The invention sheds new mild on the Cromwell Bible

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PEOPLE should be less quick to "idolize the past" with discoveries of a Tudor-era Bible, said Dr. Eyal Poleg, lecturer in material history at Queen Mary University in London.

Late last month it was announced that a copy of the 1539 Great Bible, kept by St. John's College, Cambridge, contained Tudor-era changes showing Thomas Cromwell's last known portrait before he was executed. The researchers have said that it demonstrated the importance of Cromwell's political maneuvers at the time.

Ian McKeeThe front page of the Great Bible of St. John's College. Thomas Cromwell receives a copy of Henry VIII's Bible (top right) and a figure who is likely Richard Rich, scattered Bibles in the illustration below. The portrait of Jane Seymour appears in the lower right corner

Often viewed as the emblem of the English Reformation, the title page of the Great Bible shows Henry VIII giving copies of the Bible to Cromwell and the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer. Cranmer and a man long believed to be Cromwell are shown giving the book to members of the clergy and lay nobility.

Dr. Paola Ricciardi, a senior researcher at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge who had analyzed the Bible's title page with an X-ray spectrometer and digital microscope, found that several changes were made to the Bible in the 16th century. Cromwell's portrait had been taped over one illustration while in another his picture had been replaced by another royal adviser. A portrait of Jane Seymour, Henry's preferred third wife, was also included in the Bible.

Dr. Poleg, who interpreted the results and whose book A Material History of the Bible:: England 1200-1553, due to be published by OUP on August 27th, said: “The Great Bible is usually considered a milestone in reform and is distributed in every parish church at a time when most churches did not have a copy of the Bible. and a great revolution in the way people have accessed the Bible. However, this transformation has been very gradual, and the recent discoveries we have made really fit into this new understanding. "

He continued, “There is a visual echo of Henry's life through his wife's picture. Thomas Cromwell made the change because Henry did not really support the English Bible and Cromwell was trying to sell it to him. Cromwell and Cranmer pushed for the big one Bible, but Henry was ambivalent about distributing it among the laity.

“So it was much safer to be shown how to get a Bible from Henry. Cromwell did something very smart: change little things to reposition yourself on the front page, and politically put yourself in the right place in the process. "

Ian McKeeClose-up of the woman whose image has been transformed into Jane Seymour

Kathryn McKee, specialty collections librarian and sub-librarian at St. Johns, said, "I looked at the front page of St. John's Great Bible a lot and had no idea that those faces were added later. I used to tell people," This is Cromwell receiving the Bible. This is Cromwell giving the Bible because that is the story of the Great Bible. That this should be different is extraordinary. "

Dr. Poleg said: “Legislation was later passed to prevent women and the 'lower orders' from reading the Bible. Henry VIII expected the people to receive the Bible and reassert their sense of loyalty to the crown. However, he also feared that if people started reading it, they would discuss and dispute it and therefore understand it in ways that did not favor him.

“What happened on these front pages is kind of 'photo shopping'. We should not idolize the past by viewing this time as a clear transition from Catholicism to Anglicanism. Then as now, people struggled with their religious identity. I hope people will see the English Reformation as a long process rather than a single moment. "

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