Stars and Rumours of Stars – Part 2
Kevin McClure

The second article dealing with the early period of Mary Jones’ mission is by one Beriah Evans, a journalist from Caernarvon. His name crops up with an almost disturbing frequency in Revival material, and it is clear that without him the national daily papers would probably not have afforded the Egryn Lights the coverage they actually received. He was clearly adept at selling his work to a number of different outlets at once, and papers as diverse as the Manchester Guardian and the Occult Review depended on him to provide the essential ‘facts’ of the matter of Mary Jones. However, though his repeated, and no doubt remunerative involvement must be streesed, save for a mild comment in the Manchester Guardian of 16.2.05 that “the evidence Mr Evans now furnishes is not the result of his own observations, but is based on Communications from Reliable Correspondents”, I am unaware of any adverse comment as to his integrity or accuracy. Certainly, no internal inconsistency becomes apparent between his different versions of the same material. Evans was clearly a successful journalist, but that in itself is not reason to doubt his word.

The fullest account Evans wrote of the Revival in North Wales appears in three parts, in the March, April and June 1905 editions of the Occult Review. Similar accounts had already appeared in the Manchester Guardian and the Barmouth Advertiser, but essentially all of Evans’ contributions to the literature can be found in the Occult Review. The March edition includes the following, which begins to delineate the variety of reported phenomena -

“1. The Beatific Visions. It was in the beginning of December last that these were first accorded to Mrs Jones. She had prayed long and earnestly to be allowed to become the accepted medium for spreading the spirit of Revival through Merionethshire, and particularly to be the means of converting her immediate neighbours among whom she had spent her life unnoticed and unnoticing. In the stillness of the night the Saviour appeared to her in bodily form clothed in bright raiment. His message was not encouraging; ‘The work thou seekest,’ he said, ‘has been reserved for another. Go to ____ _____ and tell her that she is called upon to do the work thou seekest.’ Bending, though with a sinking heart, to the heavenly will she sought her friend the next morning and conveyed to her the holy commission. She, in alarm, cried out, ‘Oh, I could never undertake it!’ That evening Mrs Jones attended the little chapel at Egryn, related her vision, told of the profferered commission being refused, and added; ‘She has missed the one opportunity of a lifetime, and my service is accepted’. From that night forth she threw herself into revival work with a zeal and energy that nothing could damp – and with a success beside which, in proportion of converts to the relative population dealt with, even that which accompanies Evan Roberts’ movement in Glamorgan, pales into insignificance. The ethical results are equally marked. The ‘stars’ and ‘lights’ appeared for the first time on the night that Mrs Jones commenced her public mission at Egryn. The star was heralded by a luminous arch, of the character of the ‘Aurora Borealis’, one end resting on the sea, the other on the hill-top (a distance of well over a mile), bathing the little chapel in a flood of soft effulgence. The star soon after appeared, its light flooding the chapel itself. Ever since then, up to the middle of February, the star and the lights have always accompanied Mrs Jones’ mission. The star invariably heralds the lights, and when they come it disappears. The star seemed to rest above particular houses, whose rooves are thrown out in bold relief amidst the surrounding darkness. When this occurs in the Egryn district a convert or converts invariably turns up at the next meeting from that particular house; when it occurs at a distance the house is the one selected for the Revivalist’s temporary lodging. Similarly it glows placidly on the roof of the chapel where her service is held, and when it does so the spiritualcharacter of the meeting is very marked. On two occasions only, so far as I know, has the star or light stopped short of the chapel fixed for the service – and on each occasion the service proved a frost.”

Though the above accounts refer to the early part of the mission, roughly prior to Christmas 1904, neither was published till some weeks after the reported events. Essentially, both statements do little more than rephrase Mary Jones’ own remarks. While it is true that Mrs Jones appeared to be a shy person, not comfortable with pressing what was claimed (she did not allow photos to be taken of her till well into 1905), we can hardly regard either piece as objective reporting. However, it is apparent that by 13.1.05, when the following piece appeared in the Aberystwyth published Cambrian News, the Lights were a matter of common knowledge and interest along this stretch of coast -

“Mrs Mary Jones of Islawrffordd, Dyffryn has raised in Merioneth a wonderful upheaval of religious fervour, which is gathering strength throughout the country. So far she has confined her mission work to the villages between Barmouth and Portmadoc . . . As has been previously stated, she claims to have had spiritual visions, and to have been guided by the unseen power. In her own neighbourhood, she has already been the means of converting scores of people, and carries wherever she goes a remarkable influence which stirs in large congregations a fervid enthusiasm.

Her claims to have had spiritual visions have possibly appeared as a vague thing to sceptical minds, but now her declarations are being confirmed in a strange manner. She has on several occasions called attention to a strange light which she says is frequently seen in the district. To her the light is a divine guidance. It appears about houses where there are converts, and she has gone to these houses to find converts awaiting her visit. This has been regarded as one of her own inspiring thoughts until the light was seen by other people who, though in earnest sympathy with the religious awakening, are not apt to be led by wild imaginations . . . On Thursday night of last week Mrs Jones attended a meeting at Pensarn, where hundreds of people congregated. The chapel can be seen from the railway and as a train, driven by a Machynlleth man, was passing, a strange light was seen shooting out of ten different directions, and then coming together with a loud clap. “Never do I wish to see anything like it again,” said the driver in relating his experience. Both he and his mate saw the light which, since then, has been seen by other people, but in a different form. A strange light was also seen near Towyn.”

Apart from brief mentions in the Cambrian News, Barmouth Advertiser, the Daily News and the Guardian, this story seems, at this stage, to have become something of a ‘sleeper’. There is no reason to think that events did not continue, as when the newspapers and the Society for Psychical Research investigator later sought out material, it was not hard to find. It was the ubiquitous Beriah Evans who provided the spark that really set the story alight. The following account appears in slightly different forms in the Daily News of 9.2.05, under the title ‘A Visit to the Welsh Seeress’, in the Guardian of 9.2.05 as ‘Religious Pathology or Natural Science’, in the Barmouth Advertiser of 16.2.05 under the same title, and also in the Occult Review articles. the version that follows is from the Daily News, with the title of ‘Signs in the Heavens or . . . ?’

“This is a story of midnight visions, of mysterious manifestations, of signs in the heavens, and of portents upon the earth which I myself have seen, and which have been witnessed also by scores of others.

These manifestations, as I have already stated in the Daily News, appear in connection with the mission of a Welsh lady revivalist, Mrs Jones of Egryn, who is becoming celebrated as the Welsh Seeress . . .

When after several hours friendly chat with Mrs Jones in her own house, I rose to leave, she stopped me with the remark: “You had better wait that you may see the light for yourself. It would be a pity for you to go back without seeing it.” I waited, and saw.

After tea, having two miles to walk to the chapel where the service was to be held, it behoved us to be early on the move. Besides myself, there were present the Rev.Llewelyn Morgan, the Rev.Roger Williams, Dyffryn, and one other. Mrs Jones came in dressed for her journey. Going outside, she immediately returned, remarking: “We cannot start yet, the Light has not come.”

Five minutes later she again went out, returning promptly to say: Now we can go. The Light has come”, just as though she said ‘the cab was at the door’.

The announcement was received with a perceptible tremor by one – the only unbelieving member of our company. We had just passed the level-crossing of the Cambrian railway in the fields, when Mrs Jones directed our attention to the southern sky. While she yet spoke, between us and the hills, and apparently two miles away, there suddenly flashed forth an enormous luminous star flashing forth an enormously brilliant white light, and emitting from its whole circumference dazzling sparklets like flashing rays from a diamond.

“It may be the head light of the train?” faintly suggested our doubting Thomas.

“No”, was Mrs Jones’ quiet reply; “it is too high for that.”

Even as she spoke, and as though in corroboration, the star made a sudden huge jump towards the mountains, returning almost immediately to its old position, and then rushing at an immense speed straight for us. Then came the unmistakeable rumbling roar of the train approaching from the direction of Bournemouth.

“I thought it was the train,” came with a sigh of relief from our unbeliever. False hope

“No,” was Mrs Jones’ confident contradiction. “That is not the train light, which has yet to come.”

And a second light, very different in character from the first, became as she spoke perceptible at some distance below the star, both obviously rushing towards us. As the train drew nearer the ‘star’ disappeared. With a rush and a roar the train was past. But before our Thomas’ sigh of thankfulness at the disappearance of the star was well out the mysterious star reappeared nearer, and if possible more brilliant than ever. Then it vanished as suddenly as it had first appeared.

“Wait!” was Mrs Jones quiet injunction. In a moment, high up on the hillside, quite two miles away from where the ‘star’ had been a moment previously, a ‘light’ again flashed out, illuminating the heather as though bathed in brilliant sunshine. Again it vanished – only again to reappear a mile further north evidently circling the valley, and in the direction for which we were bound. But our experience was to be stranger still before we got to the meeting.

So far the ‘light’ and ‘star’ had been equally visible to and seen alike by the five who formed our company. Now it made a distinction. Having left the fields and proceeded some distance along the main road, all five walking abreast, I suddenly saw three brilliant rays of dazzling white light stride across the road from mountain to sea, throwing the stone wall into bold relief, every stone and interstice, every little fern and bit of moss, as clearly visible as at noonday, or as though a searchlight had been turned on that particular spot. There was not a living soul near, nor a house from which the light could have come.

Another short half-mile, and a blood-red light, apparently within a foot of the ground, appeared to me in the centre of the village street just before us. I said nothing until we had reached the spot. The redlight had disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come – and there was absolutely nothing which could conceivably account for its having been there a moment before.

“Mrs Jones,” I said – and this was the first intimation the three other members of the party had of what I had seen – “unless I am mistaken, your light still acompanies us.”

“Yes,” she calmly replied. I kept silent on both occasions to see whether any of you had perceived it for yourselves. The first time you know it was white; but I have seen it sometimes blood-red, as you saw it now!”

I had not told Mrs Jones what the nature of the Lights I had seen was, but no sooner had I intimated that I had seen the Light than she described the two appearances precisely as I have described them above, thus establishing beyond question the fact that we had both seen the self-same manifestation. Those are the simple facts. I offer no comment on them. I only state what I saw.”

Suddenly, the story was alive and important; editors realised that this was an attractive and intriguing business; only the Times declined to mention Mary Jones and the Lights. The other newspapers responded in different ways. The Mail and the Mirror both sent correspondents who had, like Beriah Evans, remarkable experiences of the Lights. these became the more remarkable bearing in mind that it is very rare to seek out a phenomenon and actually experience it; but then, it was the news-men who had the experiences – the investigators were singularly unsuccessful. The Mirror reporter did not have the report he wanted published. The following is from an account he sent to the Society for Psychical Research -

“The meeting, which was marked by many of the signs of religious exaltation which characterise the meetings of Evan Roberts, ended at 10.30pm, and I then told Mrs Jones how anxious I was to see the light for myself, and she said she would pray that it might appear to me. I made arrangements to drive back behind her carriage. Both drivers consented to drive without lights. In the first carriage were Mrs Jones and three ladies, in my own with me, the Daily Mirror photographer, a keen witted, hard headed Londoner. The weirdness of that drive in semi-darkness at breakneck speed by river and mountain round deadly corners and down precipitous hills, I shall never forget. For three miles we drove in silence, and I had given up hope. It was close on midnight, and we were nearing Barmouth when suddenly, without the faintest warning, a soft shimmering radiance flooded the road at our feet. Immediately it spread around us, and every stick and stone within twenty yards was visible, as if under the influence of the softest limelight. It seemed as though some large body between earth and sky had suddenly opened and emitted a flood of light from within itself. It was a little suggestive of the bursting of a firework bomb – and yet wonderfully different. Quickly as I looked up, the light was even then fading away from the sky overhead. I looked up to see an oval mass of grey, half open, disclosing within a kernel of white light. As I looked it closed, and everything was once again in darkness. Every one saw this extraordinary light, but while it appeared to me of snowy whiteness, the rest declared it was a brilliant blue. Mrs Jones considered it a direct answer to her prayer. Is there any possible explanation? Was it a flash of summer lightning? No lightning I saw ever took that form, and the idea was laughed to scorn by others.”

Unfortunately, this report is not dated, but as most of the interest from the national daily papers ran from the 9th to the 20th of February, I think we can place it somewhere between those dates.

The Daily Mail reporter had perhaps the most exciting time of anyone in the accounts we have to hand, and he conveys an excellent impression of this part of the coast -

“Lights of unknown origin and dazzling brightness are shining out by night on the hillside above the little chapel of Egryn, in North Wales. The people of the countryside, keenly alive to superstitious influences, regard the strange lights with steadfast faith and calmness, believing them to be material signs from heaven in connection with the Revival.

Two months ago, the Revival spirit touched the little Merionethshire village of Egryn, roused much fervour in the village, and gathered many converts. Soon after this local revival began, rumours were afloat that strange lights were to be seen in the sky when Mrs Jones went abroad, that sometimes they accompanied her to the place of worship she was visiting, that they were always to be seen when she was preaching, and that they made their most frequent appearances over the chapel at Egryn where the revival started. It was freely stated that these lights were never seen before in the locality, and were divine manifestations. Dismissed at first as mere superstitious rumours, the reports grew in exactness, and eventually unbiased visitors had to confess that the mysterious lights were indeed a fact, and that they could give no explanation of their cause. In these circumstances a special correspondent of the Daily Mail was sent to investigate the matter, and here is his tale: -

Walk in the Moonlight

“I arrived at Barmouth, four miles from Egryn, on Friday afternoon, and in the early evening walked along the hillside road past the Egryn Chapel to the lonely farmhouse of Mr and Mrs Jones, half a mile beyond Egryn. In the moonlight lay a scattered hamlet of half a dozen houses at the foot of black, precipitous hills. The range of hills ran parallel with the murmuring sea, and in the lonely strip of meadow between the hills and the sea I found the home of Mrs Jones. She was away that night, preaching at a distant village. I walked on to Dyffryn, two miles away, keeping an eye on the hills and lonely countryside for lights. I saw none. Country people that I met told me, “Yes, they had often seen the lights – they were messages from Heaven”. I came back from Dyffryn to Barmouth later that night, but saw not a single light.

In the broad daylight of Saturday morning I went again to the lonely farmhouse home of Mrs Jones, and found a pleasant-spoken well informed countrywoman of 35, her hair touched with grey, her brown eyes alive with the light of the enthusiast.

She did not associate the lights particularly with herself, she said, although it was true they had been seen during the time she was on her way to the chapel but, she added with low-voiced intensity, she knew they were heaven-sent, and that they were connected with the revival.

At 7 o’clock that evening I was on my way through Egryn, watching the black hillsides. I walked to Dyffryn, and back again across the lonely meadows, and still saw nothing. At 8 o’clock I had decided the whole thing was a local superstition.

Half an hour later my views had changed. At 8.15pm I was on the hillside, walking from Dyffryn to Egryn. In the distance, about a mile away, I could see the three lighted windows of the tiny Egryn chapel, where service was going on. It was the only touch of light in the miles of countryside. Suddenly at 8.20pm I saw what appeared to be a ball of fire above the roof of the chapel. It came from nowhere, and sprang into existence simultaneously. It had a steady, intense yellow brilliance, and did not move.

Not sure whether or not I was deceiving myself, I called to a man 100 yards down the road, and asked him if he could see anything. He came running to me excitedly, and said, “Yes, yes, above the chapel. The great light.” He was a countryman, and trembling with emotion.

What the Lights are Like

We watched the light together. It seemed to me to be at twice the height of the chapel, say fifty feet, and it stood out with electric vividness against the encircling hills behind. Suddenly it disappeared, having lasted about a minute and a half.

I leaned against the stone wall by the wayside, and waited for further developments, the countryman leaving me and making his way alone. Again the chapel windows were the only lights in all the countryside. The minutes crept by and it was 8.35pm before I saw anything else. then two lights flashed out , one on each side of the chapel. they seemed about 100 feet apart, and considerably higher in the air than the first one. In the night it was difficult to judge distance, but I made a rough guess that they were 100 feet above the roof of the chapel. They shone out brilliantly and steadily for a space of thirty seconds. Then they both began to flicker like a defective arc-lamp.

They were flickering like that while one could count ten. Then they became steady again. In the distance they looked like large and brilliant motor-car lights. They disappeared within a couple of seconds of each other.

After this it was suggested that the lights would not appear again till Mrs Jones, who was driving back from her service at Bontddu, was on her way home. I set off to walk the four miles to Barmouth, stopping here and there for ten minutes to watch for fresh lights. The meadows and the open sea were whitened by the moonlight, the rocky hillsides alone were black. There was no house in sight, and the only sound was the continuous, low-voiced gurgle of the water on the shore. Just after half-past ten I was startled by a flash on the dark hillside immediately on my left, and looking up I saw I was comparatively close to one of the strange lights. It was about 300 feet up the hillside, and about 500 feet from where I stood. It shone out dazzlingly, not with a white brightness, but with a deep yellow brightness. It looked a solid bulb of light six inches in diameter, and was tiring to look at.

I ran at the stone wall by the side of the road, climbed it, and made a run for the light. It was gone before I had covered a dozen yards, and I could find nothing but the bare hillside. When I reached the road again I looked back along the way I had come, and saw in the roadway near the Egryn Chapel another of the bright lights.

That is, baldly, what I saw. The lights are probably capable of some natural explanation, but I give the coincidences for what they are worth. There is a little strip of marshy land close to Mrs Jones’ house, and thinking of the will o’ the wisp I asked if the lights had ever been seen here. I was told no. They were always seen on the hills in the neighbourhood of the chapel.”

We will come later to the comments of the Daily Mail investigator, Bernard Redwood, as we will to the intelligent appraisal of the phenomena by ‘A Visitor’ in the Guardian. However, at this point Beriah Evans produces a further report to sustain interest in the phenomena. Again, he does so in slightly different forms in different publications. The version quoted here appears in the Daily News of 16.2.05, but similar accounts were published in the Guardian of the same date and, later, the Occult Review. This is the piece that the Guardian reasonably pointed out was wholly secondhand – none of the events were witnessed by Evans himself -

CARNARVON Wednesday Night

“The scientific investigations now being conducted at Egryn into the source of the mysterious lights detailed in my article a week ago may materially assist in establishing valuable data for further consideration, but if they proceed on the assumption that the manifestations are confined to Egryn Valley, they must prove inconclusive and necessarily misleading.

In closing my article, I said Mrs Jones was proceeding far afield, mentioning centres she proposed visiting, and expressing anticipatory doubt whether lights would accompany her on her distant missions. Communications now received from reliable correspondents establish the essential fact that these manifestations have accompanied her mission to the most distant places yet visited. At Bontddu, near Dolgelly, on Saturday, the brilliant effulgence of a star paled the lights of the room she occupied. Returning homewards after a meeting, her carriage was suddenly bathed in mysterious light descending from a radiant ball in the heavens. Many Barmouth people witnessed this as they were rushing to meet the carriage on entering the town.

On the preceding night, at Bryncrug, between Towyn and Abergynolwyn, twenty-five miles from Dyffryn, the chapel where the meeting was held became bathed in mysterious light. After the meeting a professional gentleman returning homeward suddenly saw a gigantic figure rising over a hedgerow, with right arm extended over the road. Then a ball of fire appeared above, a long white ray descended and pierced the figure, which vanished. This extraordinary manifestation was witnessed simultaneously by a prominent local farmer from another standpoint.

A party of youths returning from a Bryncrug meeting saw a ball of fire preceding them high above the road. Hastening forward they overtook the light, which then remained still. They knelt in the roadway, bathed in this mysterious light, and united in prayer, while the light remained stationary.”

Slightly different in tone to the above account is the following, from the Manchester Guardian of 17.2.05. It seems to hint that the phenomena might not all be related directly to the Revival.

The Movements of a Mysterious Star

“Mr R Bowen, the stationmaster at Towyn, yesterday stated to a correspondent that he had seen in the Manchester Guardian that Mr Beriah Evans claimed to have seen a luminous star which made a dart towards the hills of Dyffryn, and other erratic movements. The star was observed by Mr Bowen about a month ago. It is a large, luminous body, with 3 large sparklets emanating from it, apparently about a foot in diameter, similar to that observed round the moon, (this seems to refer to a yellowish ring seen around it) and generally accepted as an indication of a coming storm. One night it remained practically in the same position from 6.30 to 7.50pm When sought for again, it had travelled in 12 minutes from a point opposite Towyn to the North-West, and stood opposite, as far as he could judge, Bardsey Island. On Monday night the star was kept under observation through a telescope by Mr Bowen, and it travelled nearer to the land at 10.30pm. When opposite Harlech, as near as he could guess, it suddenly disappeared, and although watched for some time did not reappear. The night was clear, with a frost in the air. He added that the observations here recorded were made on clear, bright, calm nights. The star is not to be seen on cloudy or wet nights. What connection the star has with Mrs Jones’ mission Mr Bowen did not pretend to say. He made these observations before he knew that such a connection was claimed for it.”

For the national newspapers (and I believe that the Sunday Chronicle, to which I have not had access, also afforded the events some coverage) this seems to have been the whole of the original material representing the phenomena as paranormal. However, though nationally it had been almost exactly a nine-day wonder, the local papers continued their coverage. This account, from the Cambrian News of 17.2.05, refers to the events of the same Saturday night covered by the Daily Mirror reporter -

“A thing of greater wonder still is the appearance of strange lights in Merionethshire which have been seen in different forms and different places by men of intelligence and trustworthiness. When the light does not appear, the meetings Mrs Jones attends are cold and unsympathetic, and she can give no explanation for the light except that it signifies the divine power and inspiration with which she has been blessed.

The light was distinctly observed on Sunday evening when Mrs Jones was driving home from Bontddu, and it appeared to envelope the carriage which she occupied, although she herself at first thought it was the illumination of a bicycle lamp coming behind. This phenomenon was witnessed by a special correspondent who had requested Mrs Jones to extinguish the carriage lights but, together with other explorers, he confessed himself bewildered, and those who pride themselves on being free from superstition and supernatural notions have acknowledged that there must be something unnatural.”

Part Three >>>

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