Archbishop Honors Poet-Priest

The Rev. Canon Gwynn ap Gwilym • The Church in Wales

Adapted from Anna Morrell’s report for the Church in Wales

The Archbishop of Wales has paid tribute to the Rev. Canon Gwynn ap Gwilym, who died on Sunday from cancer.

In addition to his vocation as a priest, Canon ap Gwilym was a Welsh-language poet, writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Machynlleth, he served in the Church in Wales in the dioceses of Bangor and Llandaff before taking on the roles of Bishops’ Advisor for Church Affairs and Language Officer. He translated all the Church’s liturgy of the past decade into Welsh and wrote an acclaimed translation of the metrical psalms.

Canon ap Gwilym, 66, began his ministry in the Diocese of Bangor after graduating from the University of Wales, Bangor, and training for ordination at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He was rector for 16 years of Penegoes and then Mallwyd, serving churches in the Upper Dyfi Valley area. In 2002 he moved to the Diocese of Llandaff, serving in Penyfai and then Eglwys Dewi Sant (Church of St. David) — a Welsh-language church in the heart of Cardiff — until 2007 when he was appointed Bishops’ Advisor and Language Officer.

In 1983 he won the Welsh Arts Council prize for his volume of poetry, Grassholm.

He published three volumes of poetry, Y Winllan Werdd, Gwales, and Yr Ymyl Aur, and co-edited Flodeugerdd o Farddoniaeth Gymraeg yr Ugeinfed Ganrif, an anthology of 20th-century Welsh poetry.

The Most Rev. Barry Morgan said in tribute:

Gwynn ap Gwilym was in the old Welsh tradition of being a scholar priest (un o’r hen offeiriaid llengar). He was a Chaired Bard of the National Eisteddfod, and was about to publish a scholarly book on John Davies, one of his predecessors at Mallwyd, who helped translate the New Testament into Welsh.

He also produced Salmau Cân Newydd, a metrical version of the psalms in Welsh, translated from the original Hebrew. He succeeded in his aims of making these psalms accessible and singable without deviating from their original meaning. That was only possible because of his Hebrew scholarship, his ability as a poet and his deep knowledge of the Welsh language. Welsh congregations were able, often for the first time, to sing and understand the meaning of the psalms since they were translated in such a way that they could be set to familiar Welsh tunes.

He was a brilliant Language Officer and translator for the Church in Wales. He translated most of the Church in Wales’ liturgical material, again using his gifts as poet and linguist. In later years, he brought the same thoroughness and energy to ecumenical relationships when he took on the task of being the officer responsible for the Church in Wales’ relationship with churches across the world. His attention to detail, his meticulous observations and his ability to communicate will be gifts that will be sorely missed, as will his thought provoking sermons, which always used the scriptures to illuminate contemporary issues.

Our hearts go out to his widow, Mari, and the family.

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