All the major world religions have a presence all across Wales, some of which have been represented for many years.
Wales has a number of ethnic communities, many of whose members belong to non-Christian faiths. They are to be found mainly in the cities of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. All the world's major religions are present in the country, such as Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism. Cardiff boasts the highest proportion of members of most of these religions.
The oldest non-Christian faith to be established was Judaism , with a presence in Swansea dating from around 1730. Jewish communities were formed in the next century in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd and Tredegar. 1911 was a year of industrial disputes and public disorder in Wales with major riots in Tonypandy and Llanelli. In August of that year, Jewish shops across the south Wales coalfield were targeted and attacked by mobs. As a result the Jewish population declined in these areas, leaving only Cardiff with a sizeable Jewish community. Blame for the attacks have been attributed to contemporary anti-Semitic undertones existing in both early socialist propaganda and Welsh Nonconformity. At its height in around 1913, it is thought that the total number of Jews was around 4,000 to 5,000, which by the 2001 Census had declined to about 2,000.
The largest non-Christian faith in Wales is also the fastest growing faith in the world today, which is Islam . In the 2001 Census it had 22,000 members. Many Muslims came to south Wales during Cardiff's heyday as the largest coal exporting port in the world and by now they are well established. It is thought that the Yemenis of the city are the oldest Muslim community in Britain, dating from the mid to late 19th Century. The first purpose-built mosque was erected in Cardiff in 1947 and the following year Cardiff hosted Britain's first ever Muslim conference.
Wales has about 40 mosques, most of which are in Cardiff, with others in Newport, Swansea and Haverfordwest. A college for training Muslim clerics has been established in Llanybydder in west Wales.
Sikhism has around 2,000 members and the first purpose-built Sikh gurdwara was opened in Cardiff in 1989.
The 2001 Census shows that 'Other Religions' in Wales numbered some 7,000 members. Amongst that number are a large number of pagans, including those who see themselves as Druids . These modern day Druids base their beliefs on numerous sources, including ancient Welsh literature. This revival of a form of Druidism arguably marks a full circle in the history of religion in Wales, as it brings the story back to the beliefs that were practised before the Romans invaded.
This form of Druidism should not be confused with the 'Gorsedd y Beirdd', familiar to many from the National Eisteddfod . The 'Gorsedd' is a cultural body, concerned primarily with promoting and maintaining the Welsh language. There were a lot of newspaper headlines about its 'pagan' origins when the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams , was admitted as a member in 2002.
Perhaps a worrying trend for the religions of Wales may be the fact revealed in the 2001 Census that over half a million people in Wales now profess to have no religion whatsoever. That accounts for around one in six of the population.
There is nothing new in the arrival of new religions to Wales. After all, many years ago Christianity itself was a strange, exotic religion before it put down roots and made itself at home. The reality is that Wales, like the other countries of the UK, is now home to many faiths.
Indeed, Prince Charles has acknowledged this by floating the idea that on becoming king he would like the old title 'Defender of the Faith', inherited from the days of Henry VIII, amended to 'Defender of Faiths'. His remarks have been welcomed as indicating a more inclusive approach to religion, although they have also drawn some flak from traditionalists.
The ensuing debate shows that although organised religion may be in decline, faith is still very much a live topic and very much tied up with how people define themselves. Religion in Wales, in all its different guises, is not going to go away just yet.