Hidden Notes in Old Bible Shed Light on Reformation

It was a 'slow, complex' process, not a clean break, says researcher
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2016 10:10 AM CDT
Hidden Notes in Old Bible Shed Light on Reformation
English notes are mixed with Latin text in a 500-year-old bible.   (Lambeth Palace Library)

The scribbles sat hidden for nearly 500 years. Then, while perusing one of seven surviving copies of England's first printed Bible, historian Eyal Poleg of Queen Mary University made a surprising discovery. "At empty spaces at the end of prologues and sections, or at blank margins, a very thick paper was carefully pasted," Poleg writes in a blog post. With the help of 3D X-rays, researchers found that the paper was hiding annotations in the 1535 book. The notes were written in English, but they were "apparently there to point readers to Latin texts of Bible readings to use in services, indicating one way parishes were attempting to get around King Henry VIII's ban on Latin in the liturgy," reports Christian Today. And that suggests a new insight about the Protestant Reformation—that it did not upend Europe "in one fell swoop" as has long been thought, notes RedOrbit.

"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," Poleg says. "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." The notes, obscured in 1600, were written during the "murky period" between 1539 and 1549 when Henry VIII was moving away from the Church of Rome but people apparently hadn't fully accepted the shift, according to a release. Just a few years later, "Latin liturgy was irrelevant," Poleg adds, and the Bible became a "recorder of thievery." Hidden on a back page was a transaction between a man and a pickpocket who was hanged in 1552. (This "Wicked Bible" came a century later.)

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