Wales is famous for both the sights and sounds of its many churches and chapels. The place-names of Wales enshrine both the names of the early saints and the Biblical names of chapels. The Cistercian monks shaped the landscape of Wales. The smallest Welsh village can have half a dozen chapels and churches, which resound with some of the world’s most celebrated hymns and songs.
A unique and historic region in Wales is the ancient kingdom and county of Ceredigion, which reaches from the shores of Cardigan Bay up into the Cambrian Mountains. Many branches of the Christian faith cross paths in the hills and valleys of Ceredigion. In the university town of Lampeter alone there are churches, chapels and prayer rooms of twelve different Christian denominations or fellowships (and counting), not to mention other faiths. Historic church sites range from the early churches of St David at Henfynyw and Llanddewibrefi, through the Cistercian monastery at Strata Florida, to the historic chapels of Daniel Rowland at Llangeitho, and Thomas Philips at Neuaddlwyd. The links of Ceredigion’s churches and chapels reach across the sea to lands as far away as Madagascar and Korea.
The kingdom of Ceredigion emerged into the history in the early middle ages, when it was one of the ancient kingdoms of Wales, tracing its origins to its eponymous founder Ceredig. In the middle ages it merged with neighbouring Dyfed to form the Kingdom of Deheubarth, which flourished independently of Norman control under such Welsh Princes as Lord Rhys ap Gruffydd (Yr Arglwydd Rhys). In 1282 Ceredigion was made one of the Counties of Wales (Cardiganshire/Sir Aberteifi) by Edward I. In 1974 it was merged into the new county of Dyfed, but in 1996 became a separate county of Ceredigion, named after the ancient kingdom of Ceredigion.
A visit to Ceredigion takes you to churches and chapels that have been centres of faith over many centuries for local people, but many are of more than just local significance. Rhygyfarch’s Life of St David claims that Llanddewbrefi was where St David preached to one of the major synods of the early British church. The communites at Llanbadarn Fawr, Strata Florida and Llanddewbrefi were centres of learning that produced some of the major works of Welsh history and literature. At Llangeitho, in the mid-1700s, the Methodist preaching of Daniel Rowland was of national celebrity and led to the formation of a new Welsh church. At Neuaddlwyd, Thomas Philips founded a school for the education of missionaries that sent its scholars to Madagascar – where this small Ceredigion chapel community is still acknowledged as the mother church of Madagascar’s Protestants. The church of Our Lady of the Taper is the Roman Catholic National Shrine for Wales. Events at New Quay in 1904 initiated a Christian revival that spread to churches around the world.
A journey through Ceredigion’s churches and chapels is an inspirational journey, in which one can learn many stories of faith and history, in one of the most beautiful of the counties of Britain.