Richard III-era Bible to mark reinterment ceremony

500-year-old Bible from University of Leicester Special Collections forms part of Service of Compline at Leicester Cathedral

A 500-year-old Bible from Richard III’s lifetime, housed in the Special Collections of the University of Leicester, will play a key role in the ceremony marking the arrival of the King’s coffin at Leicester Cathedral on 22 March.

The Bible forms part of a Service of Compline to be held by the Cathedral to formally acknowledge the reception of the remains of King Richard III from the care of the University of Leicester.  An invited congregation will pray a service of Compline where Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, will preach the sermon.

Members of the University’s Chaplaincy and archaeologists involved in the unearthing of the remains will be present for ceremony, during which the University’s Chaplain Dr Stephen Foster will place a Bible that is over five centuries old on a cushion on the Coffin and open it to its centre pages.

The University of Leicester will supply the Bible, a European (Basel) Latin Vulgate from 1481, from the extensive catalogue in its Special Collections.

Dr Stephen Foster, the University’s Chaplain, said: “The Bible is a very meaningful part of the ceremony. It is a sign of the King’s Christian Faith and the importance of the Word of God for Christians of all generations.

“It is a great honour to be part of the ceremony itself and to hold something of such huge significance.”

At the time that King Richard III was on the throne, no Bible had been printed in England, so England’s early Bibles were all printed on the continent. This example was printed by Johannes Amerbach, a Swiss humanist and art collector, at his printing house in Basel. It was printed in 1481, and was a reprint of his 1479 edition, which had sold out.

Amerbach’s books were remarkable for their textual accuracy, and also for their use of roman type instead of the usual Gothic type; this feature makes his Bible easy to read if one understands Latin.

Immediately after the ceremony, the Bible will be returned to the University Library by Dr Simon Dixon, Manager of the University’s Special Collections.

He said: “I’m delighted that a Bible from Special Collections will play such a significant role in the Service of Compline. In bequeathing his outstanding collection of rare books to University College, Leicester in 1929, it was the intention of Caleb Robjohns that they would serve the public good. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that one of his Bibles should be used for the ceremony.”

The volume was bequeathed to University College, Leicester in 1929 by Caleb Robjohns, a Leicester hosiery manufacturer and bibliophile, whose collection included over 500 rare Bibles.

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