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Mary Jones: A Bible for all

She was so poor that she had to save for two years to buy a Bible of her own. But now Mary Jones is at the heart of an exhibition at the National Library of Wales

Described by the exhibition's curator Prof E Wyn James as ‘the world's most famous Welsh woman’, Mary Jones features alongside the Welsh Bible – ‘the most important book ever to appear in the Welsh language’ – in the ‘Beibl i Bawb’ (‘A Bible for All’) exhibition. And her own Bibles are among the exhibits. 

The exhibition outlines the history of translating the Bible into Welsh, together with the efforts down the centuries, by people including Thomas Charles of Bala, to produce and distribute copies and to teach people to read it. It was from him that Mary bought her Welsh Bible in 1800, at the age of 15, having walked the 26 miles from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant to Bala. Her passion for Scripture led to the establishment of the British and Foreign Bible Society, launched in 1804. 

Bibles on display 

‘A Bible for All’ includes the iconic copy of the Bible that Mary Jones obtained from Thomas Charles, the Bible that Mary Jones received from Thomas Charles in 1800 for a relative, and her copy of Bible Society’s 1819 edition of the Welsh New Testament. 

The first complete translation of the Bible into Welsh, the influential William Morgan Bible, was published in 1588. It was revised in 1620 by Dr John Davies, who also revised the Welsh version of the Book of Common Prayer and Edmwnd Prys's metrical psalms. His version of the Bible would remain the standard text until the end of the twentieth century. All of these feature in the exhibition.

National Library of Wales/Bible Society

Welsh translations and  translators

But it's not just about history – ‘A Bible for All’ brings the story up to date, with sections on how Welsh people have translated the Bible into languages around the world and how they're remembered today. A statue of Swansea missionary Griffith John, who translated the New Testament into two of China’s languages, stands in front of the largest hospital in Wuhan, and in our own day, the work of Dr Joan Richards in translating the New Testament into the Waura language of Brazil is also featured.

The exhibition is in the Hengwrt Gallery at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth until 2 April 2022. Admission is free.

Author: Mark Woods, 18 November 2021 (Last updated: 23 November 2021)

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