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20 September 2013

Faith Tourism in Wales

Faith Tourism in Wales

St Beuno's Church, at Llanycil, Bala - Bible Society.

September has been a good month for faith tourism in Wales with two independent events underlining this. 

On 16 September, the Bible Society announced that planning permission had been granted to turn a decommissioned chapel on the shores of Bala Lake in North Wales into a £1million visitor centre. The centre will celebrate the story of 15-year-old Mary Jones, who walked 25 miles to Bala to buy a Bible from Thomas Charles in 1800, leading to the launch of the Bible Society four years later. The centre will open in 2014 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Charles' death.

It was also announced this month that the Welsh government will be launching its All-Wales Faith Tourism Initiative in St. Asaph Cathedral on 25 October. The Government's intention is to promote Wales' sacred sites by attracting visitors, to welcome them into Wales' churches and chapels and to educate them about the nation's rich history and heritage.

Assembly Members such as Darren Millar and William Powell have long been calling for Welsh government to do more to capitalise on Wales' history and to boost faith tourism. The Church in Wales announced last year that religious tourism had been increasing in recent years with more than 600,000 visitors each year to the nation's most religious places. It is now considered one of the fastest growingparts of the tourism sector and Gweini's Faith in Wales report in 2008 showed that visits from tourism to Wales' sacred buildings and cathedrals was worth £12million per annum to the Welsh economy.

The All-Wales Faith Tourism Initiative - the first in the UK - heralds a remarkable change in attitude from Welsh government as since devolution began in 1999 there was silence from Cardiff Bay on the importance of Wales' Christian heritage - that is, until recently.Christian Tourism Network Wales, the leading organisation in the sector, points also to the significant growth in organisations, networks and resources that are now facilitating faith tourism to meet the demand.

Faith tourism is multi-faceted. Some tourists – both Christian and non-Christian - are predominantly interested in architecture and history, while others visit places associated with events in order to reflect spiritually and, for Christians, to deepen their relationship with God.

Some places are of particular relevance to evangelicals: Moriah Chapel in Loughor near Swansea was the birthplace of the 1904 Welsh revival and attracts evangelical visitors from around the world. Hanover Chapel in Llanover, near Abergavenny, attracts hundreds of Korean evangelical Christians every year, visiting the home of Robert Jermain Thomas, the man who brought them the gospel in the 19th century.

Huw Edwards, narrator of the BBC documentary series The Story of Wales, stated that you cannot not tell Wales' story without making reference to its Christian history.