Power and Belief: The Reformation at 500   

The Library of Trinity College Dublin

The Reformation was a series of spiritual, social, cultural, and political processes that affected Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Europe from the early sixteenth century

"... showcasing a number of works from Trinity's rich early-modern collections..."

Welcome and Introduction - Dr Mark Sweetnam

"Aspects of this exhibition will raise interesting questions about the legacy of the Reformation and about its impact - even today - on European politics and society."

The Reformation 1517 - Dr Graeme Murdock
The Reformation in Europe
For some reformers, including Martin Luther, pursuit of their cause led to a break from existing church institutions. The Reformation brought greater religious diversity to the Continent than had previously been experienced and transformed the religious landscape across Europe and the wider world.

In 1518 Luther explained his objections to indulgences in print. Luther’s emphasis on true Christian piety is exemplified by this woodcut showing Christ washing the feet of the disciples.

Translating the Bible was at the heart of Luther’s cause of reform. Publishing Bibles quickly became central to the work of German printers.

Hand-coloured woodcut showing Jacob’s dream as described in the book of Genesis. It is set here in a German landscape.

Lutheran Hymns
Luther used music, images and text to communicate his message. Two editions of this early collection of Lutheran hymns were published in 1524 by rival Erfurt printers, Johannes Loersfeld and Matthes Maler. This is the only known surviving copy of the Maler edition.

Hymns were intended to be sung in homes and in the streets as well as in churches.

Jan Hus, Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer
This polemic text by the Czech reformer Jan Hus includes a preface by Martin Luther. The tract was in the possession of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury [as marked at the top of the title page] revealing links between reform movements in Bohemia, Saxony, and England.

The history of this Hus tract can be traced from its composition in Prague and printing in Wittenberg (1537) to the library of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556). After the confiscation of Cranmer's books it belonged to Samuel Burton (1568/9-1634) of Christ Church Oxford. Sometime later in 1694, in his work 'Memorials of Cranmer', John Strype records its location as Canterbury. Today it resides in the beautiful Old Library, Trinity College Dublin.

The Reformation had far-reaching social and political implications for the Continent of Europe. The spread of Luther's ideas, and those of his fellow reformers, permanently altered the political landscape of Europe

The Reformation in England
William Tyndale (c.1494-1536)
Translating scripture without the permission of a bishop was illegal in England. Having failed to secure permission Tyndale moved to the Continent where he translated the New Testament and the first five books of the Old Testament into English, despite being pursued by the agents of Thomas More. Tyndale was ultimately betrayed and captured, and was burned as a heretic in Vilvoorde, Belgium in 1536.

A year after his death, Tyndale's contribution to the Matthew Bible, the first officially sanctioned English Bible (1537), is acknowledged with the elaborate initials ‘WT’ at the end of the Old Testament.

In 1537, John Rogers and Myles Coverdale, with the aid of Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, secured the King’s permission for the printing of The Matthew Bible- the first officially sanctioned English Bible.

Myles Coverdale (1488-1569) 
As government persecution of Lutheran heresy increased, English Protestant reformer Coverdale moved to the continent where he met William Tyndale. Following Tyndale's execution in 1536, Coverdale completed Tyndale's translation of the Old Testament. Coverdale's work was printed as the Matthew Bible and formed the basis for the Great Bible of 1539.

Traces of Tyndale’s influence are preserved in this copy of Coverdale’s New Testament from 1538. The original owner has erased Coverdale’s name from the title-page and substituted Tyndale’s. This change is also echoed on the volume’s spine. Another annotation, in a later hand, notes that the work should be attributed to Coverdale.

This is not Tindal's but Coverdale's Bible. The name erased is Miles Coverdale.

The Great Bible
Gaining Thomas Cromwell's approval, Coverdale was instructed to revise his initial translation. Printed in 1539, Cromwell ordered that a copy of the Great Bible be set up in every parish church in English. For many people the Great Bible was their first encounter with Scripture in their own mother tongue.   
The Great Bible and Political Propaganda
This title page shows Henry enthroned, under the eyes of God, distributing His word to Cranmer (on his left) and Cromwell (on his right). Below this, Cranmer and Cromwell, hand the Bible to a priest and a nobleman. Below that is a rabble of ordinary (though well-dressed) people, shouting ‘Long live the King’ and ‘God save the King’. Strikingly, the Bible seems not to have made its way into their hands – none of these lesser individuals holds ‘Verbum Dei’.
The Bible in the Irish Language
William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore, realised the importance of communicating Protestantism in the Irish language. His translation of the Old Testament was completed by 1640. Before it could be published, the Irish Rebellion of 1641 had broken out. Bedell was imprisoned during the revolt, and died in 1642. With the assistance of the scientist Robert Boyle, the work was finally published in 1685.
Shane Mawe
Credits: Story

Curation: Shane Mawe, the Library of Trinity College Dublin, Dr Graeme Murdock, Department of History, Trinity College Dublin and Dr Mark Sweetnam, School of English, Trinity College Dublin.

Technical assistance: Greg Sheaf, Digital Systems and Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Imaging: Gill Whelan, Digital Resources and Imaging Services, the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

We would like to express our gratitude to Paul Ferguson (the Library of Trinity College Dublin) for his help in sourcing images for the exhibition.

With thanks to Anita Cooper (the Library of Trinity College Dublin) for providing valuable feedback on beta versions of the exhibition and to Clodagh Nelligan (Preservation and Conservation Department, the Library of Trinity College Dublin) for her help with the physical exhibition.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.