Work begins on Bible Society's new £1m visitor centre

St Beuno's Church, at Llanycil, Bala(Photo: Bible Society)

Work has got underway on the new £1 million visitor centre celebrating the origins of the Bible Society.

Mary Jones World is being developed at a deconsecrated church in the picturesque market town of Bala in North Wales.

The centre will be based at St Beuno's Church, which has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,500 years.

Heritage Consultant, Ian Walden said: "We reckon it will take people an hour to get round. There will be graphic panels, there will be videos, there will be interactive computer games.

"There will be a whole database of information because there are so many stories to tell."

The Bible Society bought the redundant Grade II-listed building in 2007 and the adjoining field in 2009.

In 1800 Mary Jones, aged 15, walked 25 miles from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, across the Welsh mountains, to get a Bible from Reverend Thomas Charles in Bala.

Jones had been saving for six years to purchase a Bible and her determination moved Reverend Charles to establish the Bible Society four years later.

He is one of several notable figures buried in the churchyard at Llanycil.

The new centre will share the story of Jones and Charles and give visitors the chance to learn about the Bible's impact in Wales and worldwide.

Dorothi Evans, Mayor of Bala said, "This is fantastic news. We are really looking forward to this visitor centre.

"The story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles is what we have been brought up with, but a lot of people don't know about them and in learning about them and learning about the history of the Bible Society local people will be amazed."

Mary Thomas, Secretary of the Bible Society's Acton Group said: "I think it's a very exciting time in our life, to think that the whole experience is carrying on.

"This is where Thomas Charles was married. This is where Thomas Charles is buried."

Talking about the enduring popularity of the Mary Jones route with walkers today, she added, "It is a shame there is nowhere to celebrate their achievement afterwards. The new centre will be ideal for that."

The centre has been in development since 2007 and Bible Societies around the world have given donations towards the cost of setting it up. Funds have also been raised by supporters and the sale of some assets.

A new car park will be built in the field adjacent to the church with a picnic area and local footpath access. Developers will also soon begin transforming the building's interior.

The Bible Society's Group Chief Executive, James Catford said: "This project is hugely significant for Bible Society in Wales. The Bible's impact in Wales and, through Wales, the rest of the world has been immense.

"The centre will tell this story to tourists, school children and international visitors. We are very grateful to the people of Llayncil and Bala for their support and encouragement."

Mary Jones World will be officially opened in the autumn, coinciding with the bicentenary of the death of Reverend Thomas Charles.

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