I got a new job this summer. After 20 years, I left the television news business to become… a librarian!
Well, not really. In fact, real librarians will get mad at me for even suggesting I am worthy enough to carry the title.
I am now working in the marketing department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. One of the oldest and most innovative libraries in the nation, you may have heard about it-or seen photos of it-thanks to this Buzzfeed post which went viral the week I started working there. I can’t take credit for it… but it was an awesome way to start my new career.
One of the most fabulous perks of my new job is that I get a lunch hour. Sometimes I spend my lunch hour in the rare books room, also known as the Joseph C. Stearn Cincinnati Room, just a short walk from my office. It is my favorite room in the library. Home to our 1848 daguerreotype of the Cincinnati Riverfront, and rotating, museum-type displays, it is where a history nutcase like myself can go to feed a soul yearning to touch the past.
Our library has an entire collection of rare materials which ANYONE can access. There are copies of Gallileo’s work, Syrian tables dating to the ages before Christ, a whole host of ancient texts from a number of religious denominations, and a first-edition print of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility. That was my first lunch hour choice and it was pretty darn thrilling.
But I hit a home run with my second selection and it was so fantastic, I decided to blog about it, even though it’s not food related. Because if you love and appreciate history, especially English Tudor history, you’ll understand why I was giddy for hours after handling this book.
This is the Great Bible, published in 1541. It’s bound in the original cowhide leather with iron hinges. It probably weighs 25 pounds. It’s gigantic and musty and it doesn’t look like much at first glance.
The Great Bible was authorized by King Henry VIII of England and was the first edition of the Bible in English to be read aloud in the church services of the Church of England. The Great Bible was prepared by Myles Coverdale, working under commission of Thomas, Lord Cromwell, Secretary to Henry VIII and Vicar General. In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”
It’s so common to have Bibles in churches, homes, and hotels in this modern time that many people don’t realize the book itself is not very old, when you consider the entire life of the church. The printing press was not invented until 1436, and until that time, the scriptures were on scrolls and parchment.
The commission of this particular Bible carries extra significance because up until this point, England had been Catholic and the Catholic church printed the Bible only in Latin, which could not be read by commoners. The protestant reformers, led by King Henry, made it part of their mission to make the Bible more accessible to the masses by printing it in English.
The first edition was published in 1539. My library has a copy of the third edition. But our copy is one of the rarer copies in existence, because it still contains the original five title pages. This website explains the image below.
The first edition of this Bible was printed five years after King Henry broke with the Catholic Church, creating his own Church of England, and put himself at the head of the Church. In the span of time between the creation of the Church of England and the printing of this Bible, King Henry married Anne Boleyn, fathered Elizabeth the first, executed Anne, married Lady Jane Seymour, fathered King Edward VI, saw Queen Jane die after childbirth, married Anne of Cleves, annulled that marriage, and was either married to or getting ready to marry his fifth wife, Katherine Howard-whose head would also eventually end up on the chopping block. If you think the reality TV show “Survivor” is hard, you should read more about the Tudor era of English history. It’s downright terrifying.
Despite the bloody and contentious history, this book spoke to me the moment I opened it’s covers-not because of Henry and, I’m sorry to say for my pastor’s sake, not because of it’s religious text. The most breathtaking and fascinating parts were the notes scribbled into the margins of the book, in quill and ink.
Stay tuned for some Tudor-era recipes. I think it’s about time and I’m inspired now.