The first Welsh Bible at Chirk Castle

Close up of first Welsh Bible printed in 1588 opened onto page of First Testament at Ty Mawr Wyrbnant, Snowdonia

This Bible, now at Chirk Castle, Wrexham, is the most important book in the history of Wales.

Published in 1588, these 555 delicate leaves of dense text secured the Welsh language and helped define a nation. 

A change-making book

It is not hyperbole to state that this 1588 edition of the Bible is the most important printed book in Welsh history. Translated by Bishop William Morgan (ca. 1545–1604), it set the standard for a language that, at the time, had no official status and was in danger having no future.

The first Bible to be translated into Welsh is held at Chirk Castle, Wrexham
Close up of first Welsh Bible printed in 1588 opened onto page of First Testament at Ty Mawr Wyrbnant, Snowdonia
The first Bible to be translated into Welsh is held at Chirk Castle, Wrexham

Ten years of labour

In 1588 Morgan returned from London to his native Wales, bringing with him the result of ten years of labour – the first ever complete Welsh translation of the Bible. Its publication was not just the culmination of Morgan’s considerable dedication. It was the consequence of the emergence of European Protestantism, the long repression of Welsh culture, and the desire of a group of highly educated and internationally connected Welsh intellectuals to bring the Word of God directly to the Welsh people.   

A language in peril

At the time of its publication, Wales was a country under the yoke of military conquest since Edward I’s invasion in 1282-3, and political and cultural colonialism following the Acts of Union in 1536 and 1543. This ensured the Welsh language had no status in either civil or ecclesiastical life. Without that status, it was in mortal danger. 

Morgan’s aim was evangelical, but his bible was a beautiful and powerful work with far greater consequence. Translated directly from the Hebrew and Greek, with reference to the modern translations of the day, it both established Welsh as a learned language of Europe and made it a legitimate voice of the church.

Detail of the title page of Y Beibl Cyssegr-lan
Bible at Ty Mawr Wybrnant, Penmachno
Detail of the title page of Y Beibl Cyssegr-lan


Rich lineage of Welsh literature

The translation is testament to Morgan’s abilities as a biblical scholar and linguist: using a variety of sources, including Greek and Hebrew texts and contemporary English editions, Morgan crafted a text that is not only accurate but immediately took its place in the rich lineage of Welsh literature.

At the same time, Morgan's Bible was accessible and elegant literature imbued with the professional authority of the poets and which, for the first time, standardised grammar and orthography. Almost immediately, it became the keystone for a living vernacular. These combined effects are credited with saving the Welsh language, and its intrinsically linked cultures, from the gradual demise and eventual extinction that befell so many other indigenous tongues. 

Welsh religious texts

Of the 1000 bibles originally printed, only around twenty survive. Until recently, our copy was held at Ty Mawr Wybrant, Morgan’s birthplace in rural Wales, but is now held at Chirk Castle, Wrexham alongside a small, but significant, collection of family Bibles and religious works in Welsh.

Seeing this treasure on display

Please check the property webpage if you wish to visit and see this object on display. You may need to book in advance before you visit.

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