Pa. church debates fate of Geneva Bible

September 05, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The story of a Bible that ended up in a Waynesboro church is like a walk through English history.

Late last year, an anonymous donor gave a Geneva Bible that was printed in 1584 to Trinity United Church of Christ.

The Bible went on display at the altar for the first time last week, said Christine S. Boardman, interim church pastor.


"This is a very, very special Bible for any church," Boardman said. "An anonymous donor came forward from the church community and gave it to us. It was a special gift to the church for Christmas."

She said the church would keep the Bible "for now." Several suggestions about its future in the church are circulating among its members and leaders.

"It may be auctioned off or we might find a benefactor willing to give the church the value of the Bible. Then we could donate it to the Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster (Pa.). It's the closest United Church of Christ seminary to us."

Another suggestion is for the church to keep the Bible, safely encase it and let it become the centerpiece of a display of about 10 historic Bibles already in the church's possession, Boardman said.

The first Geneva Bible was printed in 1560 in Geneva, Switzerland. More than 140 editions were printed in the next 84 years.

"It went through multiple editions," said Richard Kuhta, librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

Geneva Bibles came into being during the five-year reign of Mary Tudor, who was England's Queen from 1553 to 1558. She was succeeded by Elizabeth I.

A Catholic known as "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of Protestants, Mary Tudor was determined to roll back the Reformation and bring Roman Catholicism back to England.

A number of Protestant scholars fled to Geneva.

There, the scholars translated the Bible from Latin to English. Scholars who tried that in England were persecuted severely by Queen Mary. Burning at the stake was a common punishment of the day for such heretics.

"The 1550s were a very troubled time in England," Kuhta said. As a result, Geneva became the center for Biblical scholarship.

Queen Elizabeth restored Protestantism to England and the first Geneva Bible was printed in England in 1575. Geneva Bibles remained popular with the English people long after the introduction of the King James version.

The Pilgrims brought them to America in 1620.

It was the first Bible to number verses. Previously, only chapters were numbered. Geneva scholars also added margins to interpret what was written on the pages.

There was talk among church members, since dismissed, of disassembling the Bible and selling it page by page or book by book.

Pages or leaves in good condition from old books such as the Geneva Bible sell for $400 and higher, according to one company's Web site.

"We decided we didn't want to separate the pages or sell the four separate Gospels," Boardman said. "That would be true if all we were after was the money. This Bible is our heritage."

"It would be a travesty, a sacrilege, to disassemble that Bible," Kuhta said. "It would be mercenary. It would destroy its research and historical value."

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