Mary Jones and her Bible at Cafe Gold

Posted on 05 May 2008
Cafe Gold, Ferndale's fortnightly club for the over 50s heard about the incredible story of Mary Jones, a girl who lived over two hundred years ago in west Wales.

Cafe Gold is designed to be open to everyone, even if they don’t go to any church. Activties usually alternate between a short talk on an interesting subject and a games afternoon. Biscuits, cake, tea and coffee are always plentiful. The next club takes place on the 16th May at 2pm in the church hall.

The Story of Mary Jones

Mary Jones

Today we are going to look at the story of a Welsh girl who lived in late eighteenth century mid Wales called Mary Jones. Mary as a young girl made an incredible journey to obtain a bible, and whose story was to make an impact worldwide. Mary Jones was born 16th of December 1784. She was from a poor family, the daughter of a weaver, who lived at the foot of Cader Idris near Dolgellau. Her parents were devout 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.

Demand for Bibles?

During this time, Bibles were in high demand. It is not surprising that there was such a demand for Bibles amongst the converts of the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth century. The Bible was central to their lives. For them, the Bible was the inspired and infallible word of God and the final authority in all things pertaining to their faith and life. A bible was very precious!

Mary’s long journey

Bibles in Mary’s language of Welsh were very scarce in those days. Furthermore, they were very expensive, particularly for a girl of 10 years of age. Books were generally owned only by rich people. However, despite her tender years and lack of money, Mary was determined to have a Bible of her own. Therefore, she saved for a total of six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy. Six years later in 1800, Mary finally saved enough money. Therefore, 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.

The route of Mary’s long walk

Mary Jones and the Bible Society

It is said that Mary Jones’s visit to Thomas Charles in 1800 to purchase a Bible made such an impression upon him that he had no peace of mind until he had found a way to ensure a regular supply of cheap Bibles for the common people of Wales. Furthermore, according to tradition, Charles’s telling of the story of Mary’s visit to him had such an electrifying effect on the members of committee of the Religious Tract Society at their meeting in London at the end of 1802, that they began to seek in earnest the possibility of founding a society to publish and distribute Bibles, not only for Wales, but also for the whole world. It was this which led to the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804, a matter of great joy to Thomas Charles, Ann Griffiths and Mary Jones. As Thomas Charles said in a letter in July 1810:

I was continually applied to for Bibles, & much distressed I was (more than I can express) to be forever obliged to say, I could not relieve them. The institution of the British & Foreign B[ible] S[ociety] will be to me, & thousand others cause of unspeakable comfort & joy as long as I live. The beneficial effects already produced in our poor country, of the abundant supply of Bibles by the means of it, are incalculable.

Role Of Mary Jones: History or myth?

Some have questioned the role played by Mary Jones in the history of the founding of the Bible Society. The socialist Robert Owen said, ‘It is a great shame’, he once said, referring to a monument erected in the ruins of Mary Jones’s ‘that the meagre pennies of the quarrymen, miners and farmers were spent raising a monument to one who had nothing to do with the founding of the Bible Society.‘
It is true that there is no contemporary evidence that Thomas Charles told the story of Mary Jones’s walk to Bala at the committee meeting in London at the end of 1802; and one should certainly not over-emphasize Mary Jones’s part in these matters. Thomas Charles would certainly have known of many other examples of the great thirsting after the Bible that characterised so many of the common people of Wales in his day. And yet, from a fairly early period, there is regular mention that one girl had made a particular impression on Thomas Charles; and all the evidence suggests that Mary Jones was that person, and that a special rapport had developed between her and Thomas Charles following her visit to Bala to purchase a Bible. For example, when special meetings began to be held for Thomas Charles’s Sunday schools, where the pupils from a number of schools would come together to be publicly examined, Mary Jones would attend such meetings in her area as faithfully as she possibly could; and she would by all accounts excel in them. In a manuscript lodged at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, Robert Griffith (a minister who knew Mary well towards the end of her life), said that her answers ‘would descend in showers like balls of fire’, with great effect on the gathered crowd. Robert Griffith adds that Thomas Charles would be certain to ask every time he came to a meeting of schools in the vicinity of her home, ‘Where is the weaver [i.e. Mary Jones] today, I wonder?‘ Robert Griffith also tells how Mary would often meet Thomas Charles at Methodist Association meetings and converse with him on such occasions.

Bible Society Today

Nowadays, the majority of the Bible Society’s work is overseas, making the Bible available in a language people can understand and at a price they can afford. In doing this, Bible Society is responding to a situation where:
* For a billion people, the Bible is a luxury they cannot afford.
* 4,500 languages still wait for even one book of the Bible.
* One billion people are illiterate - but only 3% of languages have the Bible in audio.
* Someone goes blind every five seconds - but the Bible in Braille exists only in 30 languages.
Bible Society is linked with a 140 national Bible Societies through the United Bible Societies. Together, they distribute most of the world’s Bibles.

What happened to Mary later?

Mary later married a weaver named Thomas Lewis. Mary Jones had a long life. It was a poor and a grim one in many ways. She married in 1813. At least six children were born to her and her husband, but most of them died young. Only one child seems to have survived her, and he had by then emigrated to the United States. Around 1820, Mary and her husband, Thomas, moved a few miles nearer the coast, to the village of Bryn-cru, and it was there that she spent the remainder of her days, dying in 1864, an aged and blind widow. Yet despite all her hardships and troubles, and although she suffered much from depression in later years, her Christian faith held to the end, and she was noted for her faithfulness to the Calvinistic Methodist cause in Bryn-crug. Despite her poverty, she contributed regularly to the work of the Bible Society, and donated half a sovereign to the special collection made in 1854 to send a million New Testaments to China, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In her old age, Mary Jones would enjoy telling the tale of her walk to Bala to obtain a Bible. She made good use of the Bible she received from Thomas Charles. She memorised substantial sections of it, which proved of great benefit and comfort to her after she lost her sight. And when she died, the Bible she had bought in Bala over sixty years previously was on the table by her side.

Mary’s Bible

Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library.[2] 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):

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.

Mary’s Bible

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