Wales - land of saints, comrades and friends

By Willard Roth
March 19, 2010

The fifth in a series of 2010 Lent blogs from Willard Roth focusing on places of particular spiritual intensity and interest across Britain and Ireland.


Wales will be new on the Mennonite ‘Celtic circuit’ for the group I am bringing over from the US in June 2010**. On the north coast stands St Trillo’s Chapel, certainly one of the world’s smallest. Built over a holy well on the beach at Rhos-on-Sea, it is purported to be on the site of the saint’s 6th century cell. Its walls and roof of beach stones have been rebuilt and repaired over the centuries, yet retaining size and form described in historical record.

St Trillo is the fisherman’s saint; to this chapel fisherfolk have come through the years praying for overflowing nets. All reverence is due to this sacred spot - so the entrance marker reminds visitors, as they bow to enter the tiny always open door. On my first visit in 1982 I missed the weekly Friday morning Eucharist; in 1994 I was more intentional, stealthily leaving my beloved asleep in our Bed and Breakfast as I walked the half-mile for the 8 o’clock service—one of two communicants with four empty chairs.

The English name Wales is Anglo-Saxon, meaning ‘foreigners’; but natives proudly call their country Cymru—land of comrades, or friends. The Wales I have experienced is indeed a place of gracious and hospitable friendship, whether I was in a church, a tea room, a timbered pub, a family-run B&B or listening to a men’s choir with a woman director in a community centre.

Along with Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall, Wales is rich with the ‘Celtic’ legacy. Religion embeds the nation’s history as manifest in the names of many towns ending in llan, meaning church. The Welsh patron is Dewi Sant—6th century Celtic St David, buried in the cathedral bearing his name where we will spend guided time.

Medieval pilgrims believed that two pilgrimages to St Davids were worth one to Rome. Monks will introduce us to nearby Caldey Island, and hearing a Welsh choir rehearse would be serendipity. We will wind up northwest on Llyn Peninsula to be guided prayerfully by Anglican priest (and writer on spirituality, peace and justice) Jim Cotter, at the pilgrim church in Aberdaron.

“The saints of the early Celtic Church,” according to Nora Chadwick, “have a special kind of immortality which is their peculiar and rare privilege. Asking nothing for themselves, seeking only to be forgotten by men, in union with the divine Spirit, they are yet remembered with a devotion rarely accorded to small groups of religious ‘on the edge of the habitable globe’.” (Riddell Memorial Lectures, University of Durham 1960).

In my 1982 journal I copied, “A sense of history grips the visitor to the northern peaks and shores of Wales. The living language and culture of Wales are proud descendants of an unbroken Celtic tradition and bear as powerful a witness of those distant days as our silent standing stones and burial chambers of pre-history. This heritage of the Celtic peoples is shared by the whole of western Europe.”

While no stranger to this Massachusetts-size country, I want to imbibe more of its rich Celtic connections, historic and contemporary, as we wander wild Wales come June.


The first article in this series is 'Iona remembered' (; the second is 'Celtic Christianity revisited' (; the third, 'Crossing many paths in Ireland' (; and the fourth 'Glendalough - an awareness of ancient wisdom' -

(c) Willard E. Roth is a retired pastor in Mennonite Church USA, having held many posts for the Mennonite church nationally and world wide. He has also been involved with the Academy of Parish Clergy (ACP), and has a specialist interest in journalism and communications.

** Willard Roth is co-leading, with Marlene Kropf, a Celtic Pilgrimage on behalf of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkart, Indiana. It will take place from 11-28 June 2010. For details, visit The Pilgrimage, which will move across Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England, is now fully booked.

Keywords:welsh | wales | saints | mennonites | lent | celtic
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