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Twice a Heretic

'Beibl Peter Williams' has held a special place in the affections of Welsh people for two centuries, thousands of copies having been printed in one edition or another. Peter Williams, the man who compiled it with a commentary on each chapter, was born in a corner of Carmarthenshire two hundred and fifty years ago.

Williams first saw the light of day on 15th January 1723 at West Marsh1, Llansadyrnen, being the son of Owen and Elizabeth Williams. He was educated at Carmarthen Grammar School and for a short time he was a schoolmaster at Cynwyl Elfed. In 1743 he was inspired by the preaching of George Whitefield at the Cross in Lammas Street, Carmarthen and was ordained deacon in 1745 to become a curate at Eglwys Cymyn, following which he served at Swansea, Llangrannog and Llandysilio Gogo, but because of his Methodist sympathies he was never priested. Dismissed from the Anglican Church, Williams joined the Calvinistic Methodists in 1747 as an itinerant preacher and was destined to become one of the outstanding leaders of the movement.

Williams, who was also a poet, wrote extensively, but his greatest work was undoubtedly the annotated Bible, which was widely distributed and even today copies are treasured in many a household. The work first appeared in a series of parts, but in 1770 it was published as a single volume under the imprint of John Ross, the Carmarthen printer. It was the first Welsh Bible to be printed in Wales and it is believed that eighteen thousand copies were sold during Peter Williams's lifetime. The Bible continued to be printed after his death and remaind popular for generations. But it had one unfortunate result for Williams in arousing a suspicion of heresy, which was later confirmed in the eyes of the Methodist Association at Llandeilo in 1791, when he was excommunicated.

Among his other books are Blodau i Blant 1758, Galwad gan wyr eglwysig, 1781, Cydmaith mewn Cystudd, 1782, Yr Hyfforddwr Cymreigaidd, Y Briodas Ysbrydol, Ymddygiad Cristionogol, the three last appearing in 1784. During his last years of bitter controversy with the Methodists he published Llythr at Hen Gydymaith, Tafol i Bwysio Sosiniaeth, both in 1791, Diogelwch Duwioldeb, 1792, and Gwreiddyn y Mater, 1794. In 1770 Williams had played a part in publishing the first Welsh periodical, Trysorfa Gwybodaeth, but it is not certain whether he was its editor. Williams also translated a number of books from English. A Welsh translation of his auto-biography in manuscript was published in 1817, the English version appearing in 1840.

Peter Williams died on 8th August 1796 at Gelli Lednais, Llandyfaelog, where he settled after his marriage to Mary Jenkins of Llanlluan in 1748. His grave in Llandyfaelog churchyard is still a place of pilgrimage.

Other anniversaries in 1973 are:
George Gilbert Treherne Treherne, 1837-1923, youngest son of Rees Goring Thomas of Llannon. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he rowed for the University in the boat race of 1859, and after graduating from Balliol qualified as a solicitor in 1865. It was after leaving Oxford that he changed his surname. A leading Carmarthenshire antiquary, Treherne had a special interest in Eglwyscymyn, about which he published papers, and discovered the famous Latin-Ogam inscription there. He was a founder of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in 1905, of which he was the first president, and contributed many articles to its transactions.

Titus Lewis, 1773-1811, a native of Cilgerran, who settled in Carmarthen in 1801 to minister to the Baptist chapel in the Dark Gate. He distinguished himself in his preaching and writing and in 1805 published a Welsh-English dictionary.

Morgan Hugh Jones, 1873-1930, a native of Rhondda who graduated at Aberystwyth and held many Calvinistic Methodist pastorates, among them two periods at Water Street Chapel, Carmarthen. He was among the leaders in founding the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society in 1905 and edited its Transactions for twenty-one years. He was a leading light in the Calvinistic Methodist Historical Society and edited its Journal. He was awarded the Ph.D. degree by the University of Wales in 1929, the year before his death at Carmarthen.

The centenary of the birth of artist Christopher Williams at Maesteg in 1873 is a reminder that his large canvas depicting Dryslwyn castle and the Black Mountain hangs in the old Grand Jury room at the Shire Hall, Carmarthen seldom seen by the public.
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