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16 October 2014

Sixteenth-century Bible presented to the Welsh Assembly

Sixteenth-century Bible presented to the Welsh Assembly

Tuesday, 7 October 2014, marked a significant day in the life of the National Assembly for Wales. An event took place, attended by a handful of Assembly Members and others, in which a copy of the 1588 William Morgan Welsh translation of the Bible was officially presented to the Assembly, received by the presiding officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM.

The translation of the complete Bible into Welsh was a key milestone for the nation, and it became the most influential book in Welsh history, credited with saving the Welsh language. The Bible was presented by Evangelical Alliance Wales and the National Prayer Breakfast of Wales on behalf of all of Wales' Christian denominations.

The idea to donate a Bible to the Assembly was birthed 12 years ago, with all 32 Christian denominations agreeing to it. Donations were received and a copy of the Bible, costing some £1,000, was purchased. However, despite the Bible being offered to the Assembly, the presiding officer at the time declined, believing that the Assembly was a secular space and that there should be no religious symbols on display.

The years went by with the copy of the Bible gathering dust in the offices of the Evangelical Alliance. Then, this summer, a fresh approach was made to the present presiding officer, Dame Rosemary Butler AM, appointed in 2011, and on this occasion the offer was accepted immediately. The Bible will be on display in the Senedd for a period of time before being moved next door to the Pierhead building where it will be on permanent display in a glass cabinet.

Days before the presentation was due to take place, however, an email was sent by a secular Assembly Member to the presiding officer and all other Assembly Members, protesting at the event and casting aspersions on the Evangelical Alliance's involvement. The Assembly Member's disapproval stemmed from his belief that the Assembly should be a secular institution, and that officially accepting a copy of a religious book would be inappropriate. Moreover, the Alliance's policies and positions on certain issues, he claimed, were incompatible with those of the presiding officer. 

Dame Rosemary clarified that the event would go ahead, and that this had never been in doubt, despite the email. She stressed that her work was to ensure that the Assembly held a variety of events in order to represent the diverse Wales in which we live, including religious celebrations such as Diwali and Eid, as well as secular events. Interestingly, the Government of Wales Act makes no mention of the Assembly as being a secular institution, although religion is also not mentioned. 

This event is encouraging, not only for Christians but also for other faith groups, in that it shows that intolerant secularism did not trump religion on this occasion.