This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.
Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau. She was born on 16th December 1784 into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age. Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Rev. Charles, the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.
According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and 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.
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.
How much of the story is true will probably never be known. However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society. This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.
The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation. The story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.