Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Bible in Welsh

While on holiday, we visited an exhibition in honour of the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Bible at the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) in Aberystwyth. The parallel story of the first translation of the bible into Welsh was also told. It reminded me that I have very a personal connection with Bishop William Morgan who made the famous 1588 Welsh translation. Born in Penmachno (near Betws y Coed, in North Wales) in 1545, Morgan studied at St John's College, Cambridge, gaining a DD in 1568. He learned Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic. He was then ordained by the Bishop of Ely, in Ely cathedral, and took his first living at Llanbardarn Fawr, near Aberystwyth. My home parish, where I sang in the choir, went to Sunday School and learned to play the organ, was Llanbadarn Fawr and I, too, was ordained deacon at Ely cathedral, in 1988, exactly four hundred years after the publication of Morgan's seminal translation of the bible.

His was not the first translation into Welsh of the New Testament; this had been done by William Salesbury in 1568. Morgan translated the Old Testament and Apocrypha and revised Salesbury's work to produce the first complete edition of all the canonical scriptures. His bible has been inestimably important for the Wesh language - perhaps more so even than the King James Bible has been for the English language. Morgan created a translation which was both close to the original texts he worked with, and couched in the classical Welsh of the poets. Because so much public business was conducted in Latin or English (incuding property and legal matters which were often not recorded in Welsh) Morgan's translation was instrumental in arresting the decline in Welsh, giving a new dignity and importance to the language and creating the parameters for modern written Welsh. Morgan went on to become Vicar of Llanrhaeadr y Mochnant, Bishop of Llandaff and then Bishop of St Asaph.

Of course, every Welsh child knows the story of Mary Jones who, at the age of 16, walked 25 miles from Llanfihangel y Pennant to Bala to buy a bible from the minister, Thomas Charles. Her story inspired the establishment of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804 which originally set out to address the problem of the lack of Welsh bibles available in Welsh-speaking areas. It grew into the internationally known ecumenial and non-sectarian Bible Society which has overseen the translation of the bible into many languages. The exhibition contains the bible Thomas Charles gave to Mary as well as a second copy he gave her - clearly he had heard of BOGOF and used it as an evangelistic tool! 

Many of the texts from the exhibition can be seen on

You can also see texts of the English translations of the bible as well as material about the poet and theologian Ann Griffths (1776-1805) and the hymn writer William Willams of Pantycelyn on the Library's wonderful Digital Mirror - the National Library of Wales is recognised as a leading centre of digitisation in Europe. No doubt William Morgan and John Wycliffe's translations would have been rather different, had they had access to the range of texts today's scholars have! 


1 comment:

  1. Nice post.Very inspiring.We have learned to earn, grow, and live a fulfilled and happy life in the Spirit.I think interpreting our lives would mean on how we live our christian life more than any translation services could ever offer.