Gillian Graham: Notes On The Commemorations During 1994

It was Sir Edward Pickering, Chairman of the William Tyndale Quincentenary Trust, who was the instigator of this initiative and who had the foresight to plan ahead and gather together a group of distinguished Patrons. These were Lord Runcie, Ted Hughes OBE, (Poet Laureate), Baroness James of Holland Park, Dame Iris Murdoch, Dame Veronica Wedgwood OM, and Sir William Golding, (Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, who sadly died in 1993). Jointly they signed a Letter to The Times in April 1992, inviting support for a Quincentenary celebration of the work of William Tyndale.

Sir Edward Pickering formed an Executive Sub-Committee which included Canon John Oates, Professor David Daniell, with Mrs. Gillian Graham as Honourary Secretary to the Trust. A registered Charitable Trust was established to disseminate information on William Tyndale.

Sir Anthony Kenny of the British Library congratulated the Trust on having selected an appropriate date as a focus for the Quincentenary (October 6th 1994) which became universally accepted, even though it was acknowledged that we could not be precise about the date of Tyndale's birth. (In contrast, said Sir Anthony, Oxford University had in 1989 failed to take the opportunity to celebrate its own existence since, possibly 1289.)

The Committee's one great sadness was that the Post Office did not agree to issue a special stamp in honour of Tyndale. We tried. How we tried! With the support of a vigorous, admirably robust and strong offensive from the Bishop of Peterborough, Members of Parliament, enthusiastic historians and members of the public, with early initiatives by the Revd. Anthony Trotman whose family has Tyndale links, we tried and tried again to persuade the Royal Mail's Committee of the significance of William Tyndale and his contribution to England's language, England's literature and poetry, England's Church and England's history. We failed. (We were given the Fat Lady and seaside comics instead).

The British Library itself might have won the day for us, for it had acquired the unique 1526 Tyndale New Testament from the Bristol Baptist College for a million pounds, which created much publicity. A splendid Tyndale Exhibition was mounted and launched. Unprecedented numbers of people visited it daily. Free school packs are still available.

It has been one of the greatest pleasures of the celebrations to have found the Hertford College portrait of Tyndale gazing from posters in London Underground Stations.

Others will outline activities which commemorated Tyndale in 1994, especially The International Conference in Washington, DC; in Canada and Australia; and in Belgium at Antwerp and Vilvoorde.

Others again will be specific about the academic content of the International Tyndale Conference at Oxford, where gratitude is owed to Sir Christopher Zeeman of Hertford College, and Mr. Anthony Smith of Magdalen College; Mrs. Priscilla Frost, of Oxford Conference Management, is to be congratulated on the efficiency with which she organised an excellent Conference; at Bristol University, where Dr. Joseph Bettey reigned supreme; at Robinson College, Cambridge; at University College, London, in a variety of guises, from the John Coffin Memorial Readings by Professor Daniell, to the Hebraist angle superbly presented by Dr. Michael Weitzman. As one who attended all of these. I found a wealth of information of outstanding high quality.

In the north. The Archbishop of York gave a special address in York Minster. In St. Andrews, Scotland, Professor Daniell lectured in the University and also gave the University sermon on Sunday 6th November.

On October 5th 1994, after the Archbishop of Canterbury's excellent Eve-of-Quincentenary Lecture in the splendid setting of the historic Great Hall of the Library of Lambeth Palace, we drank very fine wine most kindly given by Sir Edward Pickering who was not, alas, able to be present. A superb exhibition of contemporary and related material had been arranged by Dr. Richard Palmer, the Chief Librarian.

After admiring 'Archbishop Pole's figtree' at close quarters, a group continued from Lambeth Palace to The Tradescant Trust in the nearby church of St. Mary-at-Lambeth for a simple supper. We were reliably informed that the bones of Tyndale's arch-adversary. Cuthbert Tunstall, were buried beneath our feet! Our Patron, Baroness James of Holland Park (the crime writer, P.D. James), who was present, would agree that fiction would not allow for such an extraordinary coincidental fact...

At St. Paul's Cathedral, London, on October 6th 1994, the date chosen for the Quincentenary of the birth of William Tyndale, Lord Runcie. Patron of the Trust, gave an excellent commemorative address to a congregation approaching 1,000. He was entertained afterwards by Canon John Oates at St. Bride's Church in Fleet Street. where there had also been Tyndale services that week. The Bible Society arranged a Tyndale Bible verse-writing enterprise in St. Paul's Cathedral.

On several occasions during the year, Lord Coggan, former Archbishop of Canterbury, gave his indefatigable and energetic support to the Quincentenary, most notably at the Gresham Special Lecture at St. Lawrence Jewry at Guildhall. This was superbly organised by Gresham College, which has shown a particular interest in the dissemination of information about Tyndale and must be warmly thanked. Lord Coggan spoke also at Southwell Minster, Salisbury and Winchester.

We are thus indebted to three Archbishops of Canterbury. past and present, for their enthusiastic and very real involvement in the commemoration of Tyndale during 1994. Cathedrals which let us have information on their special celebrations included: Armagh, Belfast, Blackburn, Bradford, Bristol, Canterbury, Carlisle, Chester, Chichester. Coventry. Derby, Durham, Edinburgh High Kirk, Ely, Gloucester, Guildford, Hereford, Leicester, Lichfield, Newcastle on Tyne, Oxford, Peterborough, Rochester, St. Albans, Salisbury. Southwark, Southwell Minster, Truro, Wakefield, Wells, Winchester, Worcester, and York Minster. Many of us who were at those services know the high standard and theological and educative value of the special commemorative sermons by Bishops, Deans, and clergy. At some there were helpful printed leaflets copying Tyndale's original decorative texts.

Further afield, Cathedrals in Dublin, Gibraltar, Washington DC, Sydney, and South Africa, held special services. In Antwerp a particularly meaningful commemoration was held. In Vilvoorde, near Brussels, was a celebratory service and luncheon early in 1994, after the refurbishment of the small Tyndale Museum there, with a visit to the Vilvoorde Tyndale Monument which stands near where Tyndale was strangled and burned in 1536.

Back in the UK Church Bells were rung throughout the country in commemoration of Tyndale. Special church initiatives included a continuous reading from Tyndale's Bible from 2.30 a.m. to midnight in the Parish Church of St. Peter, Heswall, Wirral, and a Flower Festival with a Tyndale theme - "Considre the lylies of the felde" - at Stratton Straw less in Norfolk. The Chaplain gave an address on Tyndale in Eton College Chapel. (We hope to encourage schools to recognise October 6th as an important annual date.)

At the invitation of the Archdeacon of Canterbury, Professor Daniell spoke to the Anselm Society in the University of Kent at Canterbury, to Peterborough and Chelmsford Theological Societies, and also in London to the Dissenting Deputies at the Free Church Federal Council.

We must not omit to mention the excellent articles and media commentaries on the subject. We would single out the fine critical contributions made to the argument by Philip Howard, Enoch Powell, Patrick Collinson, John Guy, Laurence Marks, Stuart Wavell, Alison Shell, amongst others, including The Baptist Times, The Methodist Recorder and the Church Times.

In Oxford, a stained glass window depicting Tyndale was installed at Hertford College Chapel. Radio 4 broadcast a service from Magdalen College. at which the Bishop of Oxford preached. It also broadcast 'Captain of Heretics', a play by Anthony Read. The Video film 'God's Outlaw was frequently shown, and Channel 4 Television has been requested to re-release it.

In Gloucestershire, John Barnett's mediaeval mystery play, "The Ploughboy's Story", was performed at Hunts Court, North Nibley. Delegates to the Oxford Conference travelled to it by coach, and were able also to see Little Sodbury Manor and St. Adeline's Church there, and something of the beautiful countryside. At North Nibley also, which claims Tyndale, a special service was held at St. Martin's Church, with a pilgrimage to the Tyndale Monument, involving many local ecumenical and school groups.

Gloucester Library held Quincentenary displays in Gloucester. Stroud and Tewkesbury during the year. and Professor Daniell gave Tyndale readings at The Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. At Dursley Parish Church, and later in Gloucester Cathedral and Hertford College. the Tyndale Choral Society performed a new and very modern choral work. "Death of a Martyr", composed by Christopher Boodle. On display was the special Tyndale Tapestry, an enterprise of the Dursley Cross Stitch Club.

During 1995, Gloucestershire honours William Tyndale in The National Festival of Arts and Culture. (Information from Mr. Colin Potts, County Tourism Officer. Shire Hall, Gloucester GL1 2TN. Tel. 0452 425657.)

In South Africa, a memorable enterprise by The Bible Society has been the striking of gold and silver Tyndale Medals on the 'Oom Paul' press, which were immediately sold out. Proceeds go to spreading the word of the Bible in South Africa, and to translating it into other African languages.

Finally, we have been in contact with Archbishop Tutu. In the midst of the great change in South Africa last year, he found time to send the Trust his good wishes. Arrangement, are in place in the hope that he will be able to be filmed reading the Tyndale Bible, perhaps to children in Soweto. This will show graphically how Tyndale's original translations have travelled to all parts of the world and continue to be relevant and important to future generations.

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