I love to tell the story of Mary Jones; that wonderful young Welsh girl and inspiration behind the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society (Bible Society today) who grew up in a small village in Wales whose name most Aussies would consider to be unpronounceable: Llanfihangel-y-pennant, Abergynolwyn, at the foot of Cader Idris near Dolgellau, Wales. When telling the story of Mary Jones, I instruct my audience to listen attentively to my carefully chosen words, for I begin with these; “This is Mary Jones’ Bible.” As I say these words, I show my audience a small, very old King James version of a little Bible whose cover is dark and worn, and whose pages are yellowed. The print is so tiny that to me, it is barely readable.
Now, back to Mary Jones herself. She came from a poor family, the daughter of a weaver and she lived from 16 December 1784 until 28 December 1864. From a family of devout Methodists, Mary professed the Christian faith at 8 years of age. As she grew in the faith, Mary desperately wanted to own her own Bible, so she embarked upon a project of saving up enough money to purchase a precious Bible. It took her 6 years to achieve this, and with savings in hand, Mary set off one morning in 1800 to walk to the village of Bala, the nearest place to her home where she hoped to purchase her Bible. Now this was one determined lady, for the distance from her home to Bala was no less than 26 miles – or 42 kilometers. A marathon journey indeed!
Upon arriving in Bala, there remain some traditions as to how Mary finally managed to purchase her Bible (actually she bought 3 copies). Rev Thomas Charles, from whom she purchased the Bibles, was so impressed with her devotion to Christian life and faith – let alone her marathon walk, that he became inspired to begin a society whose aims still remain across the years of making the Bible available to people everywhere – and in their own languages. What a remarkable achievement from a young Welsh girl, to be remembered today as the inspiration for such an international and ongoing movement.
Today, one copy of Mary’s Bibles, and which contains her personal inscription, is preserved in the Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge England. Another copy resides in the National Library of Wales. So where, I ask my audience might we find the 3rd of Mary Jones’ Bibles? Usually I am met a silent response, as folk think the story through. Sometimes though, I am asked how could there be any possible link from the Mary Jones of this story to the little old Bible they have just been shown?
The answer is that my Welsh (maternal) grandmother’s name was none other than ‘Mary Jones!’ You see, I am being utterly truthful when I say that the Bible in my hand truly belonged to Mary Jones, and I feel privileged to have inherited my grandmother’s Bible. That too becomes a great talking point as I share a little of my grandmother’s gracious Christian life and influence upon her family too. Remember too, that the ‘original’ Mary Jones sought to purchase Welsh Bibles, and my grandmother’s Bible is an English language one.
In the little community of Llanfihangel-y-Pennat today, you can still see a ruin of the cottage where Mary Jones lived. Inscribed on the outer wall are the words: ‘Ty y Ddol. Cartref Mari Jones’ (The House in the meadow. Home of Mary Jones.) Beside the ruin stands a memorial inscribed with these words: In Memory of Mary Jones who in the year 1800, at the age of 16 walked to Bala, to procure from the Rev Thomas Charles BA, a copy of the Welsh Bible. This incident was the occasion of the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Erected by the Sunday Schools of Merioneth.’
What a wonderful story; that of a young girl’s journey to acquire God’s Word, especially in her own tongue. And I love the shared names of these two Welsh ladies; both of whom have bequeathed to me a remarkable tradition that grew into a worldwide movement – and a precious little old Bible.
Glynis Dickins is the Pastoral Care Pastor at Rosanna Baptist Church, in the North-Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. She is passionate for writing about the wonderful people she has connected with throughout many years of ministry. She also writes short stories and published her first novel in 2014 through Ark House, who have just published her next novel.
Image courtesy Aaron Burden, Freely Photos