Bible translators’ memorial, St Asaph

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Link to French translationBible translators’ memorial, St Asaph

This memorial was unveiled in 1892, following a fund-raising appeal to mark the tercentenary of the translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588. From the Gothic tower structure, the statues of eight men look out in different directions over the cathedral green.

The Bible’s translation was a key event in Welsh history, said by some to have saved one of Europe’s oldest languages from decline or oblivion. Queen Elizabeth I, monarch at the time, was a Welsh-speaker, her grandfather (Henry Tudor) having been born in Pembroke Castle.

An Act of Parliament in 1563 authorised translation of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer "because the English tongue is not understood of the most and greatest number of all her majesty's most living and obedient subject inhabiting Wales". The Act required copies to be placed in every Welsh church by 1567.

By 1567, the New Testament and Book of Common Prayer were translated by William Salesbury and Richard Davies. Both feature on the translators’ memorial. Salesbury, commemorated also in his home village of Llansannan, haStatue of William Morgand already published a Welsh-English dictionary, possibly the first Welsh-language book ever printed. Davies hailed from Gyffin, Conwy, and was Bishop of St David’s, and a former Bishop of St Asaph. It’s said that they failed to translate the Old Testament after disagreeing over how a single word should be translated.

William Morgan, who also hailed from this region of Wales, completed the task in 1588, including improving on the language used by Salesbury, and 800 copies were soon printed. He was vicar of Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth, when his talents were probably spotted by Davies. He was familiar with Welsh poetry, and his Bible became a linguistic as well as a religious bedrock. He undertook the work while he was rector of the tiny parish of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Powys. He later became Bishop of Llandaff and Bishop of St Asaph (1601-1604). He died, aged 57, in September 1604 and was buried in the cathedral, where a copy of his Bible is still kept.

Others featured on the memorial are: Gabriel Goodman and Edmund Prys, who assisted Morgan; Richard Parry (Bishop of St Asaph after Morgan) and John Davies, who revised Morgan’s Bible to produce an “authorised version” in 1620; and Thomas Huet, who helped Salesbury with the New Testament.

Edmund Prys went on to produce the first book of Welsh psalms in 1621 (a copy is kept in the cathedral). What’s more, they were in a metre which made them ideal for singing. The book even included tunes, probably making it the first Welsh book to feature printed music.

All Church in Wales cathedrals celebrate the translators’ work on set days each year: William Salesbury and William Morgan usually on 10 September, and Edmund Prys on 15 May.

Postcode: LL17 0RD    View Location Map

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