Archbishop hits back in row over druid honour

Tue 6 Aug 2002
John Innes
The Scotsman

THE next Archbishop of Canterbury was made an honorary white druid yesterday as part of an ancient Celtic cultural tradition.

Dr Rowan Williams was the last person to receive the honour in an open-air service at the National Eisteddfod, a celebration of Welsh culture being held this week at St David’s, Pembrokeshire.

Dr Williams, who was named last month as the successor to Dr George Carey, was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards for his contribution to the Welsh language and Welsh culture.

As the current Archbishop of Wales, Dr Williams has criticised claims that the role is a pagan one.

He said yesterday that the suggestion that the honour was linked to paganism was offensive, and he described the award as "one of the greatest honours which Wales can bestow on her citizens".

The Gorsedd comprises Welsh-speaking poets, writers, musicians, artists and others who have made a distinguished contribution to Welsh language and culture.

During the hour-long service, which was conducted in Welsh, Dr Williams was made an honorary white druid, the highest of the three orders of the Gorsedd of Bards.

He was given the Bardic name of ap Aneurin, after a sixth century Welsh poet and also after Aneurin Bevan, one of his personal heroes and the architect of the National Health Service.

David Lloyd-George, the former prime minister, the actor Richard Burton and the Queen Mother were also white druids.

But Dr Williams came under fire for encouraging people to be "sucked into paganism" by taking part in the ceremony.

The Rev Angus Macleay, of the Evangelical Reform Group, attacked Dr Williams for pressing ahead with the ceremony, saying: "It will not be helpful to the gospel.

"I think the Archbishop of Canterbury designate needs to consider what other people, non-Welsh members of the Anglican communion, think he is doing.

"How will it help African bishops and pastors seeking to draw people away from paganism to follow Christ when they see him involved in this sort of activity?"

Dr Williams said after the ceremony: "I feel very saddened that some people have reached the wrong conclusion about the ceremony.

"If people had actually looked at the words of the hymns and text used they would have seen a very Christian service."