Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre In Wales

The Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre tells of a young Welsh girl whose search for a Bible of her own had far-reaching consequences.

 

In 1800, Mary Jones walked barefoot for 26 miles to purchase a Bible. (image courtesy of Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre)

In the Welsh village of Bala, visit the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre to learn about a determined young woman who in 1800 walked barefoot for 26 miles to purchase a Welsh-language Bible. The exhibit also describes the important role this Welsh translation of the Bible has played in the culture and history of Wales.

Mary Jones was born in 1784 to a poor family in the village of Llanfihangel y Pennant. At the age of eight she became a Christian and decided she wanted her own Bible. After saving money for six years, at the age of fifteen she walked to Bala, where she knew that Rev’d Thomas Charles had a supply of Welsh Bibles.

When Mary arrived, however, she was devastated to learn that he had either sold or promised all of the Bibles in his possession.

Moved by Mary’s faith and determination, Thomas Charles arranged a place for her to stay until a new supply of Bibles arrived two days later. Then he sold her three Bibles for the price of one.

At the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre you can see the Welsh language Bible that has been so influential. (photo by Lori Erickson)

Mary’s story didn’t end there, however. Thomas Charles talked to influential friends in London about his encounter with Mary. Together they helped found the British and Foreign Bible Society (now known as the Bible Society). Its mission was to produce vernacular translations of the scriptures and make them available to people around the world at a price they could afford to pay. One of the early supporters of the society was William Wilberforce, who became one of the leaders in the campaign to abolish the slave trade.

In Bala, Wales, picturesque St. Beuno’s Church houses the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre. (photo by Lori Erickson)

When Mary Jones made her 1800 journey to the village of Bala, English was the official language of Wales and most Bibles were printed in what was to her a foreign language. The Welsh Bible that she purchased had been translated at the end of the sixteenth century by a  Welsh bishop named William Morgan. He created a translation that became a classic Welsh text, a work of literary beauty that is credited with saving the Welsh language, which had begun to fragment into different dialects and styles.

Welsh, which is one of the oldest languages in Europe, is a Celtic language. It is most closely related to Breton (spoken in Brittany, France) and Cornish.

After the publication of the Bible in Welsh, the language began to have greater prominence in Britain. The Welsh Bible is credited with helping to preserve the distinctive culture and traditions of Wales.

Interactive exhibits tell the story of Mary Jones and the influence of the Welsh Bible on Wales.  (photo by Lori Erickson)

St. Beuno’s Church, which houses the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre, is worth visiting in its own right. The site where it is located has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,500 years. The present building was rebuilt in 1881 on a foundation from the medieval era. After the church closed in 2003, it became the home of the Bible Society in Wales and the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre. In the church’s graveyard lies the remains of Rev’d Thomas Charles, who died in 1814.

Mary Jones lived to be 80 years old. By the end of her life she had lost her sight, but she could still recite many Bible passages from memory. And the Bible Society she inspired now works in more than 200 countries, translating, printing and distributing Bibles with a focus on China, Africa and the Middle East.

In addition to visiting the Mary Jones Pilgrim Centre in Bala, you can follow the Mary Jones Walk from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant to Bala. 

Back to main page for Sacred Sites in Wales

 

Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of books that include Holy RoverNear the ExitThe Soul of the Family Tree, and Every Step Is HomeHer website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.

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