Visiting Vilvoorde, Belgium, and its William Tyndale monument: remembering an English Bible translator, executed 1536

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Bluestone memorial for William Tyndale, Mechelsesteenweg, Vilvoorde
Bluestone memorial for William Tyndale, Mechelsesteenweg, Vilvoorde | Source
Bust of William Tyndale, Bodleian Library, Oxford University
Bust of William Tyndale, Bodleian Library, Oxford University | Source
Map location of Halle-Vilvoorde 'arrondissement', Flemish Brabant, Belgium
Map location of Halle-Vilvoorde 'arrondissement', Flemish Brabant, Belgium | Source

A question of conscientious, scholarly integrity

In Vilvoorde (1), Belgium, at Mechelsesteenweg, built of bluestone, is a sedate monument to a significant historical figure: William Tyndale. Inscriptions are in English, Dutch and French. The monument dates from 1913.

Heresy hunting comes in various shapes and sizes and levels of severity. From the religious upheavals of the past, through the bloodthirsty excesses of Stalin's commissars, to media busybodies seeking to blacken the reputations of those deemed to hold unconventional ideas, there was nothing new about the persecution undergone by William Tyndale (c. 1494-1536)(2), accomplished Greek and Hebrew scholar, in self-imposed exile on the Continent of Europe. What is striking, though, about the case of Tyndale was the severity of his fate: the fact that at Vilvoorde as someone who became an important historical figure he was strangled and burnt at the stake.

It is recorded that prior to Tyndale's execution — accused of heresy — on October 6, 1536, he prayed that the eyes of the King of England might be opened; interestingly, within two years of Tyndale's death, England's King Henry VIII had decreed that a copy of the Bible in the English language should be available for every parish in the country.

Professor David Daniell (3), who was director of Shakespeare studies at London University, England for many years, reckoned that the influence of Tyndale, through the King James Bible, based substantially on Tyndale's translation work, has been even more influential on the English language than Shakespeare himself.

Tyndale was also the known author of other works, as well as for his activities as a translator. Harold Laski, influential professor at the London School of Economics and prominent figure in the British Labour movement, was of the view that Tyndale can be regarded as the first writer of poltical treatises in the English language. 21st century readers, especially from North America, where traditions of church-state separation are so deeply ingrained, may sometimes find it hard to grasp just how closely bound up in the 16th century were issues of religious and political controversy. If I myself am allowed my two cents' worth, I am inclined to regard Tyndale chiefly as a scholar in the Biblical languages rather than as a politician.

Long a separate municipality in its own right, Vilvoorde functions in some ways as a suburb of nearby Brussels; it belongs to the Halle-Vilvoorde arrondissement of Flemish Brabant (Dutch: Vlaams Brabant) province, in Belgium's Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest).

May 16, 2013

Notes

(1) Because the life (and death) of William Tyndale has passed somewhat into the history of the English-speaking world, references to 'Vilvorde' (the French spelling of the town's name) are not unusual in English language sources. However, 'Vilvoorde', the standard spelling in Dutch, is the officially preferred one in the town itself, which is situated in the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest). Interestingly, Vilvoorde is not geographically distant from Anderlecht, where Renaissance Greek scholar Erasmus lived for a number of years; his house is now a museum; it is not known, however, whether Erasmus and Tyndale ever met, although Tyndale did use an edition of Erasmus's Greek New Testament in his translation work. Vilvoorde is also home to a small Willliam Tyndale Museum, house at William Tyndalekerk, a local, Protestant church building.

(2) Not unusually for historical figures from a few centuries ago, Tyndale's year of birth is not certain, but often reckoned to be 1494.

(3) As well as of many other works, author of:

Tyndale, William; Daniell, David (ed.): Tyndale's New Testament: Translated from the Greek by William Tyndale in 1534. in a modern-spelling edition; with an introduction by David Daniell. Yale University Press, 1989

Daniell, David: William Tyndale: a biography. Yale University Press, 1994

Also worth seeing

In Vilvoorde, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ten-Troost Basilica dates from the 17th century.

In Brussels (distance: 13 kilometres) a few of its outstanding sights include the Grand' Place, the Royal Palace, the Palace of Justice, the Erasmus House museum in Anderlecht, the Cathedral of Saint-Michel / Sint-Michiel, and many others.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel-Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. There are regular NMBS / SNCB rail services between the Brussels mainline stations and Vilvoorde. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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