Meleri Cray at the National Eisteddfod of Wales

Happy St David’s Day

You could say it all started in Wales – Bible Society, that is!

In 1800, teenager Mary Jones trekked 26 long miles through the rugged terrain of north Wales to buy a Welsh Bible. Her inspiring story became the talk of the churches in the area and stirred influential Christians into action. And on 7 March 1804, the British and Foreign Bible Society was formed.

So to mark not only St David’s Day in Wales on 1 March, but also the 217th birthday of Bible Society itself, we’ve fired off a few questions to Meleri Cray, the head of Bible Society in Wales.

There are tons of Davids in Wales, so why was this one special?

Well, substantiated facts about St David are quite limited.  It’s thought that St David (Dewi Sant in Welsh!) patron saint of Wales, died on 1 March, around AD 589 and that his remains were buried at the site of St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire.  The most famous story about Saint David tells how he was preaching to a huge crowd and the ground is said to have risen up, so that he was standing on a hill and everyone had a better chance of hearing him and that a white dove came and sat on his shoulder as he spoke. Apparently, his last words to his followers came from a sermon he gave on the previous Sunday: 'Be joyful, keep the faith, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do.' The phrase 'Gwnewch y pethau bychain' - 'Do the little things' - is still well-known in Wales.

That’s pretty special! So what do Welsh people do on St David’s Day?

Some children attend school wearing traditional Welsh costume and people across Wales put on their yellow daffodil or leek! Girls typically would wear a petticoat and overcoat, made of Welsh flannel, and a tall black hat, worn over a frilled bonnet. Boys generally wear a white shirt, a Welsh flannel waistcoat, black trousers, long wool socks and black shoes.

Many schools also celebrate by holding an ‘eisteddfod’ event which involves various competitions around music, art/culture.

What’s your favourite sounding Bible verse in Welsh?

I sent this question to Nerys Siddall, who manages Mary Jones World in Bala, North Wales (We hope to re-open Mary Jones World in July!).  This is what she came back with: Marc (Mark) 6.34: ‘Peidiwch felly â phryderu am yfory, oherwydd bydd gan yfory ei bryder ei hun. Digon i'r diwrnod ei drafferth ei hun.’ (BCN, new Welsh Revised Bible)

I felt like a lost sheep reading that. It does sound lovely and poetic, but I need to work on my pronunciation. Please give us a really famous Bible verse in Welsh?

Nerys suggests verse 105 from Psalm 119 which is often referred to in talking about Mary Jones’ story: ‘Y mae dy air yn llusern i'm troed,ac yn oleuni i'm llwybr’ (BCND). You can follow in Mary’s footsteps by walking the likely route she took from her home in Llanfihangel y Pennant to Bala. Along the walk there are 5 information boards which in include a different Bible verse on each on and this verse features on one of them. 

I’m off to buy some hiking boots to travel through the beautiful Welsh countryside! But why is it important to have the Bible available in the Welsh language?

Many people such as myself are first-language Welsh speakers and grew up in a predominantly Welsh-speaking environment, attending Welsh services and Sunday school. When you are accustomed to Bible readings, hymn singing and prayer in Welsh, to do so in the English language can feel remote, disconnected and detached. 

Welsh people have amazing singing power and there are some terrific Welsh hymns.

Apparently, Wales is traditionally referred to as the ‘land of song’!  In order to reach a wider audience on a relational level and provide deep-rooted engagement, the provision of Scriptural content in Welsh is crucial. Bible Society is involved with translation work across many areas around the world which enables people to engage with God’s word in their heart language.

I just heard that Bible Society’s Open the Book ministry that takes the Bible into school assemblies is now reaching 1 million children! Is Open the Book available in Welsh?

Yes, Open the Book resources are available in the Welsh language.  Right now, there are about 1,500 Bible Storytellers active at 296 schools reaching 62,456 children in Wales. The Lion Storyteller Bible (used by Open the Book teams) is available in Welsh long with all the necessary handbooks. Recently, Open the Book launched new online training and this is nearly ready for launch in the Welsh language too. Storytellers can access training sessions and visit question-and-answer surgeries in both languages online during this coronavirus period.

The Welsh version of the Good News Bible: Youth Edition

What other Bible work do you want to tell us about?

The new Easter resources are available in both English and Welsh and include an Open the Book assembly.  Also, Word in Action and Prayer in Action are available digitally in Welsh on our Welsh language web pages and you can take a look at additional content on our Welsh language social media pages. If you know of any young people who would like to engage with the Bible, then the Welsh language version based on the Good News Bible: Youth Edition is also now available in Welsh.

That Youth Edition is amazing. I use it and I’m 55! Anything else?

If you would like to discuss the ongoing work of Bible Society in Wales or would like to volunteer to support the work in any way (both in the English or Welsh language), please get in touch with meleri.cray@biblesociety.org.uk 

Diolch yn fawr, Meleri!

Thank you!

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