You may have noticed that Hannibal Hamlin’s recent post on Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, and the King James Bible began “Happy Birthday Walter!” And with good reason. As we look back on the Manifold Greatness blog since its own birth announcement on March 15, 2011, birthdays and other anniversaries have been an enormous help to us in tracing the origins and cultural influences of the 1611 King James Bible, from its time to the present day. Many of our posts have been quite different, of course, with no anniversary connotation. But again and again, we’ve found that anniversary dates are a welcome and frequent part of the mix.
A special date, like Whitman’s birthday, not only gives a blog post an easy-to-understand reason for appearing when it does; it often means that there will be other links and resources elsewhere for readers to explore on the same day on the same topic. For our blog, paying attention to such dates has also created, in effect, a real-world immersion in the width and breadth of the King James Bible’s influence, so that we find ourselves noting the anniversary of the first Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) one day, the death date of reggae superstar Bob Marley another day, and the death of King James Bible translator John Rainolds on yet another. Others in an almost endless list of examples include the anniversaries of the reading from Genesis from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, the death of William Blake, and the death of Elvis Presley.
Anniversary dates can be tough deadlines, too. Behind the scenes, we’ve occasionally found ourselves scrambling to create a post on or near belatedly discovered date. Steve Galbraith produced that post on the anniversary of Bob Marley’s death in a matter of hours; Helen Moore, at the Bodleian, wrote the Rainolds tribute in very short order; and, quite recently, Hannibal Hamlin marked the rarely noted anniversary of the death of Casiodoro de Reina, a crucial early Spanish Bible translator, with just a few hours’ notice. For all of which and more, many thanks to all three!
King James Bible-influenced poems, songs, movies, television shows, and other creative works have anniversaries to celebrate, too, from the release of the 1956 film version of Moby Dick to the debut of the Byrds’ Turn, Turn, Turn. Handel’s Messiah has given rise on this blog to posts on Handel’s birthday, the anniversary of the oratorio’s original Dublin premiere, and the modern custom of performing it in the days before Christmas rather than during Lent, the period before Easter. Christmas and Easter, of course, are among the annual holidays—religious and secular, fixed-date like Christmas and moveable feast like Easter—that we have marked on the blog, too, which has also included posts tied to Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Thanksgiving, among others.
Ultimately, the impulse to celebrate anniversaries led to the entire Manifold Greatness project, inspired by the 400th anniversary of the 1611 King James Bible, and to countless other projects around the globe in the anniversary year of 2011. But the same impulse has also inspired a modern King James Bible myth. The natural desire to link the King James Bible to a specific date, as well as to the year 1611, has led to the widespread, but false, idea that the King James Bible was first published on May 2, one of several King James Bible myths debunked on this blog over time.
King James himself, of course, is inevitably linked to several anniversary dates, including the date of his coronation. On June 19, 2011, we first wished him “Happy Birthday, King James!” You can wish him the same next Wednesday, as June 19 rolls around once more.
Yesterday was March 15, the anniversary of the death of Casiodoro de Reina (ca. 1520–1594). And that made us think of the Bear Bible, or Biblia del Oso, first published in 1569. The translation was largely the work of de Reina, a Spanish Reformer who began his religious life as a monk in the monastery of San Isidoro outside of Seville.
Persuaded by the writings of Martin Luther, de Reina fled Spain when he aroused the suspicions of the Inquisition. After a brief stay in Geneva, which he found uncongenial, de Reina traveled to England. In 1559 he became the pastor of the Spanish Protestant exile community in London, who worshipped at the church of St. Mary Axe, named after a neighboring tavern whose sign bore the image of an axe.
Seemingly trumped up due to the machinations of Spanish agents, accusations against de Reina included an astonishing array of crimes, among them dishonesty, embezzlement, immoral conduct with female congregants, and sodomy, as well as doctrinal and ecclesiastical errors. He fled England with his family in 1563 and devoted himself to the translation of the Bible, as well as to writings criticizing the Inquisition.
There had been earlier Bibles in Spanish, but de Reina’s, first printed in Basel, was the most influential. The de Reina Bible was revised in 1602 by Cipriano de Valera, originally a member of the same monastic order as de Reina, who was, from 1559, a professor at the University of Cambridge.
Though it was revised again several times up to the twentieth century, this Spanish Protestant translation is still known, and still in use, as the Reina-Valera Bible. It has a status among Spanish Protestants somewhat equivalent to that of the King James Bible among English speakers. The charming printer’s mark of the bear climbing a tree for honey identifies the work of the Bern printer Mattias Apiarius, whose name (in his native German, “Biener”) means “beekeeper.”
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, was co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.