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Every year around the end of September, large, colorful flyers decorated with globes and almost every flag imaginable begin to circulate through language-focused classrooms at Brigham Young University. The hubbub only escalates as September 30th approaches, centralizing around enthusiastic translation and interpretation students. To them, International Translation Day means gathering to celebrate the slow dissipation of language barriers, emphasizing bringing people and nations together, and eating delicious food from a variety of cultures around the world.  

The date of this peculiar holiday derives from Catholic traditions celebrating St. Jerome, the patron saint of archaeologists, librarians, Biblical scholars, and most notably for the excited students of BYU, translators. St. Jerome was born around 342 AD in a place then called Dalmatia, which is now thought to have existed somewhere in Croatia or Slovenia. His birth language would have been the Illyrian dialect, a language that is believed to have morphed into modern Albanian. However, an education in Rome allowed him to study grammar and philosophy, and he learned Latin as part of his literary studies. 

St. Jerome | Christian scholar | Britannica

After a twenty-year-long journey filled with exhausting travel and an inner conflict stemming from a religious crisis, he turned to spirituality for peace. He learned Hebrew and Greek from Jewish converts. He made his way back to Rome. There, he translated 14 sermons written by Christian theologist Origen into Latin, and revised the Old Latin versions of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible), basing his corrections on the best Greek manuscripts available to him. Unfortunately, conflicts with the local Roman clergy resulted in large amounts of criticism, so St. Jerome once again left Rome, this time headed for the Holy Land. 

In 386 AD, he finally settled in Bethlehem. This was to be where he completed his most famous work: his own personal translation of the Bible. This was a massive undertaking. Pope Damasus, the bishop of Rome, commissioned him to produce a high-quality Latin version of the Bible as the leading biblical scholar of his time. Though Damasus died in 384, Jerome passionately continued his work. In Bethlehem, he was able to hone his Hebrew skills enough to complete his translation, which he had initially started in Rome, as well as provide multiple commentaries on different Old Testament books and prophets. St. Jerome’s version of the translated Bible is still widely used today. Known as the Vulgate, it is especially utilized in the Roman Catholic Church. 

St. Jerome is highly regarded not only for his famous Bible translation but also for his views on translation as an art form. He often acknowledged errors in his earlier translations and revised them as he gained more experience in culture and language. To ensure the accuracy of his translations, he spent countless hours studying the texts. He is a model of passion and dedication for his craft, inspiring many modern translators to follow in his footsteps.

As we reflect on the legacy of St. Jerome and the significance of International Translation Day, let us be reminded of the power of language and the importance of bridging the gaps between cultures. Let us celebrate the hard work and dedication of translators and interpreters around the world who work tirelessly to break down language barriers and bring people together. Whether you are a professional translator or simply someone who appreciates the value of communication, let us all take a moment to recognize and honor the art of translation. 


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