Wales: A Pilgrimage Country

    Impact: Cultural impacts, Social impacts

    Description of impact

    Research on the history and social anthropology of pilgrimage and on the history of the Cistercians in Wales by USW historians led first to the development of the Cistercian Way, a round-Wales heritage and pilgrimage route linking Cistercian abbeys and other historical sites. The Cistercian Way is now a recognised route, having received funding from Welsh Government for way-marking and a website. Further work is taking place to develop a ‘Welsh Camino’ which includes sections of the Cistercian Way, in collaboration with the EU-funded Celtic Routes and Ancient Connections projects. A third element of the project is the Pilgrimage Forum for Wales, for which a funding-bid is currently underway. Gray has also been been consulted on other established routes, including St Thomas Way and the Laleston Stones project.

    How did your research contribute?

    The Cistercian Way is based upon research on the pilgrimage journeys as part of traditional faith-based pilgrimage, but using insight from modern secular ‘pilgrimages’ such as the Hippie Trail and journeys to music festivals. In particular, studies have explored the role of rituals and specific clothing in creating group identities: this has potential for the development of local economies.
    Further research into the effects of religious tourism on host communities found that while pilgrimage can contribute to economic regeneration, it can also create local hostility. Gray (2009, with John Winton) outlined the key issues and suggested strategies for approaching them, based on a case study of responses to pilgrimage in the South Wales valleys.
    The key role of the Cistercians in the development of the Welsh landscape (and specifically on the development of the medieval road system) was explored in a special volume of the journal Archaeologia Cambrensis co-edited by Gray in 2005.
    Pilgrimage is sometimes seen as an aspect of ‘popular’ religion in the pejorative sense. Research (specifically Gray 2012-13, Gray 2013) has emphasised the complex thinking behind veneration at comparatively major shrines.
    Other research (specifically Gray 2014, 2015) has discussed the distinctive nature of shrines and pilgrimage in Wales and its contribution to the Welsh sense of identity.

    Who is affected?

    Community-based projects: the Laleston Stones Trail and the Penrhys Pilgrimage Working Group
    Church in Wales: Diocese of Llandaff; Diocese of St. David's; Diocese of Monmouth
    Ireland-Wales Territorial Co-operation Programme
    Local councils: RCTCBC, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Bridgend.
    Tourism providers: Journeying
    Ramblers Associations: Pembrokeshire; Carmarthenshire; Glamorgan
    North Wales Pilgrims' Way
    The St Thomas Way (University of Southampton/Hereford Cathedral/Swansea Museum)
    Welsh Government - Visit Wales
    Local communities: Penrhys; Laleston
    Historical Associations
    Impact date1998
    Category of impactCultural impacts, Social impacts
    Impact levelIn progress