“And so in London I abode almost a year and marked the course of the world.....”
The year is 1523/1524 when William Tyndale was preaching at St. Dunstan's in what we now call Fleet Street, once lined with newspaper offices, today inhabited by banks, lawyers and accountants. If Tyndale walked, as he must have done, from St. Dunstan's east towards St. Paul's, he would pass between the great London homes of the bishops — “the pomp of our prelates” — which we still recall in the names of Salisbury Square, Peterborough Court and Ely Place. He would then — just before reaching the Fleet River and seeing Ludgate Hill before him — pass St. Bride's Church, a 15th Century building with seven altars, and in the churchyard would be Caxton's press which Wynkyn de Worde had brought from Westminster in 1500 so that he could produce his books surrounded by a population that could read; churchmen and lawyers. Did Tyndale envisage a day in his lifetime when the English Bible would be printed there? It was not to be:
“And therefore finding no purpose within the realm ... he took lease of the realm and departed into Germany.”
Any link between Tyndale and St. Bride's during the following centuries was tenuous to the point of non-existence. Until 1986.
On October 6 of that year, St. Bride's under its Rector Canon John Oates, decided to arrange a service to commemorate the 450th anniversary of Tyndale's death. The service was attended by the Master, Wardens, Court members and Clerk of the Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, whose magnificent hall on Ludgate Hill has a stained glass window in memory of Tyndale. The four readings during the service were from Tyndale's Bible: two Old Testament, two New Testament. From that day on, William Tyndale's name remained in the thoughts of many at St. Bride's, and there grew a powerful wish to mark the 500th anniversary of his birth.
In the autumn of 1991, Philip Howard of The Times and I had some discussions and we decided that we should assemble a group of people representing both the Church and literature to press for a Quincentenary celebration. Finally on Saturday April 25 1992 the following letter appeared in The Times:
Tyndale anniversary From Lord Runcie and others
Sir, The 500th anniversary of the birth of William Tyndale is surely cm occasion which all lovers of the English language will wish to commemorate suitably.
Tyndale's translations of the New Testament and part of the Old entitle him to be regarded as one of the greatest and most influential figures in the development of our literature, liturgy and language. His masterly translations formed the basis of the King James Bible, published in 1611, many of its finest passages being taken from his work unchanged.
There is, however, a difficulty to be overcome. No record of Tyndale's birth exists, although we understand that historians are agreed that it took place in the 1490s and that most would place it in the year 1494. It seems now unlikely that the actual date will be established and our concern is that the birth should be commemorated on an agreed day thus avoiding the risk of a series of conflicting celebrations.
Since the Church calendar sets aside October 6 as the date to commemorate Tyndale, we suggest that October 6, 1994, would be a suitable date to celebrate the 500th anniversarty of his birth and that it would be fitting to set up a William Tindale committee to work toward this end and in particular to decide the type of celebration most appropriate.
We would be grateful if any who wish to respond to this proposal would write to the address below.
The letter was signed by the William Tyndale Committee, St. Bride's Church. Fleet Street, EC4
ROBERT RUNCIE C. VERONICA WEDGWOOD PHYLLIS JAMES IRIS MURDOCH WILLIAM GOLDING TED HUGHES
This was the spark that lit the fire: a fire that in the next two years threatened to get out of control. The response was overwhelming and universal. Only the valiant and unselfish devotion of our honourary secretary, Gillian Graham, enabled us to cope.
From then until 1994 the work was directed by a small executive committee consisting of Canon Oates, Professor David Daniell, Gillian Graham and myself.
It was a brilliantly exciting two years. And for all of us who were privileged to contribute to the great day, a candle was lit which will never be put out.
1. Sir Edward Pickering is Master of the Guild of St Bride, a creation of Edward III, for the recruitment of 100 men to help in the church's services and to support its mission.