Gair i’r Cymry (A word for the Welsh)

A little over 450 years ago Welsh speakers were given the opportunity to hear and read the New Testament in their mother tongue for the first time.

For those of us familiar with having several versions readily available – in print and in digital formats – it is hard to imagine how revolutionary this development really was. Here was the word of God offered to the Welsh not in the alien tongue of Latin or English but in the language of hearth, home and community.

It came in the same year as the first Welsh translation of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby making it possible for people both to worship in their mother tongue as well to hear the gospels, the acts and the epistles. It was an amazing achievement theologically but also in terms of assuring a place for Welsh as a ‘serious’ written language as well as a political victory for those who had fought for royal permission for such translations.

William Salesbury

The Diocese of St. Davids should be proud that it was in the Bishop’s Palace in Abergwili that the work was undertaken, by the scholar William Salesbury, Bishop Richard Davies and the cleric Thomas Huet.

It was appropriate therefore to gather at the end of May on the Carmarthen campus of the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David to celebrate this extraordinary contribution in the company of eight experts. For Morning and Evening Prayer the 1567 Prayer Book was used thereby giving opportunity to hear the linguistic patterns of the first New Testament in their most natural setting.

The lectures were arrayed in three cycles, each one concentrating on some specific aspect. Setting the work in its historical and theological context was the objective of the first cycle, with Emeritus Professor Ceri Davies expounding Salesbury’s work in the light of the Renaissance inheritance, Dr. Robert Pope considering it according to the tenets of the Protestant Reformation and Emeritus Professor Densil Morgan explaining how his other texts reflected his anti-Catholic convictions. Exploring the text itself was the focus of the second cycle, with Geraint Lloyd, one of the university’s translators exploring Salesbury’s principles of translation and Dr. Christine Jones drawing attention to the influence of the dialects of Dyfed on Thomas Huet’s translation of the book of Revelation.

To close, the conference evaluated the importance of the 1567 tour de force with Professor Wyn James considering the key role of the Prayer Book, the Revd Dr Adrian Morgan expounding William Morgan’s 1588 Bible and Edmwnd Prys’ 1621 metrical psalms and finally Arfon Jones, the translator of describing the influence on our most contemporary version.

It is hoped to publish the papers in a special edition of Y Traethodydd.