Welsh History : Mary Jones and her Bible
The story of Mary Jones and her Bible inspired the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Mary Jones (16 December 1784 – 28 December 1864) was a Welsh Protestant Christian girl who, at age fifteen, walked twenty-five miles across the countryside to buy a copy of the Welsh Bible from Thomas Charles because she did not have one. Charles then used her story in proposing to the Religious Tract Society that it set up a new organisation to supply Wales with Bibles. The account was first set out in print in 1882 by the British and Foreign Bible Society, the author simply being credited as M.E.R.
Mary Jones was from a poor family, the daughter of a weaver, who lived at the foot of Cader Idris, Llanfihangel-y-pennant, Merioneth (now part of Gwynedd), near Dolgellau. She was born in December 1784. Her parents were devout Calvinistic Methodists, and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age. Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by Thomas Charles, it became her burning desire to possess a Bible of her own. The nearest copy was at a farm two miles distant from her little cottage, and there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – 25 miles away; and it was not certain that a copy could be obtained there. Welsh Bibles were scarce in those days. 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 25 miles, barefoot as usual, to obtain a copy from the Rev. 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 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. 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 of Bryn-crug named Thomas Lewis. She died in 1864 and was buried at the graveyard of Bryn-crug Calvinistic Methodist Chapel. Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society's Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. In addition to the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha, the volume contains the Book of Common Prayer (in Welsh) and Edmwnd Prys's Welsh metrical Psalms. Mary Jones wrote the following (in English) on the last page of the Apocrypha (spelling is her own):
Mary Jones was born 16th of December 1784.
I Bought this in the 16th year of my age. I am Daughter of Jacob Jones and Mary Jones His wife. the Lord may give me grace. Amen.
Mary Jones His [is] The True Onour [owner] of this Bible. Bought In the Year 1800 Aged 16th.
In turn, this meant that she was fifteen, because at the time people counted the number of new years they had each had. "...In the sixteenth year of my age", which, of course means that she was in the year leading up to her sixteenth birthday.
Another of the copies she obtained in Bala is in the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.
A "Mary Jones Walk" was held in the year 2000 to commemorate Mary's original feat, and has been repeated several times.