Bishop William Morgan
This quiet valley was home to the man who would transform the Welsh language forever. Explore the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan –translator of the Bible into Welsh.
Who was William Morgan?
William Morgan was born in Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant in around 1545, the second son of John ap Morgan and Lowri, farmers and tenants of Maurice Wynn of Gwydir Castle near Llanrwst. The family must have been well thought of, as young William was sent to Gwydir Castle to be educated alongside the landlord’s children.
He then went on to be educated at Cambridge, spending 10 years in study gaining his Bachelor and Master of Arts, a Bachelor of Divinity and Doctor of Divinity, along with an in-depth study of Greek and Hebrew – these skills would be invaluable to his mammoth task of translating the Bible.
When the call came from Elizabeth I to have the Bible translated into Welsh, William Morgan set to work on this epic challenge that took 10 years to complete. It is estimated that 1000 copies of the original 1588 Bibles were printed, although today only around 24 copies are known to survive, one of which is on display at Tŷ Mawr.
Why translate the Bible into Welsh?
The Welsh had never been able to, nor allowed to worship in their own language. Henry VIII had ordered that only English Bibles be used in Wales, and before that, all religious services had been carried out in Latin.
The translation marked a very important moment in the history of the Welsh language and in the history of Christianity. After the Acts of Union in 1536, Welsh had been denied official status and had been banned from the spheres of law and administration.
William Morgan's book is claimed to be the most important ever published in Welsh as it reinforced the language's status. In Tudor Britain the Bible was the cornerstone of life, the backbone of society, and the only text that most ordinary people would have access to. His work gave the Welsh people easy access to biblical teachings and created a standard version of written Welsh for the first time.
By the following century, largely down to his translation of the Bible, Wales had one of the highest levels of popular literacy in Europe.