A £3-MILLION project is under way both to build on the resurgence of interest in pilgrimages and to expand the Welsh-language Church.
The Llan project, supported by the Evangelism Fund of the Church in Wales, will re-establish and found new pilgrimage routes in north Wales, and turn six churches that are dedicated in honour of Celtic saints into pilgrim churches, offering interpretation and better facilities for tourists.
A Welsh-language church will be planted in Bethesda, which will also be home to a community of gap-year students who want to get a taste of Welsh-speaking Christian ministry. New liturgy and prayers in Welsh and evangelism courses will be written specifically for Welsh-speakers.
The project is being managed by an NSM of Wrexham, the Revd James Tout. He said that in some areas of north Wales, 50 per cent of residents were Welsh- speaking. “We have a duty to be able to minister to people in their own language. Those young people who live in the community at Bethesda will be there to reach out to people through the medium of Welsh.”
North Wales is home to many established pilgrimage routes. Bardsey Island — the culmination of the 133-mile-long North Wales Pilgrims Way — has been described as the “island of 2000 saints”.
The main aim of the pilgrimage routes was to “enable people to have an encounter with God”, Mr Tout said. “There has been a huge resurgence of interest in pilgrimage, and, in north Wales, we have a real and legitimate claim in this area.
“As Christians in the diocese of Bangor, we can trace our history back to holy men and women who founded communities of prayer and service across the diocese as early as the fifth century.
“A millennium and a half later, our mission hasn’t changed; but our context today is new and challenging. Deiniol, Cybi, Seiriol, Tudwen, Madryn, and others brought the light of Christ to our diocese. In a holy place — near a well, in a glade, at a cave, by a grove — they established their “llan”, their enclosure: a place of wisdom, story, teaching, healing, and conversion; assuredly a place of solitude, but also a place of encounter.
“Our evangelism project takes Llan as its title because it seeks to create and offer contemporary opportunities for the evangelistic encounter found at the traditional llan.”
The Archdeacon of Meirionnydd, the Ven. Andrew Jones, said: “For generations, pilgrims have come to our diocese to visit the many ‘holy pilgrim places’ we have on our doorstep. Over the years, I have observed with excitement the increasing pilgrimage traffic to Bardsey Island at a time when regular church congregations are weakening.
“All of our pilgrimage sites are places of silence, beauty, light, and even of imaginative transition from this world to the next: spaces of precious and irreplaceable gifts.”
One of the new routes to be established will be across Anglesey, based on the route from the cell of the sixth-century St Seiriol to St Cybi’s, Holyhead. The two saints were reputed to be good friends and to walk weekly to meet each other.