Chapter 10

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Welsh Bible

After the printing press had reached Wales, it is remarkable not how few books were printed in Welsh, but how many. In 1546, Sir John Price (John Prys of Brecon) published the first book in the Welsh language, his collection of basic religious texts "Yn Llyvyr Hwnn" (In This Book). Tradition has it that the very first book actually printed in Wales itself was "Y Drych Gristianogawl" (The Christian Mirror), produced in a cave at Llandudno, North Wales as a surreptitious counter-reformation text in 1585. "The true pioneer of publishing in Welsh," however, was not Price, but the ardent Protestant William Salesbury (1520-84).

Salesbury, the most outstanding of the new scholars, was particularly alarmed at what he considered the baseness of the Welsh tongue: he strongly felt that the new spate of publications needed a more perfect language in which to express their most worthy contents. In 1547, he wrote "And take this advice from me; unless you save and correct and perfect the language before the extinction of the present generation, it will be too late afterwards." But it was in teaching religion rather than preserving the language itself that his true interest lay.

Salesbury's mission to the Welsh nation was set out most clearly. In his "Oll Synnwyr Pen Kembero Ygyd" (1547):
If you do not wish to be worse than animals . . . obtain learning in your own language; if you do not wish to be more unnatural than any other nation under the sun, love your language and those who love it. If you do not wish utterly to depart from the faith of Christ...obtain the holy scripture in your own tongue as your happy ancestors, the ancient British, had it.
Salesbury's scholarship was astonishing: he published books in English as well as Welsh, covering linguistics, proverbs, science, law, and of course, religion. After the 1553 English Prayer Book had abandoned the belief in transubstantiation, thus, according to Professor Davies "establishing Protestantism in the territories of the crown of England," Salesbury worked tirelessly to make the scriptures known to the Welsh people in their own language. He had already begun this task with his Welsh-English dictionary of 1547 and in 1551, he published his "Kynniver Llyth a Ban," a translation of the main texts of the Prayer Book.

In 1563, after John Penry and others had petitioned Queen and Parliament, a bill was passed ordering that the Bible be translated into Welsh. This act was not undertaken with any royal love or respect to the language, but one that, according to Dafydd Johnston, formed "an essential part of the program of the Protestant Reformation in Britain." Penry, of Breconshire, was helped by the fact that Elizabeth and her parliament were appalled at the slow progress in of the Welsh people in learning the English language, and perhaps at their sluggishness in converting from Catholicism.

The Government welcomed Penry's suggestions, thinking that by having Welsh translations placed next to the English texts in Church, the congregations would learn English. It was also a good method to firmly establish Protestantism in Wales, certainly the chief reason. Whatever the intent, the Welsh language was given an unintended status and a place of honor by being used as a medium for the holy scriptures. Why bother with English, when there was a perfectly acceptable Welsh in which to worship God?

The Welsh bishops entrusted the momentous task mainly to Salesbury, who had prepared the way with his earlier translation of the Prayer Book. Bishop Richard Davies of Abergwili aided him. Unfortunately, the erudition of these learned gentlemen produced a book that could be read by scholars but was practically worthless for the common people. William Morgan (1545-1604), parish priest of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, and later Bishop of Llandaf and St. Asaph (Llanelwy) saved the day and perhaps the language.

Chapter 10 Continued
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