February 28, 2011
Pearce Carefoote, curator of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, looks over a St. John’s Bible on display at the Library.


Pearce Carefoote, curator of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, looks over a St. John’s Bible on display at the Library.


You don’t often get to see a Wicked Bible. There aren’t many of them left. That’s because King Charles I ordered them all burned.

The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto has a Wicked Bible on display until June 3, along with dozens of other rare and fascinating Bibles.

The 1631 Wicked Bible contained perhaps the most famous typo in the history of the English language. In Exodus 22.14 a compositor left out the word “not,” leaving the commandment to read, “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

But there’s much more than giggles to the exhibition Great and Manifold: A Celebration of the Bible in English. The Bibles on display span just over a millennium, ranging from an 11th century Greek New Testament from Constantinople bearing the name “Torontoensis” to an illuminated Book of Psalms in English produced over the last decade by calligraphers and artists under the direction of Benedictine monks in Collegeville, Minn.

Pinned to the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, Great and Manifold is a compact epic journey through the history of English language, politics, spirituality and culture as it relates to this one book.

The people lining up to see the exhibit when it opened Feb. 8 ranged from bishops and biblical scholars to artists and typography enthusiasts, said curator Pearce Carefoote.

“It’s just such a broad range,” he said. “It’s because it’s connected to the culture.”


Prefaces to the show have been prepared by Catholic, Jewish and Protestant scholars, among them Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins. Collins draws attention to how precious the word of God is to Christians.

“Christians treasure their encounters with the Word through the experience of life, prayer and especially through the sacraments and written texts that they believe are inspired by the Holy Spirit,” said Collins.

Jesuit Scripture scholar Father Michael Kolarcik notes there are more than 400 English renderings of the Bible — or substantial parts.

“Do we really need more?” he asks.

As long as we keep interpreting the Bible in our own time and place, we’re going to need to keep translating it, argues Kolarcik. “Every reading of the Scriptures, whether in the original language or in translation, is a new interpretation.”


A substantial portion of the show is dedicated to Catholic translations including the Coverdale Bible, the Douay-Rheimes, the Challoner revision of the Douay-Rheimes and the Haydock Bible, which was serialized and sold for one shilling per installment every two weeks from 1812 to 1814.

The Haydock Bible was briefly popular again in 1961, after U.S. President John Kennedy took the oath of office on one.

Over the course of the last half century the distinction between Protestant and Catholic Bibles begins to fade. The New Revised Standard Version, the direct descendant of the King James Version, is the standard text for liturgy and study for English-speaking Canadian Catholics.


It’s also the translation used in the Saint John’s Bible — the first handwritten, illuminated Bible produced since the printing press made them obsolete in the 16th century. The Fisher Rare Book Library exhibition culminates with a copy of the Book of Psalms from the Saint John’s Bible.

The display is a huge undertaking for the relatively small Fisher Rare Book Library, said Carefoote. But the creation of the Bible in English has done so much to shape our culture, it’s the sort of thing librarians and curators live for.

“It’s just so, so important and certainly worth celebrating,” he said.

The Thomas Fisher Library is at Harbord and St. George Streets on the University of Toronto campus.