VISIT | Considering the Martyr of Nibley Knoll at The Tyndale Monument | Gloucestershire
A Monument to an English Reformer
A monument to English Reformation and Translator William Tyndale
Controversial, Critic, Stirrer of Pots and Convicted Heretic
Or just walk up the big hill at Nibley Knoll and take in the wondrous views... your choice
"...this monument on the Cotswold Way - views for miles..."
It is 111 feet tall. But at its base is a foundation stone placed there in 1863 by a certain Colonel Berkeley. And underneath the stone is a box. And inside the box is a Bible – an Oxford Bible inscribed with names of the Committee and Trustees who set out to build this monument. The Tyndale Monument.
The cenotaph opened in 1866 on Nibley Knoll in Gloucestershire on land of North Nibley. A fitting place they believed as the birthplace of the man this monument was built to remember. Although its design and purpose was perhaps more fitting to remember the impact of the man, rather than the man himself.
For that was what the great and good said when it was officially inaugurated in 1866 when Lord Ducie, the Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire was formally handed the key to the door of the tower and respectfully asked to unlock it and open it for the masses. The grand unveiling.
But the idea for something to commend this man had been around for a while. A long while. And neither place nor design could be agreed. That is until Nibley Knoll or Nibley Knob as the locals prefer to call it in 1863.
This is the Tyndale Monument. A monument to remember the beliefs, the work and the end of William Tyndale.
His enduring legacy – the first translation of the New Testament into the English language. Perhaps opening the words of Christianity, the words of the Christian God to the native English-speaking masses for the very first time. No longer did you have to rely on papal instructors, the priests and lay-clergy, but if you could read (which was a big if back then) then you could access the source material of Christianity yourself. Self-enlightenment.
Let’s get a quick potted history of William shall we? Born either in a barn or in a pub at North Nibley in Gloucestershire around 1494, the son of a yeoman. An intelligent young man – he attended Oxford University where his talents in theology and language suggested a possible route forward. Tyndale worked as a tutor but become known to local religious powers when he demonstrated curiously forward beliefs.
For that period William inhabited was a dynamic and shifting time for religious change. This was The Reformation. Characterised under Henry VIII for his marital mix-ups and his sea change of religious promise and persecution before the Church of England became into existence and law, followed by divorce, beheadings and more divorce…
William’s salvation was to run away to London in the early 1520s where he attempted to gain access to the inner sanctum of religious reform, asking permission to translate the Bible into English. This was refused. But he had become to be noticed by more significant and more powerful individuals and groups. Not always a good thing in this time – they tended to lose their heads! And yet, translations of Bibles tended to be labelled as heresy and heretics tended to be burned at the stake!
Tyndale wrote religious papers and discussed reform; he questioned validity of the papal state, of the relevance of the church to the people. And whilst he turned Henry VIII’s head with a paper about the idea of a head of the church being head of the country; he also provoked individuals like Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolseley, stirring the pot of suspicion and treason.
Of course, William would end up on the Continent – in Europe proper. He sought refuge at Reformation central – at the University of Wittenberg and Worms where the monk and reformer Martin Luther had begun with his own list of problems of the Catholic Church, the 95 Theses and had translated his own Bible into the language of the area – German.
William Tyndale continued his work to translate the Bible into English, working from Hebrew and Greek versions. Begun in 1526 with partial printings, they continued into the 1530s when William ended up in hiding in the Dutch city of Antwerp. Unfortunately for William, a man named Henry Phillips (who may or may not have been in the employ of a English Bishop or two) turned him into the Catholic authorities. He was put on trial in 1536 for heresy, found guilty and sentenced to burn.
His actual burning was preceded by a strangling by the hangman before his body was set to the stake. But his final words are said to have been:
Lord! Open the King of England's eyes
Within just a few years, Henry VIII had printed up English versions of the Bible based upon Tyndale’s work and even now the common King James Bible is predominantly based upon Tyndale’s translations.
Although in truth, William never entirely completed the Old Testament translation but oh well…
On the monument, a commemorative plaque reads:
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 whether you give a fig or not about religious reform, of the English Reformation, of men who defied rules, laws and did their own thing and came to an end not of their own design, you can still come to Nibley Knoll. You can gaze in desirous wonder of the beautiful views and the lovely walking to be had here as the Cotswold Way winds its way past this cenotaph.
And maybe only then, you’ll glance at this stone monument to a man long dead and think of Christian Bibles in English words. And wonder whether those of the 19th century who built this tower, were thinking about the man or about what such a reminder of a man would have on this part of the world when decades and centuries past. For is this just about religion or something more? You decide.
Directions and Map |
Find the Tyndale Monument above the village of North Nibley on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment in Gloucestershire near Cam and Dursley