08 May 2014

Various bibles

An event associated with the Norwich artists book fair was a viewing of the Boleyn Bible, which is held in the collection of Norwich Libraries. It's a Wycliffe bible, an English translation dating to the late 1300s, and was copied (probably by one scribe) in the 15th century. It belonged to Anne Boleyn's uncle - he wrote his name at the top of the page:  “liber Iacobi Boolene manens in Blickling”, translated as “James Boleyn’s book, dwelling in Blickling”. It was given to Norwich Library in 1690.
There's no title page - it goes straight into Genesis. Each book starts with an illuminated page. Rebinding during the 19th century required trimming the pages, for whatever reason, especially at the top.

The bible ends abruptly, in Proverbs, with a mended page -
A bit of used parchment that was lying around at the (re)binder's was used as an end page...

Some of the "pretty bits" that lie in between -

Photographs don't do it justice - any handmade book has an aura (in Walter Benjamin's sense of the word), and a book with as many associations as this, and the turbulent context of being a translation into the vernacular, has a richer aura than most.

In the 1500s there was much controversy about and book-burning of William Tyndale's English translations of the Bible - which could be mass-produced by printing. When Henry VIII split with Rome and became head of the Church of England (and dissolved the monasteries), he decreed in September 1538 that every parish must purchase a copy of an English Bible and place it in ‘some convenient place’ for all to see and read. To meet this demand, the Great Bible, so called because of its size, was put into production, with more than 9,000 copies printed by 1541.

It was Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry VIII that sparked the changes of the English Reformation (the Pope refused to consent to the king’s divorce from his first queen, Catherine of Aragon). Anne had an English bible in her rooms so that her ladies-in-waiting could read the gospel in their own language.

Both Tyndale and Anne Boleyn met their deaths in 1536, and it seems that Tyndale's last words - "O Lord, open the King of England's eyes" - were fulfilled by Henry's requirement for parish bibles written in English, to be read aloud in church services.
The Great Bible has a woodblock-printed title page - "an unmissable opportunity to communicate a visual message about the new Royal Supremacy to every English parishioner." This coloured version comes from Henry VIII's own copy, now held in the British Library -

It shows the king receiving the Word directly from God. "By tracking the repeating motif of the Verbum Dei (the Word of God), every English man or woman could witness the flow of authority from God to Henry, descending thence to the clergy and to the local parish congregation via Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury, on the left, and to the nobility through Thomas Cromwell on the right."

The best-known version of the Bible in English is the King James version, begun in 1604 and completed in 1611, and undertaken by 47 scholars - of which 90% is taken from Tyndale's works and almost a third uses his own words. Listen to three BBC programmes about its history and literary influence here.

1 comment:

The Idaho Beauty said...

As I thought about that scribe copying the entire bible by hand, it gave me a different perspective on the illuminations, especially since I've been doing more drawing myself lately. Can you imagine what an enjoyable break it would be to get a chance to cut loose with something more fun after painstakingly writing each letter? One could almost envision the illuminations on these pages as doodles, Zentangles, pure enjoyment!