Bread of Heaven
I have a confession to make. When I was at university, instead of experimenting with sex or drugs like other people, I took to religion. There were reasons for my conversion. It was partly a reaction against my parents, who were humanists, but also the Christian group gave me an opportunity to belong in a way I had failed to at school. And there was the place - I went to University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
For me, a girl from suburban London, Aberystwyth was a different world. I discovered that it could be awkward being English in a college were most students were Welsh. There was a strong Welsh nationalist element and I earned their anger sometimes with unthinking comments. But I loved Aberystwyth – the pattern of grey walls, slate roofs and the sea, which could be blue one day, the complexion of hammered pewter the next, and furious white a third. I could climb Constitution Hill and walk along the beach to Clarach, or I could watch the sun setting over the sea, colouring the ripples pink and turquoise.
According to the student union, there were as many pubs as there were chapels in the town, but the pubs were closed on Sundays. I went with my friends to the English Baptist chapel and sang the hymns. I’m afraid the religion evaporated once I went home, but some of the hymns remain in my head- “What a Friend we Have in Jesus”, “Amazing Grace” and “Bread of Heaven”. Perhaps the last had my favourite tune.
The tune is properly called Cwm Rhondda, the Welsh name for the Rhondda Valley, and was written by John Hughes, who worked as a clerk in the colliery at Pontypridd for forty years. It usually accompanies words by great Welsh hymn writer William Williams. The first line is often sung as "Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah", but our version was "Guide me oh Thou Great Redeemer" and the Welsh is "Arglwydd arwain trwy’r anialwch". All I remember of the words is the refrain;
Even if you’re not a chapel goer, you may have heard the hymn sung by the Welsh rugby team. If it's sung by a Welsh choir, the refrain is harmonised, producing a striking effect. Listen to this version of