Mary Jones and her Bible
Mary Jones was born in December 1784 at Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, a small hamlet in one of the deep valleys of North Wales. It was a Welsh-speaking, sheep-farming community and Mary’s family earned a meagre living from the weaving of wool. Her parents were devout Calvinistic Methodists. Life got harder after Mary’s father died when she was four.
There had been no Welsh version of the Bible until Bishop William Morgan completed his famous translation in 1588.
Before that worshippers in Welsh churches and chapels had to use Latin or, occasionally, English texts. Most of them understood little of either language. Once Morgan's Bible became available things began to change.
However, Bishop Morgan's Bible was both expensive and heavy and, therefore, was restricted to church and chapel use. A smaller and cheaper version was published in 1630 and by the end of the century there were several new editions freely available to all those who could afford them.
When Griffith Jones began his Circulating Schools the Bible was an essential teaching tool and many families, now able to read, bought their own copies so that they could read and digest in the comfort and security of their own homes.
In north Wales the Calvinistic Methodist preacher Thomas Charles, operating from his chapel in Bala, was active in making sure Sunday Schools and, wherever possible, individuals were plentifully supplied with Bibles.
Wales had been affected by several revivals in the eighteenth century and Mary grew up in a Christian home. One man who was involved in preaching the revivals was Reverend Thomas Charles. He was not just a powerful preacher but also someone responsible for creating a basic school system in the area. In 1791 he found himself at the heart of another wave of revival. He wrote, ‘Here, in our town of Bala, for some time back, we have had a very great, powerful, and glorious outpouring of the Spirit of God, on the people in general, especially young people. The state and welfare of the soul is become the general concern of the country. Scores of the wildest, and most inconsiderate of the people, have been awakened.’ One Sunday he wrote, ‘About nine o’clock at night, there was nothing to be heard from one end of the town to the other, but the cries and groans of people in distress of soul.’
The revival spread quickly and widely around the surrounding area bringing with it not just conversions but also a deepening and enriching of people’s Christian faith. It is in this atmosphere that, a year after the revival, Mary came to profess the Christian faith at the age of 8. Courtesy of one of Thomas Charles’ schools, Mary was able to read and soon wanted a Bible for herself. Welsh Bibles were rare and expensive and the nearest copy available was owned by a neighbour two miles away. Mary would regularly walk over and read and memorise all she could, but she soon began saving for a Bible of her own.
Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy, she started one morning in 1800 for Bala, and walked the 26 miles over mountainous terrain, barefoot as usual, to obtain a copy from Rev. Thomas Charles, the only individual with Bibles for sale in the area. According to one version of the story, Mr. Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for. Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies which was already promised to another.
In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family. What then happened was that Thomas Charles, pondering on her hunger and action to get the Word of God, proposed the formation of a society to supply Wales with reasonably priced Bibles. His proposal expanded: why just Wales? Why not other parts of the United Kingdom? Indeed, why not for the world? And in 1804 the British and Foreign Bible Society (now the Bible Society) was formed. According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.
Mary later married a weaver named Thomas Jones. She died in 1864 and was buried at the graveyard of Bryn-crug Calvinistic Methodist Chapel.
There’s a story that, at the age of 70, Mary Jones gave half a sovereign – a significant amount in those days – towards the Bible Society’s appeal to print a million Chinese New Testaments.
Two copies of "Mary Jones' Bible" still exist. One is lodged in the archives of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Cambridge, the other is held at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. The copy in Cambridge actually contains a note, written by Mary, on the final page. The third copy of the Bible has, unfortunately, now been lost.
For over 200 years, The Bible Society have placed Bibles across the world, into nations where the gospel is rarely preached or even strictly forbidden. All from the faith, the desire and the hard work of one young Welsh girl. A challenge for all of us, particularly those that so casually skip our daily opportunity to encounter God, through the Bible.
Through the years, Mary Jones and her Bible, penned by Mary E, Ropes in 1882, and later updated in 1919, has been read and enjoyed by millions of children. Today, the book remains on the Top 100 List of Christian and secular children's books on Amazon.com.
Mary Jones demonstrates one of the great themes of the Bible: that the mighty God works through little people. It would be hard to find anybody more insignificant at the end of the eighteenth century than this poor girl in a remote corner of Wales. Yet God took her zeal and commitment and used it to set in progress something that was to have an extraordinary effect on the world and continues to have today through 140 Bible Societies all over the world. Let us seize the opportunities that ‘little people’ give us.