Welsh Bible 1588

The year 1588 saw the publication of the first Welsh translation of the complete Bible, including the Apocrypha. It was the work of William Morgan, 1545-1604, a native of Penmachno, Conwy and a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge. This folio volume was printed in black letter by the deputies of Christopher Barker, the Queen's Printer. It was intended for church rather than home use.

At the time of the Acts of Union (1536 and 1542), few Welshmen or women could have foreseen the publication of a Welsh Bible before the end of the century. Several factors made this unlikely. Welsh had been denied official status and had been banned from the spheres of law and administration. Furthermore it had been decreed that the English Bible and Book of Common Prayer were to be read in every church in the land. The bardic order, the traditional guardian of the literary language, was also in decline. It was probable that the language would deteriorate into a despised collection of dialects and eventually die. The fact that it did not do so is largely due to the efforts of a group of Welsh scholars imbued with enthusiasm for the humanistic learning of the Renaissance. Most were Protestants driven by a Protestant zeal for making the Scriptures available to all. Men steeped in classical learning, they also dreamt of seeing the vernacular safeguarded and elevated to the status of a learned language. Their dictionaries, grammars, and scriptural translations, of which the 1588 Bible is the supreme example, went far to turn this dream into reality.

In 1563 Parliament was prevailed upon to pass an Act ordering that the Bible and Prayer Book be translated into Welsh by Saint David's Day, 1567. Although this did not come to pass, a translation of the New Testament did appear in 1567 as did a translation of the Prayer Book. Both were chiefly the work of William Salesbury, c.1520-1584? Salesbury's translations, in many respects admirable, were, nevertheless, seriously flawed by archaisms and idiosyncratic orthography. The superb complete Bible published in 1588 was the work of William Morgan who appears to have taken it upon himself to undertake the huge task in about 1578. It involved original translation as well as the adaptation of Salesbury's New Testament. Morgan translated from the Hebrew and Greek originals, consulting also the English Bishops' and Geneva versions. His volume brought the Scriptures to his largely monoglot fellow countrymen and women and touched the lives of countless thousands. Revised in 1620, it was, with some changes of orthography, the version in general use until the final years of the twentieth century. No other Welsh book has been as influential for it is also a work of immense linguistic and literary significance. The translator not only produced a version of unfailing accuracy but also skilfully moulded the classical language of the poets into the literary Welsh known to us today. In short, the book is the foundation stone on which modern Welsh literature has been based.

Gregynog Gallery

On 7th and 10th - 14th November the Gregynog Gallery will be hosting Arad Goch Theatre Company.

The Dylan exhibition will remain open as usual to the public, although visitors are advised there may be some disruption in the gallery during this period.

Was this page useful?