Travelers go to Wales for golf, castle and walking tours around some of this UK sector’s stunning scenery like Snowdonia National Park. Others glimpse landscapes inhabited by British royals or tug on their Welsh family roots. Travelers with a penchant for famous Welsh citizens past and present pay homage to notables such as Dylan Thomas, Anthony Hopkins, or Richard Burton, to name a few.
Faith travelers have even more to explore in Wales, say Church of Wales leaders.
Bishops and their parishioners are spotlighting pilgrimages near and far during 2012 and 2013. Part of the motivation is a discernible uptick in visitations to Welsh holy sites like St. Winefride’s Holy Well in Flintshire. Nuns from the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of Saint Bridget have opened a guest house to accommodate pilgrims and visitors to the well.
Throughout its craggy, beautiful interior and coastline, Wales has about as many active churches and ruins of ancient churches as it does castles. Along the way, there’s lots of ecclesiastical heritage, legend and lore to explore.
Why are the Welsh promoting pilgrimage?
Pilgrimage, said Wales’ Bishop Dominic Walker of Monmouth Diocese, can be an outward expression of the personal inward spiritual journey. “We are aware that we are a sacramental people and that the outward expression of that journey is also important in nurturing that inner reality,” he said.
Walker proclaimed this year a time to visit holy sites in the homeland and Bible destinations around the Mediterranean and elsewhere.
Wales’ St. Asaph Diocese is making next year its time to “forge links with holy places and promote religious tourism in north Wales- which is location for the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way. That route begins at Bvasingwerk Abbey in Greenfield, Flintshire and links to a pilgrim route on the Lleyn peninsula, ending at nearby BardseyIsland.
Some of Wales’ most famous holy sites include Tintern Abbey in the southeast region, which inspired poetic output from both William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The 12th century Cistercian abbey remains a romantic, picturesque ruin where visitors may imagine monastic life in the Middle Ages. Gothic in style, Tintern invites contemplation about the days before King Henry VIII devastated monasteries around Britain in the mid-16th century.
St. David’s Cathedral is one of Britain’s oldest and grandest, and it stands on the western Pembrokeshire coast where a sixth century monastery was founded by David, a Celtic monk. It survived plunder in the “Dark Ages” by Norsemen, and was a major pilgrimage destination throughout the Middle Ages and remains a thriving church today. Notable among its features is the carved Irish oak wooden ceiling from the 16th century. A wooden crucifix or rood is suspended from the ceiling in a 20th century replacement of the medieval version.
The Welsh celebrate St. David, their patron saint, on March 1 – the date of his death in 589 AD.
Nick Mayhew Smith profiles about 40 Welsh sites in his excellent handbook, Britain’s holiest places, an essential guide and reference for the faith traveler.
And if you have Welsh heritage, keep in mind that your ancestors may have been among those who began transporting their faith expressions to North America in the 17th century. Some of them took their Baptist traditions to the Plymouth-RhodeIsland region in the 1660’s. Quakers, Reformists and Mormons set down their traditions elsewhere.
As a descendant of those early arrivals, you can return to the “old country” to find church records your people left before they departed for new lives and freedom from religious persecution. Besides online resources such as ancestry.com, there’s The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth which has the largest collection of Welsh family records in the country. There’s also the option of hiring a professional genealogist to research your family’s origins and help you map out a tour itinerary for the quest.