I recently re-watched this drone footage of the Tyndale monument at North Nibley, starting with the cross on the top. The film is a reminder to me of the privilege it is to live in a peaceful community among these beautiful hills. But that’s not why local Victorians built the monument. This is a monument to a man who was not only denied the privilege of Cotswold life but was compelled to leave his homeland and give up his life because of his conviction that God’s word should be available to all. It’s monument to a Christian martyr.
William Tyndale was a smart guy – Oxbridge trained, learned in ancient Latin, Greek and Hebrew and posessing a way with words in his native tongue. His conviction led to action and he began to translate the bible into English. This made him some powerful enemies including Henry VIII, Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey, so he left Little Sodbury and continued his work in hiding on the continent. Accounts of his life at that time describe a frugal existence, giving much of his earnings to the poor and encouraging the community of exiles in Antwerp. After the secession of the English church, his work put him in more danger from the Holy Roman Empire and it was was one of their agents, Henry Phillips who eventually betrayed him. Tyndale was strangled and burnt at the stake at Vilevoorde, Belgium in October 1536. Whether his disputed last words ‘may God open the king of England’s eyes’ are historical or not is irrelevant. His life had already said as much.
Tyndale’s New Testament had to be smuggled into England during his lifetime, but it was a commercial success due to massive demand. It wasn’t the first vernacular translation of the New Testament, but it was the most readable and the most available. When the monarchy changed tack and demanded an English version for the national church 80 years later, 80% of the King James New Testament was lifted from Tyndale’s work. He never finished his Old Testament translation, but King James’ committee used a similar proportion of the books he had translated. If we attribute equal honours to Shakespeare and the King James in the beginnings of modern English, there’s no question that Tyndale had a substantial hand in the formation of our language.
Tyndale was not afraid of a fight – you can see this in his hard-nosed and earthy correspondence with More and others. He was not risk-averse. He gave up everything for the aim of making the Bible available to all England. But Tyndale never took up arms for his cause – preferring giving his own life to taking that of others. Christian martyrs use words, prayer and charity to oppose tyranny, they don’t use weapons to impose it. They follow Jesus in self-giving, sword-staying, cross-bearing lives. Crosses can be thinly decorated power or fashion statements. This one is a reminder of a genuine Christian martyr. Battered, gilded and glorious.