From the grandeur of Cistercian abbeys to the quiet modesty of village chapels, Wales is a country that boasts hundreds of religious sites including impressive examples of non-conformist, Anglican and monastic monuments, among others.
Once the centre of Welsh society, these revered places were essential parts of community life. Many still function as places of worship, and all stand as fascinating examples of Wales’s connection to religion through the ages.
A visit to any of these esteemed Welsh sites will show how ancient beliefs, inspiring historical figures and traditions have helped shape Welsh cultural heritage, language and way of life over the centuries.
This itinerary offers an insight into the depths of Wales’s religious landscape, providing an overview of a variety of religious sites and a starting point for exploring them…
What? Surprisingly decorative religious churches standing on the river Dee
Rug Chapel was founded as a private chapel by Arch Royalist Colonel William Salesbury in the 17th century. Contrary to its modest exterior, the interior is decorated decadently with fine wood carvings and rose motifs.
Nearby Llangar Old Parish Church is a few centuries older than Rug Chapel but similarly, its whitewashed exterior hides the aesthetic wonders within. Inside, the original 15th century wall paintings still survive, thanks in part to the church making way for a new place of worship in Cynwyd in the 1850s.
Many visitors combine a visit to these sites with a walk along the river, which boasts beautiful views and many places to stop and take in the stunning landscapes.
Did you know..? Despite being called a chapel, traditionally associated with non-conformity, Rug is in fact an Anglican church!
Rug Chapel and Llangar Old Parish Church
What? A grand Cistercian abbey
Translating directly from Latin simply as ‘the Vale of Flowers’ or ‘Ystrad Fflur’ in Welsh, Strata Florida is located in a remote corner Ceredigion, and was once home to Cistercian monks.
The plan of the original abbey can still be clearly traced, and you only need admire the majesty of the huge carved west doorway to appreciate how impressive this building must once have been.
Some of the original richly decorated tiles from the abbey are still intact and many tools, coins and other personal objects have been found here in recent years following excavations at the site. These can all be seen on display in the visitor centre.
Did you know..? A pilgrimage for lovers of Welsh poetry, the site is said to be the final resting place of famed medieval poet, Dafydd ap Gwilym who allegedly lies beneath the Yew tree in the church-yard.
Strata Florida Abbey
What? An extra-ordinary, non-conformist Victorian chapel
Chapels were built in their hundreds to accommodate the religious revival in 19th century industrial Wales. As well as developing into places of worship, these chapels of non-conformity also became the social and educational hearts of their communities. Many chapels held services in Welsh, significantly contributing to the use and preservation of the language.
Recognised for its wonderful Victorian architecture, Tabernacle is an extra-ordinary example of a Welsh chapel still open for worship. Built in 1872 at a cost of £18,000, its congregation peaked at over a thousand members in 1910. This grand building however is not your typical non-conformist chapel, traditionally much plainer and simpler.
Tabernacle has had a number of notable Ministers, including Trebor Lloyd Evans who led worship here from 1945-1964. He was a great champion of the Welsh language and campaigned for a Welsh medium school in the area.
Over the years. concerts by the Morriston Tabernacle Choir have attracted world-famous singers, and celebrated organists have given recitals on the 3-manual organ, recently restored by Harrison & Harrison.
Did you know..? Tabernacle Chapel is thought by many to be the largest, grandest and most expensive chapel ever built in Wales.
Open for worship and choir rehearsals as well as by appointment. See website:
For an example of a different, simpler non-conformist chapel in a rural location, visit Capel Newydd in Llanengan. A Welsh independent chapel, it is possibly the earliest surviving non-conformist chapel in north Wales.
What? A 12th century cathedral
Where? St Davids, Pembrokeshire
Still a vibrant and popular place of worship, St Davids Cathedral has been a site of Christian pilgrimage for more than 800 years.
While the present monument was built during the 12th century, it sits upon the site of an earlier, 6th century monastery built by St David, the patron saint of Wales.
The presence of the cathedral has given St Davids city status, making this remote location in the far end of Pembrokeshire Britain’s smallest city – in terms of size and population.
Just a stone’s throw away from the cathedral lies St Davids Bishop’s Palace. Originally built by Bishop Henry de Gower, this beautiful ruin was once a masterpiece, with lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking chequerboard stonework – all a testament to the wealth and status of medieval men of religion.
Did you know..? St Davids Cathedral survived a severe earthquake in the 13th Century, causing structural damage which is still noticeable today. Indeed, the floor slopes noticeably, the arcades are warped in places, and the east and west ends of the building differ in height by roughly four metres!
St Davids Cathedral
Looking for other fascinating religious sites? Wales has hundreds more, including St Winifride's Chapel and Holy Well — a grand 16th-century chapel that surrounds a 12th-century holy spring.