Work started today to turn a deconsecrated church in North Wales into a new £1 million visitor centre.
Mary Jones World will be based at St Beuno’s Church, at Llanycil, Bala. The site has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,500 years and has strong links with Bible Society, which bought the redundant Grade 2-listed building in 2007 and the adjoining field in 2009.
It was in 1800 that Mary Jones, aged 15, walked 25 miles from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, across the Welsh mountains, to Bala to get a Bible from Revd. Thomas Charles. Mary saved for six years to purchase one and Thomas Charles was so moved by her determination that he helped establish Bible Society four years later. He is one of a number of notable figures buried in the churchyard at Llanycil.
The new centre will tell the story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles and give visitors the chance to learn about the Bible’s impact in Wales and the rest of the world. It will also be an educational centre.
Dorothi Evans, Mayor of Bala said, ‘This is fantastic news. We are really looking forward to this visitor centre. The story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles is what we have been brought up with, but a lot of people don’t know about them and in learning about them and learning about the history of the Bible Society local people will be amazed.'
Mary Thomas is the Secretary of the Bible Society Acton Group in Bala and author of a guidebook to the Mary Jones Walk, encouraging walkers to follow in her footsteps. She says it's exciting to see the project progressing.
Heritage Consultant, Ian Walden talks about what will be inside the church.
For the last six years Bible Society has developed this project, secured funding and gained planning permission to enable the scheme to proceed. Funds have been raised through donations from Bible Societies around the world, supporters and the sale of some assets.
A new car park will be created in the field next to the church with a picnic area and access to local footpaths. Developers will also begin transforming the interior of the building.
Bible Society’s Group Chief Executive James Catford said ‘This project is hugely significant for Bible Society in Wales. The Bible’s impact in Wales and, through Wales, the rest of the world has been immense. The centre will tell this story to tourists, school children and international visitors. We are very grateful to the people of Llanycil and Bala for their support and encouragement.’
Mary Jones World will be officially opened in the autumn to coincide with the bicentenary of Thomas Charles’ death.