The Ancient Baptists of Olchon Valley
Compiled by John Henry
September 21, 2014

"Remember the word that I said unto you,
The servant is not greater than his lord.
If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you;
if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also
." -- John 15:20

 Olchon Valley

The word "Olchon" is Welsh for "baptism" or "washing." Olchon is on the Welsh border. It is situated in the County of Hereford. The ruins of the oldest Chapel stands on the banks of the swift flowing stream from which the narrow Valley of the Olchon takes its name. The Olchon Valley was an early center from which Baptist churches spread across South Wales. The valley provided a safe haven for dissenting Christians long before they adopted the name of Baptists. A most common feature of early Celtic Christians is wells, used by the missionaries for baptizing. This was certainly a distinctive feature among the missionaries in the neighboring small Welsh kingdoms of Brycheiniog and Eywas.

 Olchon Valley The church in Olchon Valley is at Llanveynoe, towards the foot of the valley. The church is believed to have been founded by a missionary by the name of Bueno around 600 A.D. who had been given land in Eywas Valley by Kentigan, King of Caerwent. He later moved to North Wales leaving three disciples to continue his work in Olchon and died at Clynnog inthe Lleyn peninsula around 648.

The Kingdom of Brycheiniog was the stronghold of the dynasty of Brychan (5th century), the early Christian king of Irish descent, who ruled from Talgarth to the South, probably from the nearby massive hillfort of Castell Dinas, the highest castle in England and Wales. Brychan is said to have had many children some of whom he sent out as missionaries. It is easy, therefore, to understand how Olchon Valley became an early haven for believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and became a major center for sending out the Gospel.

The present church building was built in the 13th century, but there is a mound west of the current building that may have been its original site. At the mound there are two large stones inscribed with the crucifixion dated about the 9th or 10th centuries.

Joshua Thomas (1719-1797), who was Minister at Olchon from 1746-1754, in his book The American Baptist Heritage in Wales traces the American church toits roots in Olchon and details the existence of the ancient Christian enclave there citing evidence going back to the 6th century.

Baptist churches properly go back to the time of Jesus Christ who started His Church in the 1st century, although these local churches were not called by that name until after the Reformation. These Scriptural churches have always had the same faith and practice, always believed in salvation by faith in Christ apart from works, have always sent missionaries and reproduced like churches as Christ commanded. When persecuted they would take refuge in places like Olchon Valley. When Christian non-conformist groups, like the Lollards came out of state churches or Catholicism, Christ's churches were ready to help and teach them, as with the Lollard movement.

The Waldesian preacher, Walter Lollard came from Germany into England in 1315 AD. Pastor Joshua Thomas believed Lollard was given refuge in Olchon around that time. It cannot be proven that Lollard actually went to Olchon, but it is known that he did come into Wales. Thomas notes that Lollard was aware of the existence of Olchon before arriving in Wales.

Thomas Crosby in his History of the English Baptists of 1738 also records Walter Lollard residing in Britain for some period of time. In the time of Edward II, about the year 1315 Walter Lollard, a German Baptist preacher, a man of great renown among the Waldenses, came into England; he spread their doctrines very much in these parts, so that afterwards they went by the name Lollards. Henry Knighton (d. 1396), the English chronicler, says: "More than one-half of the people of England, in afew years, became Lollards" (Knighton, col. 2664). Upon returning to Europe, Walter Lollard was captured by the Catholics and was burned alive, in Cologne, Germany in 1322.

Pastor Joshua Thomas also states that Dr. Thomas Bradwardine (1290-1349) was born in the county of Hereford,near Olchon in the village of Bredwardine. He believed that the famous theologian sometimes attended services in Olchon.

Wyclif & Lollars John Wycliff John Wycliffe (1328-1384), who translated the Bible into the English language, is also said to have lived near Olchon in 1371. It is also claimed that Wycliffe's faith was influenced by Dr. Bradwardine when they were at Oxford.

Wycliffe argued that Scripture was the basis for authority, rather than the institution of the church. He translated the word of God from Latin into English. It was published as the Lollard Bible in 1380.

Lollard preachers travelled in pairs, and were distinguished by simple red robes.

Significant Lollards have been in associations with Olchon. The Lollard movement was particularly strong in Herefordshire around the Olchon Valley, where it is particularly associated with two men: Walter Brit (or Brute) and Sir John Oldcastle.

Walter Brit lived at Olchon Courtin the upper Olchon valley. He was described by John Foxe (1517-1587) as eminent in learning, gifts, knowledge, zeal and grace and had been influenced by Wycliffe while he was at Oxford. In 1391 the Bishop of Hereford was granted permission by King Richard II to arrest Brit for preaching heresy and for conducting unauthorized religious meetings, probably in the Olchon Valley. Brit defended himself vigorously in his testimony, issuing a fierce and unrepentant denunciation of the Pope as Anti-Christ. For reasons unknown the case was dismissed before it came to trial and Brit disappears from history.

At the place Walter Brit lived at Olchon Court there is still a house, but it is of later medieval construction. In the fields above it are a narrow path passing over the mountains to Eywas Valley and the overgrown remains of a small stone building at the junction of two narrow streams that is claimed by some as the earliest Baptist chapel.

John Oldcastle Probably the best known of all Lollard leaders, next to Wycliffe, was Sir John Oldcastle (d. 1417), of Oldcastle, lower in Olchon. It is claimed he was baptized by Walter Brit in Olchon Brook, close to Olchon Court.

Oldcastle led the most significant and widespread Lollard uprising which in many respects anticipated the later English Civil War. He was a close friend of King Henry V. He helped Henry IV suppress the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, where he served with the young Prince Henry (later Henry V), capturing 300 rebels near Usk. He also served with Henry V in Burgundy as a close and trusted aide, but later became associated with unlicensed preaching. Oldcastle was protected by the King for some time but finally arrested in 1411 after his Lollard beliefs became too flagrant to ignore and was held in the Tower of London to be tried asa Lollard. Large demonstrations were held in his support until Archbishop Chichely persuaded the reluctant King to have the ringleaders rounded up and 39 of them were hanged or burned at the stake. Oldcastle, however, escaped in 1413, with a price of 1,000 marks on his head and, according to some accounts, fled to Olchon from where he tried to organize an uprising in the Welsh Marches.

Lollard hopes of reform on Henry Vs accession to the throne in 1313 had been high, given his close friendship with Oldcastle and his known hostility towards Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, but those hopes were dashed when the new King immediately sided with the established order. Oldcastles plan was to establish a Lollard Commonwealth, along muchthe same lines as after the later Civil War. Henry was warned by a spy and escaped the ambush and capture by Oldcastle. Under Oldcastles planall abbeys were to be dissolved and their wealth distributed to the people. A series of abortive revolts and plots followed around thecountry in 1414 (London), 1415 (Southampton) and 1416 (Scotland).

John Oldcastle Oldcastle was finally apprehended (according to one version at Olchon Court itself) in 1417, being severely injured attempting to jump out of an upper window, and, on the orders of King Henry V, tried and sentenced to death for heresy. He was taken in chains to St Giles field and suspended between two gallows while a fire was lit below him to be slowly burnt to death, gallows and all.

John Wycliffe In 1428, 44 years after his death, Wycliffe was declared by the pope to be a heretic and his bones were dug up and burned. They threw the ashes into the River Swift. Wycliffe's teachings, though suppressed, continued to spread as a later chronicler observed, "Thus the brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; and they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wycliffe are the emblem of his doctrine which now is dispersed the world over." In 1559 Lollard persecution eased when anti-Lollard legislation was repealed.

Wyclif & Lollars Among the many other notable figures associated with Olchon is William Tyndale (1494-1536) who was born close to Olchon, though he grew up in Gloucestershire. The Tyndale family name is associated with the Olchon Valley. According to Davis in History of the Welsh Baptists, Llewellyn Tyndale and Hezekiah Tyndale were members of the Baptist church at nearby Abergaverney. Certainly in his writings Tyndale expresses Baptist views using Baptist terms, such as"elder" instead of "Bishop" and recognizes clergy by the offices of "pastor" and "deacon." He challenged clerical celibacy.

William Tyndale was particularly eloquent in expressing the Biblical doctrine of baptism held by Baptist. He described the ordinance as "the sign of repentance ... and new birth." As Baptists do, he identified baptism primarily with repentance: "baptism is a sign of repentance signifying that I must repent of evil, and believe to be saved ... by the blood of Christ." Tyndale denied the necessity of baptism for adult salvation, and said that "the infants that die unbaptized of us Christians are in as good case as those that die baptized." He pointed out that the main function of baptism is that of "testifying and exhibiting to our senses the promises signified." William Tyndale believed that the Holy Spirit does not work in the water, but "accompanieth the preaching of faith, and with the word of faith, entereth the heart and purgeth it." Tyndale also described baptism as "dipping or plunging [not pouring or sprinkling] as the true sign." (Baptism, Bromiley, pp. 11, 25, 56, 149, 179, 192; Tyndale, British Reformers Series, p. 407; Tyndale, Parker Society Series, III, p. 171; Tyndale, Parker Society Series, I, pp. 350-351, 357, 423-424)

In 1536 Tyndale was convicted of heresy by the pope for his Bible translation work. His last words were, "Lord open the king of England's eyes." Tyndale's prayer was fulfilled by two kings: Just 2 years later King Henry the VIII authorized the Great Bible and 75 years later King James authorize the Bible that bears his name.

Tyndale Murdere

The King James Bible is the final translation, the 7th, that began with Tyndale's Bible, and is about 80% Tyndale's own work.

"The kings heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1)

"Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?" (Ecclesiastes 8:4)

"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." (Psalm 12:6-7)

The KJV is the 7th English Bible translation from the original tongues. It is the purification of William Tyndale's translation and is largely his work. The first 6 translations were consulted in it's translation as commanded by King James.

1. William Tyndale - 1534/6
2. Myles Coverdale - 1535
3. John Rodgers - 1537 (Rodgers used the pseudonym: Matthew)
4. Great Bible - 1539 (Coverdale revision)
5. Geneva Bible - 1557 (William Whittingham assisted by Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, and William Cole)
6. Bishops' Bible - 1572 (Matthew Parker and other bishops)
7. King James Bible - 1611 (47 translators who were expert in the original languages.)

What is clear from this is that within South Wales, centered in the valley of Olchon, was a long tradition of Baptist belief from at least the 7th century, and Lollard dissent from at least the 13th century onwards. Lollards had long propagated the idea of a community of "true Christians" distinct from the outward and corrupt form of the established church institution. The Olchon Valley has long been cited by Baptists as proof of continuity of Christ's local churches all the way back to Jesus Christ who established it.

John 15:20: "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also."

John 16:13-15: "Howbeit when he, THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH, IS COME, HE WILL GUIDE YOU INTO ALL TRUTH: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. 14 HE SHALL GLORIFY ME: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. 15 All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you."

Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and spake unto them [the 1st local church], saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to OBSERVE all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto THE END OF THE WORLD. Amen." (Note: "Observe" means to keep a close eye on, or guard (i.e. "keepers" in Matthew 28:4 is the same Greek word. This Greek word is also translated "preserve," "hold fast," "reserve," "watched," but most often "keep." Scriptural local assemblies are the custodians of the Bible. cf. 1 Tim 3:15)

John 15:26-27: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning."

John 12:48-50: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. 49 For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak."

John 6:63: "It is the spirit that quickeneth [makes alive]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (cf. 3:5-7; Isa 55:10; Eph 5:26)

John 14:26: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (cf. 14:15, 21, 24, 15:10, 20, 23)

John 17:6, 17: "I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: Thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and THEY HAVE KEPT THY WORD. ... Sanctify them through thy TRUTH: thy word is TRUTH." (cf. 1 Jn 2:3-5, 3:22, 24, 5:2-3)

Revelation 3:8, 10: "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast KEPT MY WORD, and hast not denied my name. ... Because THOU HAST KEPT THE WORD OF MY PATIENCE, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." (cf. Rev 1:3, 12:17, 14:12, 22:7)

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Deut. 31:6