August 12 – Ann Griffiths

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Ann Griffiths, person of prayer

Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) was a prominent Welsh poet and hymn-writer, and a Christian poet of international stature. Although she died at only 29 years of age, this farmer’s daughter from mid-Wales left poems and letters that are considered among the highlights of Welsh literature. Many scholars consider her to be the greatest of Welsh women poets and claim that her stanzas include some of the great Christian poetry of Europe.

Ann Griffiths was born Ann Thomas in Montgomeryshire the daughter of a prosperous farmer, a devout Anglican. In her youth she was known to seek the society of others and enjoyed dancing, a little too much perhaps. In 1796, two years after the death of her mother, Ann was converted by the preaching of a Congregational minister Benjamin Jones. Later, with her family she came under the influence of Thomas Charles a Calvinist Methodist who made a great impression on the young woman’s mind and heart. Calvinistic Methodism was a movement which placed great emphasis not only on the orthodox beliefs of the Christian faith, but on the personal experience of those beliefs, on feeling the truths of the Faith. Until 1811 Welsh Calvinistic Methodism was officially a movement within the Established Church and not a separate denomination.  Members of the movement would meet together in local groups called seiadau (singular seiat, from the English word ‘society’), where they would discuss and examine their religious experiences and receive help and instruction on their spiritual journey. In addition, there was a network of monthly meetings and quarterly association meetings (or sasiynau; singular sasiwn) to superintend the work.

Ann, then, was considered a person whose spiritual experiences were remarkable even at a time of powerful religious awakening. The examples of Ann’s work that have been preserved for us are both the fruit of those intense spiritual experiences and an expression of them. The sum total of her surviving work is small: eight letters and just over 70 stanzas, and only one letter and one stanza in her own hand. Ann Griffith’s poems would probably be called “hymns” but they are not ‘congregational’ hymns. They are more “praise poems” written by Ann as a kind of spiritual journal entry when there was ‘something in particular on her mind.’

The Bible was central to Ann’s life and work and the key to forming and interpreting her experience of God whom she knew through the person of Jesus Christ. The hymns she wrote were centered on the figure of Christ crucified but including imagery from both Testaments. They exhibit an extraordinary emotional fervor and a critical knowledge of the Bible with a combination of intellect and devotion that is remarkable in a woman of her time.
At the same time Ann’s experience of God included having visions of Jesus and she admitted to “visitations”, seeing Christ waiting for her among the myrtles.   Sent into the potato shed to collect potatoes she might be found hours later in a trance. This has given rise to the tendency to call her “a mystic.”

Ann Griffiths died aged 29 after giving birth to her only child who also died and was buried two weeks before her.