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Levr ar Psalmou 1873 (Williams)

The Breton Language

Breton (Brezhoneg) is a Celtic language related to Welsh (Cymraeg) and Cornish (Kernewek). It is spoken in western or lower Brittany (Breizh), in the north-west of France. In 1814, the committee of the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS) first discussed the fact that the Breton language did not have a translation of the Holy Scriptures.

Le Gonidec

In 1824 Le Gonidec was contracted by BFBS to translate the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into Breton. Jean François Marie Maurice Agathe Le Gonidec (1775-1838) also known in Breton as Yann-Frañsez ar Gonideg, was a respected Breton scholar. In 1807 he published a grammar of Breton and in 1833 he published a Breton dictionary. Le Gonidec was a Roman Catholic who knew French, Breton and Latin and he translated from the Latin Vulgate. Le Gonidec tried to translate into a pure Breton without borrowings from French. The translation was supervised and checked against the Greek, and revised by two Welsh scholars: Rev David Jones of Swansea, Wales (1792-1825) and then after his death in 1825, by Rev Thomas Price (1787-1848) of Crickhowell. The New Testament (Testamant Nevez) was published in 1827, but BFBS never published his Old Testament.

Welsh missionaries in Brittany

From the 1830s Welsh-speaking Baptist and Calvinist Methodist missionaries started to arrive in Brittany from south Wales. In 1834 John Jenkins (1807-1872) of Glamorgan in Wales arrived in Brittany with the Baptist Mission. These men learnt the Breton and French languages, and some became Bible Society colporteurs selling copies the Holy Scriptures in Breton. The missionaries soon found that much of the scholarly and literary language of the Le Gonidec version was not well enough understood by general Breton speakers, and so they recommended that the Old Testament was not printed.

James Williams

The Welsh Calvinist Methodist missionary Rev James Williams (1812-1893) came to Quimper in Brittany in 1842. He helped John Jenkins to revise the New Testament, and it was republished in 1854 and 1863 and the last revision was published in 1870. Williams published a collection of sacred songs, called in Breton “Canticou Santel”, which were adapted to well known Breton melodies. In 1869 Rev James Williams returned to Wales. He revised the Le Gonidec Psalms, which were published by BFBS in Paris as “Levr ar Psalmou” in 1873. He returned to Brittany in 1877 for a short time and he died in 1893.

Digital Edition

The 1873 Breton Book of Psalms, was scanned from an original in the BFBS archives with the help of volunteers from MissionAssist, and digitised by BFBS, for use by the Breton speaking community. This historical text is maintained by the British and Foreign Bible Society.

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