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Water once threatened the survival of the Welsh Bible — now it can preserve it

13 December 2019

© NATIONAL TRUST/IOLO PENRI PHOTOGRAPHY

The 16th-century translation of the Bible by Bishop William Morgan, the first complete Bible translated into Welsh

The 16th-century translation of the Bible by Bishop William Morgan, the first complete Bible translated into Welsh

WATER that once threatened the survival of the first complete Bible written in Welsh is now being used to preserve it.

The 16th-century translation by Bishop William Morgan has been at increasing risk of deterioration from flooding and damp at the Bishop’s birthplace, Ty Mawr Wybrnant, near Betws-y-Coed, in Snowdonia. But now the National Trust, which administers the 500-year-old stone-built farmhouse, is using green power from a hydro-electric plant installed in a stream near by. The energy generated will heat the library, which holds 200 rare Bibles in various languages.

“At Ty Mawr Wybrnant, water is actually helping us solve a problem it’s creating in the first place,” the trust’s climate-change adviser, Keith Jones, said. “There’s some kind of poetic justice there. Earlier this year, we experienced the worst flood at Ty Mawr Wybrnant in living memory, and that extra moisture meant we needed to use more heating to ensure the humidity levels didn’t get too high.

“Climate predictions indicate likely increases in the severity and frequency of rainfall in the area. This small-scale technology is allowing us to adapt to future changes more sustainably.”

© NATIONAL TRUST/IOLO PENRI PHOTOGRAPHY  Ty Mawr Wybrnant in Snowdonia, which is cared for by the National Trust

The plant, he said, would come into action only when water levels reached a certain point. “This means we are generating the electricity when we most need it, when there’s more moisture in the air after rainfall. The energy is consumed directly on-site, solely for the conservation of this priceless Bible collection.” It is estimated that the project will reduce the property’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 5.2 tonnes per year.

William Morgan, who was Bishop of Llandaff and later St Asaph, spent ten years translating the Old Testament from Greek and Hebrew texts, and revising an earlier translation of the New Testament by the Welsh scholar William Salesbury, to create his 1588 complete Bible. The volume at Ty Mawr Wybrnant is one of only 24 known survivors of his efforts.

The library curator for the National Trust, Tim Pye, said that it was a “hugely important part not only of the property’s story, but of the history of the Welsh language. Morgan’s translation helped standardise the Welsh language, and is considered to be the single most significant step in ensuring the survival of that language today.

“Extreme weather is one of the threats to our collections, with sensitive and fragile objects like books, manuscripts, and other documents especially susceptible to conditions such as damp. The energy-efficient and sustainable hydro solution for Ty Mawr Wybrnant will help greatly in its efforts to safeguard the Bible collection for today and future generations to enjoy.”

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