Anglo-American Press Gleanings

Compiled by Neil Inglis and Joan Wilson

Tyndale pops up in conversation in Washington, DC
I saw advertised a session on England under the Tudors at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, given by Professor Vincent Strudwick and decided to attend. It was pretty entertaining, with a popular-history focus (which can yield insights or revelations all its own).

Strudwick was just a name to me; but he held our attention remarkably well (not easy on a warm Spring Saturday in the capital city), and he played off his British-ness, a public speaking technique I have used myself. The lecturer gained in confidence as the day progressed and was particularly persuasive on the impact of religious reforms on everyday observance and the average believer. His discussions of Elizabeth’s reign were most insightful.

Any mentions of Tyndale? Forsooth, you ask too much. In fact, there were two glancing references to William Tyndale. Right at the end Strudwick mentioned that Tyndale’s translation formed the bulk of the Authorised Version of the Bible. Earlier, an audience member during Questions & Answers asked why Henry VIII had burnt Tyndale in England (?); Strudwick alluded to the fact that vernacular translations were profoundly controversial, whereupon I stepped in as the next questioner to clarify the circumstances surrounding William Tyndale’s death. I warmly recommended a certain biography of Tyndale to the assembled spectators. Earlier, Strudwick had gone on about ‘lovely Thomas More’, and when I spoke I pointed out that no, More was not always so lovely; I quoted the ‘short fire/long fire’ line. Strudwick said my points were valid but defended Sir Thomas as a ‘product of his time’.

Neil Inglis, June 2001

The Sherborne Missal
One of the most important treasures from the late Middle Ages, the Sherborne Missal, is now available in a new digital version at the British Library. It is generally considered to be one of the finest manuscripts to survive the Reformation intact. It was produced under the patronage of the Abbot of Sherborne and the Bishop of Salisbury in the early part of the 15th century. Following a 1.45m fund-raising drive, the British Library has digitised part of the manuscript, making a large touch-screen version (‘Turning the Pages’) available to all visitors to the Kings Cross exhibition galleries.

The manuscript is believed to have been removed to Europe in the 17th Century and resurfaced in France in 1703. Later it was acquired by the Duke of Northumberland. In 1998, the current Duke offered it to the nation in lieu of inheritance tax, providing the British Library could raise the funds for digitisation.

Each of the 694 pages of the Sherborne Missal is decorated with elaborate script and illustrations. It contains Latin text and music needed to perform the Christian Mass throughout the year. Numerous illustrations depict many of the important figures of the time and also include early drawings of bird, animal and plant life with their Middle English names. The text itself weighs more than three stones, and contains almost 700 delicate parchment pages. However, the Turning the Pages system, which is unique to the British Library, allows the public to examine texts closely without risking damage to them. Clive Izard, project manager on the Turning Pages system, said: ‘It opens up the book to the general public but offers a degree of preservation to the original.’

Classical group the Mediaeval Baebes, who together with Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, recently unveiled the new digital version, said: ‘By digitising this beautiful manuscript the British Library is doing something very close to our own aims, bringing wonderful medieval art to life for a modern audience, and making it accessible to as many people as possible.’

A number of other valuable manuscripts have been digitised in the same way, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest dated printed book.

Useful Internet links:

Illicit Trade in Rare Books
Ancient manuscripts and historic books worth millions of pounds are being trafficked through Britain as criminals look for alternatives to high-risk ventures such as armed robbery and drugs. London has become a centre for the illicit trade with dozens of works being recovered by police in recent months. Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Squad is currently following up nine separate requests from overseas detectives who have information that stolen literary works have been smuggled to the UK.

Many of the works being smuggled to Britain are from Italy or Turkey. They include early Renaissance religious texts in Latin, philosophical and scientific works by pioneers of the Enlightenment and heavily decorated early Islamic works. Detectives say manuscripts, like works of art, are often used as collateral for drug deals. They say investigations are made harder because many deals are completed privately. Stolen works tend to be spotted when they are put up for auction.

There are fears that criminals in Britain may be learning from their counterparts. Last year a joint operation of Turkish, Cypriot and British police successfully recovered an 11th century Koran stolen from the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. There has been a spate of thefts of valuable books from British libraries and private collections. Dozens of rare tracts written during the German Reformation were taken from the London Library in St. James’s Square.

John Critchley, director of the Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, said ‘It is very serious. We are liaising closely with the police. Much of this material is part of our cultural heritage. Its loss is a loss to the nation’.

Contributed by Neil Inglis, Joan Wilson and Valerie Offord, based on a report by Jason Burke in The Observer, 10 June 2001

Update on Let There Be Light Exhibition
Dr Joe Johnston is still very active organizing and promoting Let there be Light exhibitions in America.

On 31 August and 1 September at Brantley, Alabama, the exhibition will be mounted at the Machis Lower Creek Indian Tribe of Alabama Pow Wow. It will be augmented with a history of the American Bible and Native American Bibles giving special prominence to the Creek Indian Bible. Joe is particularly proud that this is the first time that this type of material has been displayed at such a gathering.

Paxton, Florida, will be holding its third exhibition in successive years on 27 October 2001. This year the history of the American Bible will be added to the display. An exhibition on the same theme will take place in Cantonment, Florida (Pensacola area), a month before this on 22 September.

Discussions are also underway to include the exhibition in the Emerald Coast YMCA's 150th anniversary celebrations.

For further information on any of these events please contact Dr Joe Johnson, email:

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