In his 1967 autobiography, A. H. Reed, afterwards Sir Alfred Hamish Reed (1875 - 1975), expressed his desire for an exhibition of the Bible in English to be hosted by the Dunedin Public Library.
Forty-four years on, the 400th anniversary of the King James Version in 2011 provides a fitting moment for the Reed Gallery to honour Sir Alfred's wishes.
On display are more than thirty bibles from the Alfred & Isabel Reed Collection, which includes one of the most comprehensive collections of bibles in the Southern Hemisphere.
The exhibition is a feast of treasures, beginning with biblical texts in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. These include a thirteenth-century Latin Vulgate, a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible - the first major book printed in Europe using movable type - and the Greek Textus Receptus of Robert Estienne printed in 1550.
Portions of the Bible were being translated into English as early as the eighth century. This is reflected in the exhibition by a facsimile of the Lindisfarne Gospels. The text, written and beautifully illuminated in eight-century Latin, includes an interlinear gloss in Old English by a tenth-century monk.
By the late fourteenth century, the Bible was being translated into English in earnest and a much treasured manuscript of the Wycliffe-Purvey Gospels from the early fifteenth century showcases the earliest attempt at giving the English people a Bible in the vernacular.
Another treasure is a 1538 printed diglot New Testament, which includes what was then seen as the heretical English translation of William Tyndale.
Other important English translations on display include a later edition of the Coverdale Bible, the first complete Bible printed in English; an early edition of the Great Bible, printed during the reign of Henry VIII and subsequently the first authorised edition of the Bible in English, and a first edition Geneva Bible.
These sixteenth-century translations culminate with the King James Version, held by the Library is its first and subsequent 1613 folio editions.
Other incredible items on display are a first edition of the Bassandyne Bible, the first complete Bible printed in Scotland; the Baskerville Bible, considered one of the world's most beautifully printed books; and the strikingly austere Doves Bible.
Rounding out the exhibition are Bibles once owned by African explorer and missionary David Livingstone, Donald McNaughton Stuart, first minister of Knox Church, Dunedin; and William Hewer, naval administrator and close friend of Samuel Pepys.
The exhibition runs through to 20 February and is free and open to the public.
A PDF of the exhibition catalogue is available for download (2.4Mb in PDF format).
- Let There Be Light: Celebrating the Bible in English
- 19 November 2010 to 20 February 2011
- Reed Gallery, Third Floor, City Library
Here's the promo video clip we filmed for this exhibition.
... and coverage ( in two parts) from the official opening of the exhibition.