Gutenberg Bible


Jerome’s Epistle to Paulinus from the British Museum’s 1454 Gutenberg Bible

Part of this week’s task on my course has been to collaboratively look at St Jerome’s Epistle to Paulinus and to prepare a wiki page – a team of eleven of us. Our task was all about the collaboration rather then the outcome. Interesting but it might have been easier with a team of five or six.

Jerome translated the Bible from the Greek to Latin, beginning in 382 CE – his ‘Vulgate’ version was the accepted Latin Bible for a 1000 years, despite many of the scribes introducing errors in their manual copies.

It is a decorative page that makes the printed book look more like its predecessors – manually-produced illuminated manuscripts. But my interest was taken more in the Bible versions that followed in the next century – in local European languages:

  • 1522 – Luther’s German New Testament
  • 1526 – Tyndale’s English version
  • 1530 – Lefèvre’s French version

For those who could read this must have been an incredible moment of revelation – reading the Bible for yourself rather than taking a clergyman’s word for what it said and meant.


But we shouldn’t get too carried away because few were literate, as postings on European history c.1450-c.1700 by Dr Anne Stott reveals:

  • The only literate groups were the gentry, clergy and merchants – many of whom may have known Latin too?
  • There was a 90% illiteracy among thatchers and miners
  • Among tradesmen and artisans some 50 to 75% could not sign their name
  • Among women only gentle and commercial classes were literate with 75 % unable to sign their names.

St.-Jerome-In-His-StudyBartolomeo Cavarozzi 1617 CE painting of Saint Jerome in his study visited by angels

Back to Jerome – his Epistle may have looked pretty in the Gutenberg Bible and added to its popularity back then – but this and sixteen other colourful pages are considered by purists to be apochrypha – and deserve no place in the Bible. Remarkable how religion manages to foment splits on almost every topic!

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2 Responses

  1. This website may be of interest to you, as to how the Gutenberg Bibles were printed without the use of metal punches; metal matrix or any metal type.
    Jack Norfolk. 7/5/2016

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