The Man Who Changed Our Language and Brought the Bible to Wales; Ian Parri Marks the 400th Anniversary of the Death of Bishop Morgan, the Man Responsible for the Linguistic and Religious Landscape of Wales Today

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), September 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Man Who Changed Our Language and Brought the Bible to Wales; Ian Parri Marks the 400th Anniversary of the Death of Bishop Morgan, the Man Responsible for the Linguistic and Religious Landscape of Wales Today


Byline: Ian Parri

IT might seem somewhat remiss, given the great man's stature, but no-one knows for certain where the remains of the literary genius credited with keeping Welsh a living language were interred. Not to mention his introduction of the famous `ll' digraph into Welsh orthography that still perplexes some tongue-twisted visitors to this day, so that the unfamiliar looking Lhangolhen became modern-day Llangollen.

Four hundred years ago this week, the body of Bishop William Morgan was committed to the earth somewhere in St Asaph Cathedral, beneath the bishop's throne, according to some. However a fine memorial in the grounds erected in 1892 commemorates his contribution and that of the other pioneers who worked on translating the Bible into Welsh.

Historians largely agree that his contribution was rather more than just to the nation's religious, cultural and linguistic heritage, great as that was.

The publication of the Welsh Bible in 1588 held the nation together at a time when it seemed it could soon disintegrate as a separate entity.

Without his contribution, we would be seen as no more separate from England than Cornwall is today.

Our very identity was under pressure from the Act of Union passed just 52 years earlier, which sought to make Wales part of England in governance, thought, deed, education, allegiance to the English crown, language and religion.

Elizabeth I ordered that the Bible be translated into Welsh in 1563, although just 27 years earlier the language had been decreed to be a ``sinister usage and custom'' which was to be ``extirpated from the land''.

Television historian Dr John Davies, author of the 1993 volume History Of Wales, says that this unexpected U-turn by the English authorities was forced on them by circumstances.

``When you think of the troubles that blighted the 16th century, the civil war between the Protestants and the Catholics in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Hungary, you can see that what was really important was unity on the question of faith, '' he says.

``It was more important than linguistic unity, although the Act of Union in 1536 decreed that English was to be the only official language of England and Wales. The authorities, however, were willing to compromise on that.

``Commentators from the time noted that the Welsh were still very superstitious and followed old Catholic practices.

``There was great concern that the Welsh would adhere to these practices, exactly as happened in Ireland.

``The Irish were a constant thorn in the establishment's side and they certainly didn't want the Welsh to follow suit.

``From the point of view of the English authorities, what they invested in translating the Bible proved to be much cheaper than keeping the Welsh under control. ''

One of the main reasons that the work of Bishop Morgan is considered so important is that it was the first complete Welsh-language Bible.

In the absence of varied secular literature, the Bible also came to play a disproportionate role in the development of the language. …

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The Man Who Changed Our Language and Brought the Bible to Wales; Ian Parri Marks the 400th Anniversary of the Death of Bishop Morgan, the Man Responsible for the Linguistic and Religious Landscape of Wales Today
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