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 Batchelor and Master of Arts, a Batchelor 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 20 copies survive, two of which are on display at Tŷ Mawr.
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, 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.
The first edition of the Welsh Bible appeared in 1588, before the King James Bible, with a revised version published in 1620. It is this later version which continues to be used in Wales today.
The translation marked a very important moment in the history of the Welsh language and in the history of Christianity. William Morgan gave the Welsh people easy access to biblical teachings and created a standard version of written Welsh for the first time.
Today, we continue to celebrate William Morgan’s two major achievements at his birthplace. Copies of the bishop’s translation, as they were first published in 1588 and in 1620, are on display in Tŷ Mawr. There is also a small, but significant, collection of family Bibles and religious works in Welsh.
But this is not all. Visitors from across the world have come to see Morgan’s birthplace and over the years have donated copies of the Bible written in their own language to Tŷ Mawr. In some cases, this was the first time that the language of an area was actually written down. We currently have Bibles in about 100 different languages and more are added all the time.
All the books at Tŷ Mawr today have now been catalogued and they can be searched for on our Collections website.
Why not see if we have a copy of the Bible in your language? Then, when you come to visit Tŷ Mawr, you may even be able to have a read or compare the different languages.
Tucked away in a valley on the edge of the Snowdonia National Park sits the modest, but historic farm house of Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant.
It is the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, the man who translated the Bible into Welsh.