I’m writing this from Borough High St. in Southwark (London), a few blocks from Southwark Cathedral, and in the vicinity of what used to be Winchester Palace, the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Lancelot Andrewes, translator of the King James Bible and perhaps supervisor of the First Westminster Company, was granted the bishopric in 1618. He is buried in Southwark Cathedral and is represented in effigy lying on top of his tomb.
London is full of reminders of the translation of the English Bible. Across London Bridge, which is just up the road and on the right, is the church of St. Magnus Martyr. Miles Coverdale, who translated the first complete English Bible (apart from the Wycliffites), is buried there, since he served for a time as rector.
William Tyndale, translator of translators, is buried in Vilvoorde in the Netherlands, where he was strangled and burned, but his sculpted head is included as a decorative architectural feature at St. Dunstan-in-the-West, where he lectured. John Donne later preached at St. Dunstan’s. A little south of St. Paul’s, where Donne was dean, stood the church of Holy Trinity the Less, destroyed in the Great Fire. John Rogers, the man responsible for Matthew’s Bible (1537), was rector there a few years earlier. He was later burned alive as a heretic at Smithfield, a 10 minute walk north, near the church of St. Bartholomew the Great. Benjamin Franklin worked briefly for a printer in the Lady Chapel of St. Bart’s.
Of course, Westminster itself, the location of two companies of the King James Bible translators, is down the Thames to the west. Thomas Bilson, Bishop of Winchester (before Andrewes), member of the Second Cambridge Company, and one of the revisers of the final King James Bible text, is buried in Westminster Abbey, as is, of course, King James I. Archbishop Matthew Parker, who supervised the translation of the Bishops’ Bible (1568), is buried at Lambeth just across the Thames.
The celebrations of the King James Bible anniversary have died down here. There are no upcoming events listed on the website of the King James Bible Trust. And in the United States, the tour of Manifold Greatness comes to end on July 12—oddly enough, my birthday. Perhaps more appropriately, it is the date of the death of Erasmus (1536), who produced the Greek text of the New Testament that became known as the Textus Receptus, an essential resource for translators from William Tyndale to the King James Bible companies.
As I reflect on the long history of Manifold Greatness, from its inception and planning, to the years of research, to the exhibition at the Folger, to the long journey of the panel exhibitions, I wonder what lies ahead for the King James Bible in 2111. Will the 500th anniversary be celebrated as were the 400th and the 300th? Will the King James Bible still be in use in some churches? Will American presidents still be sworn in on it? Will the King James Bible have an afterlife in the 21st century? Will some lecturer refer back to the 2011 anniversary celebrations at the Folger, as I referred in my opening lecture to celebrations in New York and London in 1911? Few of us will know. As Matthew writes, “of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
Hannibal Hamlin, associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, was co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
The King James Bible has inspired plenty of children’s and family activities as part of the Manifold Greatness project. One of the most popular original videos on our YouTube channel is Making Ink. There’s a sequel to that one, Making a Quill Pen, another video on Making a Quarto, and still another on Making a Ruff—the essential fashion statement for a well-dressed King James Bible translator!
And there’s more: on our Manifold Greatness website, all four craft videos come with suggested supplies and other tips. (There’s a printing demonstration video by Manifold Greatness co-curator Steven Galbraith, too.) The website’s Kids Zone also includes All About the King James Bible, which is filled with cool facts and image galleries, a family guide, and many online activities.
Among the online games and activities, you’ll see some of our favorite features, including a “translator scavenger hunt” that helps you search for a translator’s ink, pen, glasses, and more, an audio-rich translation comparison, an online printing press, the chance to design your own book bindings, crossword puzzles, and highly original pictures to color.
For more materials on the subject, you may wish to explore our past blog posts on Ideas for Educators (from Teacher Appreciation Week in 2011) and The KJB and Young Audiences, as well as this report from Tifton, Georgia, on a Making a Quarto workshop during the Tifton exhibit of Manifold Greatness. (For more on a family classic influenced by the King James Bible, by the way, read Manifold Greatness co-curator Hannibal Hamlin’s post on My Favorite Exhibition Item?, including his thoughts on A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).)
Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, is on view at Nancy Guinn Memorial Library in Conyers, Georgia, through July 12, 2013. For a wealth of material on earlier English Bibles, the origins and translation of the King James Bible, its diverse early formats, and its widespread cultural, literary, and social influence for the next 400 years, see our website, www.manifoldgreatness.org.
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.
After an event-filled tour that has criss-crossed the United States since the fall of 2011—including, most recently, exhibits in Bel Air, Maryland; Danville, Kentucky; and Tifton, Georgia—Manifold Greatness is ready to open at its final exhibit site. The 40th of its 40 locations in 27 states is the Nancy Guinn Memorial Library of the Conyers-Rockdale Library System in Conyers, Georgia, where Manifold Greatness will be on view from tomorrow, May 29, through July 12.
As detailed in the library’s brochure below, the Conyers display includes a wealth of programs this June. To see what’s coming, including photos of some intriguing local Bibles that will also be on exhibit, read this preview in the Rockdale Citizen. You can also check out the library’s website or its Facebook page. (To examine the brochure at larger size, just select the page you wish to read.)
When planning an exhibition a curator expects to find a few discoveries and surprises. In earlier posts I’ve written about discoveries such as the Isham Bible and the surprise of finding a “Judas Bible” in the Folger collection. But there is one artifact in the Manifold Greatness exhibition that we would never have imagined: a copy of the 1611 “He” Bible that was bound for King James’s son Henry Frederick, prince of Wales. This treasure is undoubtedly one of the most exciting surviving editions of the King James Bible and, as good luck would have it, it was residing just a few miles from the Folger Shakespeare Library at the Washington National Cathedral.
As you can see from the photograph, this book is bound beautifully in red Morocco leather with intricate ornamental gilt tooling that provides clues identifying both the owner and binder. Prince Henry’s arms are stamped onto the front and back boards, along with royal symbols such as the crowned thistles on the corners of the binding and Tudor roses sprinkled around the border.
If you look closely at the detail below, you’ll see two little squirrels perched on each side of the crown found on Henry’s arms. There was only one binder during this period who decorated his bindings with such squirrels. We do not know the binder’s name, but modern scholars have taken to calling him the “Squirrel Binder.” Active from c.1610 to 1635, the “Squirrel Binder” appears to have worked for many English nobles and several members of the royal court, including James I, Charles I, and Prince Henry.
The book’s engraved title page held another surprise. The signature of the engraver, Cornelis Boel, usually appears engraved at the bottom left center “C. Boel fecit [he made it]” On the title page to Prince Henry’s copy, Boel’s name is not engraved, but signed!
This extraordinary copy of the “He” Bible is the greatest treasure of the Washington National Cathedral’s impressive rare book library. I know that I speak for Hannibal and the rest of the Manifold Greatness team when I say how grateful we are to our friends at the Cathedral for loaning us this remarkable book.
Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.