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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Unitarians, revolution and "The Marseillaise"

Looking online to check if the General Assembly in Swansea gathered any media coverage I came across the following reference to the Unitarian "black spot" - that area in Credigion with 13 Unitarian Chapels.

The Association for Welsh Writing in English in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies organized its annual conference in April 2011 on the subject of ‘Wales and Revolution’ and one of the speakers Dr. Marion Löffler (CAWCS, Aberystwyth) talked about ‘The Marseillaise in Wales’. The conference abstract makes fascinating reading:

"The ‘Marseillaise’ is (arguably) the most famous cultural artefact to emerge from the French Revolution of 1789. This key symbol of a decade which laid the cornerstone for modern politics, written as the ‘War Song for the Army of the Rhine’ in 1792, and adopted as the French national anthem in 1795, soon made its way across the Channel into Britain. A partial English translation of four of its seven stanzas had appeared in several radical publications as early as 1793. Three years later, a Welsh adaptation of this English version and of an unknown, possibly French, source, appeared in the radical Welsh periodical Y Geirgrawn, accompanied by a new paratext on its importance and the translator’s radical stance. In the years and decades which followed, this Welsh song was copied into various manuscripts, added to, translated back into English and sung at local gatherings in the Unitarian ‘black spot’. The nineteenth century saw it reprinted in Welsh periodicals, used by the Welsh working class movement and translated into Welsh at least twice more. Both this wider history of the ‘Marseillaise’ in Wales and a closer look at the text of its adaptation, ‘Cân Rhyddid’, illustrate how revolutionary ideas may be transmitted: when the translator combines deep political conviction with a thorough knowledge of his own culture to create a brilliantly evocative new text."

With such a tradition of radicalism where does Unitarianism stand today? We had a forthright debate on the plight of destitute asylum seekers at the Annual Meetings in Swansea and overwhelmingly called for the Government to change its policies.

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