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Historians uncover secrets of the reformation from mysterious hidden text in England’s oldest Bible.
It is hard to believe that it was mere chance that drove a learned historian to the unearthing of ancient secrets, yet that is the way it happened.
Discovered in a Latin Bible published in 1535, the secrets hidden in the ancient tome were discovered by historian Dr. Eyal Poleg of Queen Mary University of London, during some intensive research. With only seven surviving copies of this edition of the Bible, published by Henry VIII’s printer, it was a rare find indeed. The version that contained the hidden notations was being held in the Lambeth Palace Library in London and had it not been for Dr. Poleg accidently ordering the wrong book, it may have never come to light. It was while waiting for the librarian to recover the intended copy he had meant to order, that Dr. Poleg found his remarkable discovery.
Dr. Poleg stated that while at first, the Bible had seemed in pristine, clean condition, with no markings to be seen, but upon closer inspection, all was not as it appeared. The university historian discovered that heavy paper had been pasted over certain areas of the book which were blank. “The challenge was how to uncover the annotations without damaging the book, ” said Dr. Poleg, in regards to his revelation. These pieces of heavy paper were hiding writing underneath, which would be a key component to understanding the Reformation in all its past glory.
It was when the Reformation was well on its way, in which the Church of England had begun to separate itself from the power of the Roman Catholic Church when the 1535 Bible was published. After the terminating his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and creating the concept of divorce in the same breath, King Henry VIII was not in the Roman Catholic Church’s favor. This was only worsened when he declared himself as “supreme head of the Church of England, ” and continued on his path of disbanding England’s monasteries.
Dr. Poleg has vast experience within this field of research, as he regularly uses handwritten notes from Bibles that he deciphers in order to discover the practical purpose and use of the Bibles by people of those time periods. But none of his experience had prepared him for the task of revealing what lay beneath the surface. Having contemplated many options of exposure, from light sheets – a paper sized lamp used to illuminate writing hidden between two layers of paper – to just removing the sheets from each other.
Gaining few clues from his research alone, Dr. Poleg recruited the help of Dr. Graham Davis, a specialist in 3D X-ray imaging, who was currently Queen Mary University of London’s School of Dentistry. By utilizing Dr. Poleg’s own technique of using the light sheet, Dr. Davis took two long exposure images, and with a bit of help from software he created himself for the very job, created a clear and decipherable image of the annotations. Below is an image of the two x-ray photos atop one another to create the annotated page (figure 1).
The discovered notes were, in fact, tables of lessons, which are “liturgical notes explaining which part of the text to read on particular days throughout the year” (livescience. Com). Copied from the famous “Great Bible”, translated by Thomas Cromwell, these annotations were written somewhere between 1539 and 1549, and covered by the paper and glue in 1600. The truly astonishing discovery was that these notes were written in English.
Dr. Poleg summarizes that these notes support the idea that the Reformation to place gradually, over time, opposed to the idea that it happened in one single event.
The Bible could be dated almost exactly with the help of another small scribble on the back page, in which a man by the name of James Elys Cutpurse was mentioned. By finding out the date of death for Mr. Cutpurse, Dr. Poleg was able to narrow down the placement of time and date published to Tybourn in July of 1552.
It was a stroke of luck, that this Historian with just the right amount of necessary experience discovered a perfectly persevered time capsule of the past that revealed almost two decades worth of secrets. It is a wonder to think that this marvel may never have been known, if not for Dr. Poleg.
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