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December 19, 2022

Burying the Bible

Given the abundance of Bibles available today, it’s easy to forget the times and places where the Bible was rare or even dangerous to possess. Joseph Severn’s painting,Burying the Bible, portrays a couple in late-medieval England about to bury their Bible in a field. The husband sneaks one last glimpse at his cherished possession. His wife, glancing anxiously at a passing group of religious authorities, hands him a shovel. This scene reflects a turbulent period in the late 1300s and early 1400s. The church argued that unapproved translations could lead to misunderstandings of the Bible. Others believed the Bible was the primary authority for Christians and must be made directly available so that all people could discern the truth for themselves. Severn’s painting depicts a period when John Wyclif’s followers had completed an English Bible. It was just the beginning of a time when Catholics and reform groups battled over their Bibles — a time when those owning the wrong Bible could be severely punished.

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