Visiting Ebenezer Chapel, Swansea: formerly Congregational, now Baptist, in a building dating from 1862
A conspicuous open pediment with a Syrian arch
This solid, 19th century chapel in Swansea (Welsh: Abertawe), Glamorgan (Welsh: Morgannwg), was originally a Congregational meeting place, but since 1975 has been the venue for Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The building as seen today in its most recent enlargement dates from 1862/3, but a chapel was built on the site in 1804, with alternations made in 1826 and 1842 (1).
The building at its Ebenezer Street (2) elevation has four Doric stone pillars topped by an open pediment, typical of buildings influenced by Georgian architectural forms; within the pediment is a large and conspicuous Syrian arch. The rounded theme of the arching is repeated many times at this frontage, with triple arching for the doorway and smaller windows and two sets of double arching for large windows. Some of these features, on a smaller scale, are repeated at the frontage of the adjacent church hall.
The design of the 1862/3 building was the responsibility of the Rev. Thomas Thomas of Landore.
The original congregation dates from the activities of the Rev. David Davies, who came to the Swansea area in 1796. Under his ministry, Ebenezer was said to have become the largest in Wales. This state of affairs arose historically against a background in the early 19th century when Swansea was a fast growing industrial town.
Notable individuals associated with the building during its Congregational days include Griffith John (1831-1912). John spent several decades in China as a Protestant Christian missionary and notably translated the New Testament and other Bible portions into Chinese (3).
In the second half of the 20th century, Ebenezer Baptist Church became particularly known as a centre for Reformed teaching, and through its minister Dr Leighton James and others many young people at the Chapel came to be familiar with the theology of publishing houses such as Banner of Truth Trust and the ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who preached at the Chapel. The Chapel's Website reports a history of a strong emphasis on ministry among students:
'Many of the families in the church trace their association with Ebenezer to college days, when husbands and wives met and later settled in Swansea, to remain in the fellowship they had come to love.' (1)
Although the ministry of the church is mainly conducted in English, there is also said to be a special welcome for Welsh speaking students (4).
Thus, both in its Congregational days and with the later building's use by mainly Reformed Baptists, Ebenezer Chapel has through its history been identified with ministries which have strongly emphasized Scripture.
In addition to the regular ministry activities based at the building, Ebenezer Chapel has been the venue for special choir performances within a strong, Welsh chapel choir tradition.
My impression of Ebenezer Chapel is that it continues to be a hub of doctrinally based practice, while having deep historical roots: a combination of characteristics not always found in the contemporary church scene.
February 5, 2015
(1) See also: http://www.ebenezer.org.uk/about/more-about-the-church/
(2) Readers interested in researching Welsh chapel history may wish to bear in mind that in Welsh the spelling of 'Ebenezer' (the usual English form) is often given as 'Ebeneser'.
(3) In 1889 Griffith John was conferred with a DD, by Edinburgh University. He was also known for his efforts in organizing opposition to the opium trade.
Also worth seeing
In Swansea itself, Swansea Castle,dates from the 12th century; visible remains date from the late 13th or early 14th century; Singleton Abbey belonging to Swansea University; Sketty Parish Church; the Guildhall and the Brangwyn Hall form a fine, Neo-Classical and Art Deco complex; Oystermouth Castle, Mumbles,is a ruined Norman structure dating from the 11h century, situated near the scenic Gower Peninsula.
Afan Forest Park, Visitor Centre and South Wales Miners Museum (distance: approx. 27 kilometres) contains many, scenic walks, with copious local information.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is 286 kilometres from Swansea. There are also rail (from London Paddington railroad station) and bus links to Swansea. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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