of electrical disturbance, and I was not surprised that he was disappointed at the result. He says, with more approximation to what I think is the cause of some of the lights, that it is just possible that there may have been some lights caused by spontaneous ignition of phosphuretted hydrogen generated at the marsh at Egryn and distorted by mist. He adds that, ‘Methane, or marsh gas, is never self-ignited, and may be left out of the question.’ With his personal opinion of Mrs Jones I am not inclined to agree; but granting its truth, we still have to reckon with the witnesses as to the reality of both subjective and objective lights.
The evidence received I propose to give, first, however, stating my conviction that Merionethshire has been the scene of a large amount of exaggeration and misconception, and perhaps trickery. But having made all allowance for persons who mistook meteors, brightly shining planets, farm lanterns, railway signals, and bodies of ignited gases for tokens of heavenly approval, there remain sufficient instances of abnormal phenomena to encourage further enquiry. Evidence of misapprehensions I have received.”
Conclusions – 75 + 15 years on
I started researching this material in 1978, and published the booklet in its original form in 1980. I chose this subject because Mary Jones and the Egryn Lights were appearing regularly in the ‘new ufology’ books of that period, written by people like Jerome Clark, Loren Coleman, and the late D.Scott Rogo, of fond memory. Egryn was being presented alongside the Fatima visions, and the ‘Dance of the Sun’. I wanted to see what it really amounted to, and expected to be taking on the role of debunker. To my surprise, I found myself trying to investigate a genuine mystery, though the 75 years that had passed since the original events meant that what I could do was limited.
A lot of the research was done at the British library at Hendon, digging through endless volumes of old newspapers. The SPR, in the form of the wonderful Eleanor O’Keefe, was kindness itself, and ideas and background knowledge came freely from one Brynmor Williams, at that time working for BBC Wales. He even tried to find me some eyewitnesses, but the one good soul he traced for me just didn’t want to be disturbed. However, the family had a super holiday on the caravan site now built round Mary Jones’ house, and I still love the stretch of coast between Barmouth and Harlech. If wonderful events could happen anywhere, it would be there.
I wrote a long, reasoned, quite affirmative conclusion to the first edition of ‘Stars’. Fifteen years on I have scarcely altered the content thus far, apart from excising some of the more flowery language, and trying to correct the spelling mistakes. But I’ve learned over the years that it’s best to leave conclusions to others. The great bulk of the significant cases and reports are together in one place – I’ll limit myself to a few suggestions as to how these reports might relate to others.
The strongest of these accounts are perhaps those from journalists, some of them from national papers. I don’t think they were making up their accounts, and the one involving the carriage ride, and the light where “some large body between earth and sky had suddenly opened” is, particularly in 1905, quite remarkable. This was no earth light; there were no street lamps, no areoplanes. If we think in terms of UFO research, we cannot dismiss the usual 90%+ on the grounds of ‘misapprehension of conventional events’. If the reporter told true, it is an extraordinary matter. There are also accounts of absolute clarity from several ordained ministers. I would not readily dismiss them.
There is significance in the contemporary understanding that some people would see a light while another did not. How often does any anomaly researcher encounter that situation? And I have no doubt that the ‘religious mania’ that drove some to a form of insanity and to the Asylum, led others to the visions and experiences of divine figures that I have recounted. They probably had no objective reality, but they were as real to their percipients as are most apparently paranormal events. If I learned one thing from putting ‘Stars’ together, it was the near-continuity between fringe religious experiences, and fringe experiences of many other kinds. I’m still working on that one.
I’d like to stress one important factor – the simple geographical one of the location of the Egryn Chapel. The area is, even now, sparsely populated. The only main road is that linking Barmouth and Harlech and on its east side lies the Egryn Chapel. While there in 1979, I spoke to a few local people who had heard the stories of the lights, but the only explanations I heard were ones involving ‘men carrying lanterns in the fields’ and ‘moonlight on broken glass’. I have heard of another relating to the lighted windows of houses. The hills do rise steeply behind and, visually, around the chapel, but unless the lanterns were of immense power, deftly controlled, and the bearers choreograpphed, there are several of the Egryn reports, let alone those away from the chapel itself, which simply do not adapt to this theory. The distance from the observer to the ‘lanterns’ would have been too great to produce the reported effects, and as to houses, there hardly are any, they had no electricity supply, and clearly could not have moved. Whatever explanation there may be, I do not think it is this simple.
I would like to know how Mary Jones’ fame and reputation developed. We have only a handful of reports prior to February 1905, yet by then she was already known as the ‘Merionethshire Seeress’, and had a reputation for being the centre of apparently paranormal events. To know how that reputation was earned would, perhaps, be vital to our understanding of the reality, or otherwise, of the lights. I doubt that it is now possible to cast further light on the matter, but I would be happy to revise my views, and this text if that, or any other matter of significance, could be clarified. On the face of it, the ‘Egryn Lights’ appear to be the most remarkable anomalous phenomena in British history.