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Sep28FriHoused at Booth University College, the Geneva Bible is a rare piece of our history. September 28, 2018 by Ken Ramstead
In the special collections room of Booth University College’s John Fairbank Memorial Library—safely housed from fluctuations of sunlight—is an artifact unique to the Winnipeg institution and The Salvation Army.
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Printed in 1578, it is a large pulpit edition of the Geneva Bible, named for the city where its team of English collaborators worked on it during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century.
Journey to Booth UC
The story begins in 2007, when The Salvation Army’s divisional headquarters for the Prairie Division was relocated to the College for Officer Training building on Vaughan Street.
As part of that move, Majors Al and Karen Hoeft went through boxes and boxes of materials that had been collected over the course of more than a decade. For years, The Salvation Army had acted as executor for estates that had named the Army as a beneficiary, and it was not uncommon to receive a donor’s personal belongings. Several such boxes that had been collected as part of one estate were sorted in the move, and in one of them was the Geneva Bible.
“It’s been used for multiple purposes and wasn’t something put on a shelf and forgotten; it is a book with a history.”“It was likely donated to the Army and someone recognized its value, but didn’t know what to do with it,” surmises Meagan Morash, Booth University College’s director of library services. “So it was carefully boxed and placed in an interior storeroom away from sunlight.”
“We put that Bible aside, and following the move, did a little research and became convinced that it was old and needed more attention and care than we could offer,” continues Major Al Hoeft. “We took it to Meagan, who graciously agreed to assume responsibility for the Bible as part of the library’s rare-books collection.”
“I have a rare-books background, so I was fairly certain that this was an original,” Morash says. “But I also made inquiries to other academic libraries with rare-books collections, and people with expertise in that area.”
While most Geneva Bibles were smaller editions for individual use, this particular version was meant for use in churches. Sometime after 1611, however, this folio found itself in the hands of the Ducklings, an upper-middle-class English family.
Like so many families throughout history, the Ducklings recorded the milestones that occurred in their lives—births, deaths, marriages—in their Bible. But some of the younger Ducklings left their own special marks on the book, such as the childish but carefully repeated signature of Elizabeth Duckling (b. 1659), on the end pages, as well as drawings of birds and dragons that enliven a few margins.
After the Ducklings, a family called the Lakes owned the Bible from 1795 to 1908, and they, too, recorded their life events in it for posterity. From 1908, however, until 2008, the historical trail goes cold, and its passage from England to Canada remains a mystery.
“From a collector’s point of view,” Morash says, “our Bible would not fetch very much, due to the fact that somewhere in the last 100 to 150 years it was rebound and some pages were professionally repaired, and because of the marginal drawings. But it’s precisely these human touches that make it so fascinating and priceless from a human-interest and historical point of view. It’s been used for multiple purposes and wasn’t something put on a shelf and forgotten; it is a book with a history, a real history. It’s a book that’s lived.”
And the Bible has not been put on a shelf at Booth University College and forgotten, either.
“I try to showcase it when I can,” says Morash. “This past fall, I brought it to one of our introduction to Christianity classes in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, in which the Geneva Bible—a Bible that people could read in their own language—played a key role. I watched the students. Looking at something that old, it does something to a person. Unlike in Europe, we rarely see things that old in Canada—and our Bible is almost 500 years old. It made an impact.”
Metaphor for an Institution
Why is this Geneva Bible such an important holding for Booth University College and The Salvation Army? For Morash, it’s a metaphor for both.
“For one thing,” she says, “it was once a church Bible, and I think it is interesting and appropriate that ours now belongs in the library of a faith-based institution. For another, it was the first publicly accessible English translation of the Bible. And that mirrors a strong belief of The Salvation Army, that people need to be able to read Scripture for themselves, that salvation is between you and God, not between you and a priest and God.
“Lastly, I like the parallel that our Bible travelled from England to Canada, in the same way that early Salvation Army members came from England to Canada.
“I hope that one day we will find out how the Bible came into our hands,” Morash continues. “It was well taken care of by someone who, if not a Salvation Army member, was a friend of the Army. Maybe someone out there reading this is related to those last owners. Wouldn’t that be a mystery to solve!”
The Geneva Bible
The Geneva Bible of 1560 differed from its predecessors in that it contained not only the Old Testament, Apocrypha and New Testament but also a dictionary of names, maps and chronological charts. It was the first English Bible to introduce numbered verses and was purposefully printed in a small, affordable size to enable individual ownership and personal reading. One of the most important additions was the marginal commentary notes printed alongside the verses—providing clarification, exposition and textual criticism—that wouldn’t appear again in general public editions until 1881. It was the most popular English version of the Bible in existence, going through 180 editions before being superseded by the King James Version.
Did You Know?
The Geneva Bible was commonly known as the “Breeches Bible” as its translation of Genesis 3:7 says that Adam and Eve “sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches.”
Reprinted from Booth UC Connect, Spring/Summer 2018