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Historian Uncovers Secrets of the Reformation Hidden in the Great Bible

England’s first printed Bible holds secrets of the Reformation.

The annotations of England’s first printed Bible were discovered by a historian Dr. Eyal Poleg during his research. The Bible version is believed to have been printed in the year 1535 by the Henry VIII’s printer, and it is kept in Lambeth Palace Library, London together with seven additional copies.

Historian Uncovers Secrets of the Reformation Hidden in the Great Bible[/tweetthis]

Dr. Poleg, who is a historian at Queen Mary University of London, said that he encountered challenges while trying to uncover the annotations. He said; "We know virtually nothing about this unique Bible – whose preface was written by Henry 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."

With the help of Dr. Graham Davis, who is a 3D X-Ray Imaging Specialist, they were able to come up with two images with a long exposure. The analysis of the first image showed the annotations which were mixed in with the printed text. The other piece showed only the printed text. Using the two images, Dr. Davis was able to extract the clear annotations with software.

After analyzing the annotations, research indicated that they were copied from the famous “Great Bible” of Thomas Cromwell, which is seen as a personification of the English Reformation. The annotations are believed to have been written in the year 1539-1549. A thick paper then covered them in 1600, and they remained a secret until they were discovered this year.

According to Dr. Poleg, this indicates that the English Reformation can be proved to be a gradual process and not a single transformative process as many may think. "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."

Research indicated that the annotations were written at a time when Henry experienced a lot of challenges during his regime. Such handles were the attempt of suppression of monasteries, Act of Supremacy, the exit from the Church of Rome among others.

There was also a hidden transaction at the back of the book between two men. It involved Mr. William Cheffyn of Calais and Mr. James Elys Cutpurse (which means Pickpocket) of London. The transaction details stated that Cutpurse had promised to pay shillings 20 to Cheffyn, failure to do so he’d go to the notorious prison Marshalsea in Southwark.

After conducting further research, Dr. Poleg was able to discover that Mr. Cutpurse was hanged in Tybourn in July 1552. He said, "Beyond Mr. Cutpurse's illustrious occupation, the fact that we know when he died is significant. It allows us to date and trace the journey of the book with remarkable accuracy – the transaction obviously couldn't have taken place after his death."

Dr. Poleg made a summary statement about the book; "The book is a unique witness to the course of Henry's Reformation. Printed in 1535 by the King's printer and with Henry's preface, within a few short years, 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 that murky period between 1539 and 1549.

"Just three years later things were more certain. Monastic libraries were dissolved, and Latin liturgy was irrelevant. Our Bible found its way to lay hands, completing a remarkably swift descent in prominence from Royal text to recorder of thievery."


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