The Geneva Bible

A leaf from 'The Bible ... Translated according to the Ebrewe and Greeke, and conferred with the best translations in diuers languages. With most profitable annotations vpon all the harde places, and other things of great importance as may appeare in the epistle to the reader. Imprinted at London By Christopher Barkar, dwelling in Powles Churchyard at the signe of the Tygres Head' in 1576  (256 x 174 mm)

A glance at the leaf shown here is enough to see that the so-called Geneva Bible was a ground-breaker. Unlike all earlier versions the text is set in roman type, the chapters are divided into numbered verses,  there are running titles on every page and it is a handier size. These novel features set a new norm for Engish Bibles, though it would be some time before the use of black-letter type died out altogether.

When the Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553, all Bible printing in England halted. However Protestant refugees living in Geneva, principally the Oxford-educated scholar WIlliam Whittingham, prepared a new English version there, based largely on Tyndale. The first complete edition of this was printed in Geneva in 1560. Only in the mid-1570s did editions begin to be printed in London, by which time the protestant Queen Elizabeth had been on the throne for nearly 20 years.  

Geneva Bibles were intended for personal use rather than reading on a lectern. This one is French and dates from 1562.

My leaf is from the 1576 edition printed – excellently, though on very thin paper – by Christopher Barker, official printer to the Queen and holder of an exclusive patent on the Geneva Bible. The Geneva version became the Bible of choice for domestic use (though not in churches) in the half-century before the King James version took over.

 

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