Mystery of England’s first printed Bible revealed
Historians have uncovered secrets of England’s first printed Bible — one of only seven surviving copies and which is housed in London’s Lambeth Palace Library, a media report said.
The discovery assumes significance in view of the revelations it made about hidden annotations, which were copied from the famous ‘Great Bible‘ of Thomas Cromwell, seen as the epitome of the English Reformation.
Written between 1539 and 1549, the annotations were covered and disguised with thick paper in 1600, sciencedaily.com reported.
The secrets hidden in the Lambeth Library copy were revealed during research by Eyal Poleg, historian from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).
“We know virtually nothing about this unique Bible — whose preface was written by King Henry VIII of England himself — outside of the surviving copies. At first, the Lambeth copy first appeared completely ‘clean’. But upon closer inspection I noticed that heavy paper had been pasted over blank parts of the book. The challenge was how to uncover the annotations without damaging the book,” Poleg explained.
Poleg sought the assistance of Graham Davis, a specialist in 3D X-ray imaging at QMUL. Using a light sheet, which was slid beneath the pages, they took two images in long exposure — one with the light sheet on and one with it off.
The first image showed all the annotations, scrambled with the printed text. The second picture showed only the printed text. Davis then wrote a novel piece of software to subtract the second image from the first, leaving a clear picture of the annotations.
According to Poleg, the presence of annotations supports the idea that the Reformation was a gradual process rather than a single, transformative event.
“Until recently, it was widely assumed that the Reformation caused a complete break, a Rubicon moment when people stopped being Catholics and accepted Protestantism, rejected saints, and replaced Latin with English. This Bible is a unique witness to a time when the conservative Latin and the reformist English were used together, showing that the Reformation was a slow, complex, and gradual process,” he informed.
The annotations were written during the most tumultuous years of King Henry VIII’s reign. The period included the move away from the Church of Rome.
Printed in 1535 by King Henry’s printer, within a few short years of its publication the situation had shifted dramatically.
The Latin Bible was altered to accommodate reformist English, and the book became a testimony to the greyscale between English and Latin in the period between 1539 and 1549.