Hi it’s me, Richard again.
I recently did a piece about a humble yet mighty man of God who I had come across in Palermo, Sicily. And, in the words of Amazon – I thought that people who liked that; might also like this!
Yes, writing that piece reminded me of a man of similar convictions who I had also come across unexpectedly on my travels. This one is from a different era but I came across him a lot closer to home.
Like Pino Puglisi, this Priest – ordained 450 years earlier – made a powerful stand for what he believed was right – and also like Pino he had enemies in very high places including the Church itself. Ultimately, like Puglisi, he also bravely faced death rather than compromise his beliefs.
Anyway, this story starts in Dursley in Gloucestershire, where I travelled 2 summers back with my younger son Sebbie for two days of brushing up my map reading skills prior to being examined down there for my professional walk leader qualification.
We enjoyed a nice hotel – where Seb could wear his best T Shirt.
But eventually decided we really should go off walking.
From the hill tops of Dursley, we could see a big tower on a hill 3 miles away. Looking at the map, it was marked simply “Mon” – presumably for “Monument”. I ascertained that it was on a hill above the unlikely sounding village of North Nibley and overlooking an even more comic sounding valley called Watery Bottom!
Right. We’ll navigate there!
Well we walked through Watery Bottom and into North Nibley and climbed the hill to the impressive tower which, we could then see, had a gold cross on top.
It was open, so we climbed its 121 stone steps to the top:
It was very windy but the views were stunning.
But why was it here and why the gold cross? The plaque on it intreaguingly read:
ERECTED A.D. 1866
IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF
TRANSLATOR OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE
WHO FIRST CAUSED THE NEW TESTAMENT
TO BE PRINTED IN THE MOTHER TONGUE
OF HIS COUNTRYMEN
BORN NEAR THIS SPOT HE SUFFERED
MARTYRDOM AT VILVORDEN IN
FLANDERS ON OCT 6 1536
Now I’m sure that all you Bible scholars will know exactly who Tyndale was and why he was so important. But I’m afraid I’m not a scholar and no I didn’t.
Visiting the small exhibition at North Nibley Church, I discovered that Tynedale was a radical Priest, being a strong believer that everyone should be able to read the bible themselves and in their own language. That doesn’t sound very radical to us today, but it was in the 16th Century – when you faced the death penalty for possession of a translation of Scripture into English. Yes, the Bible was read in Church, but read in Latin – so meant nothing to the parishoners. It was as if the Bible was an official secret – only to be interpreted for you by the few – and no doubt interpreted in the way that suited their purpose.
Tyndale knew that this was not the will of God, The Bible was a gift to everyone. This was his vision.
As well as leading the church of Little Sodbury (yes, that should have been a clue to the authorities that he was going to be trouble for them!), Tyndale was a scholar of Greek and Hebrew and he worked on a translation that was the first English Bible to draw directly from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. It was also well timed to be able to be distributed using Caxton’s new invention of the printing press, rather than be copied out by hand – that must have been like the internet coming to town!
The radical potential opportunity for the Bible to be read and studied by all literate people – rather than for it to be read only by priests and scholars was a huge challenge to the Church and to the laws of England that maintained the church’s position.
As well as the Catholic Church, Tyndale made himself unpopular with Henry VIII, who by then had made himself head of his new Church of England – in order to get a divorce!
Fleeing England, Tyndale sought refuge in the Flemish territory of a Catholic Emperor. In 1535, Tyndale was betrayed by a trusted friend and arrested and jailed. In 1536, he was convicted of heresy and executed by strangulation, after which his body was burnt at the stake. His dying prayer was that the King of England’s eyes would be opened.
This prayer was answerd just one year later when Henry authorised the Matthew Bible, a Bible in English which was largely Tyndale’s own work.
I wonder how many people who still admire that 111 foot tower on a hill as they drive through the Gloucestershire countryside or – like me – use it as a handy navigation aid – know what an amazing man of faith it is commemorating.
Let us pray:
Lord, thank you for the amazing stories of faithful people like Tyndale who have made – and continue to make – Your Word available in all languages so that everyone has the opportunity to study it for themselves.
We pray particularly for those in our own Church like Chris, Cheryl and Janet who are involved in this work.
Please give us the strength, the knowledge and conviction to stand up for what we know is right – even in the face of danger, rejection – even death.