Welsh churches dig out the treasures for open day

Visitors will be welcomed in to churches across Wales to see some of their more unusual treasures on a nationwide open day this Saturday.

More than 200 churches are taking part in this year's Open Churches Day on Saturday and just some of the curios they will get a peak at include healing wells, weeping chancels, 2,000-year-old yew trees and flags from the Zulu War.

Many architectural and artistic gems will be on display, such as ancient Celtic stones, Medieval wall paintings, prized Victorian stained glass and daring modern sculpture.

Other less expected attractions include carvings of double-headed dragons and mermaids, a herb and apothecary garden to walk around, a prayer labyrinth, a cathedral mouse hunt and a honey fair.

Some of the churches have links with traditional Welsh tales and legends, such as the font where the infamous pirate “Barti Du” – Blackbeard – was baptised, the burial place of Dic Penderyn, killed in the Merthyr Riots, and the grave of Jemima “Fawr” who single-handedly scotched the French invasion of Fishguard 200 years ago. Some churches, too, are mentioned in the Mabinogion.

Many of the churches taking part are open all year round for visitors, but the open day is an opportunity for them to highlight some of their more overlooked treasures.

The open day also gives visitors the opportunity to browse through some of the church's records, including baptism and marriage registers.

The Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Rev Andy John, said the open day was an opportunity for Wales' churches and chapels to be enjoyed by many people.

"Since this annual event began six years ago, more and more churches and chapels have discovered the added value visitors bring to the local congregation," he said.

"Whether it is the peace and tranquillity of sacred space, a particular example of an architectural style or the chance to explore church records, visitors to our communities are delighted to find the church building open and welcoming.”

Dr Terry Stevens, International Tourism Consultant, encouraged people to take a break from the pressures of modern living and spend a moment reflecting on their heritage.

“The tourist to Wales is increasingly seeking those 'special places', they want to discover what makes our communities tick and they want to share in our strong sense of place," he said.

"There is no better way of experiencing these aspects of a visit to Wales than in our diverse range and styles of churches and chapels. These building are at the very heart of every community in Wales.

"They are more often than not wonderful architectural and heritage icons whose very presence announces that a visitor has arrived!

"They are the focal point of community celebrations, customs, festivals and worship. And, for our visitors, they are an essential part of enjoying, understanding and appreciating Wales as a distinctive tourism destination."

The event is organised by Churches Tourism Network Wales which has details of churches taking part on its website, www.ctnw.co.uk