Church Bible / Prayer Book

Above: Elizabeth Freke - Prayer Book (see more)

The All Saints 'She Bible' and the Prayer Book given to St Cecilia by Elizabeth Freke.

This bible is a translation into English 'out of the original tongues' and was produced for the Church of England under the order of King James. Work commenced on the translation in 1604 and the first edition was published in 1611. The revised second edition, sometimes referred to as a second issue/impression, came along in 1613. It corrected the errors made in the first edition, but introduced many new ones.

It is believed that the English versions of these bibles had many errors due to economies being made on the number of proof readers employed; one author lists 351 printers errors. The Dutch versions are said to be far more accurate and also produced on better quality paper.

The 'Great 'HE' bible' dates from 1611/1613. It is the first edition of the Bible published in 1611. It is known as the 'HE' bible because it has an error; the book of Ruth - Chapter3 verse 15 reads .... "and HE went into the citie"...

The second edition, the 'Great SHE bible', corrects the error and reads ..."and SHE went into the citie"..., though as explained above many other errors were introduced at that time.

Ruth 3.15: The complete, correct, verse reads -

Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.

The first edition of the bibles show the date of 1611 on both the title page and on a wood cut engraving on the New Testament title. However, the second edition shows the 1613 date on the Old Testament title, but retains the 1611 date on the wood cut New Testament title.

These copies of the bible, having been published in 1611/1613 are therefore now some 400 years old. It is uncertain how many still exist however. Some estimate around 200 though others believe there may be as many as 600 to 700 copies in total - with the greater majority being 'She' versions.

The Freke Prayer Book

In 1710 Elizabeth Freke gave a Book of Common Prayer to West Bilney church. It’s the oldest book St. Cecilia’s has, and the most expensively produced. The cover, now ripped and mouldy, is of beautifully tooled black leather, and on the front and the back on a dark red rectangle are the words: “The gift of Elizabeth Freke to her church of West Bilney”. (Note the use of ‘HER’).

The 'SHE' Bible

See a gallery of photographs of the two bibles

All Saints - She Bible

All Saints has a ‘She Bible: The Old Testament and Apocrypha were printed in 1613, and the New Testament two years earlier, in 1611. The front page should show the date of printing, but it is missing; judging by the misprints in the volume, experts concluded that it dated from 1613.

However, the misprints don’t match up with what each edition is supposed to have. It seems likely therefore that missing pages were replaced from other volumes which showed different misprints. Our bible is therefore a bit of a mongrel. However, there is a lot of guesswork involved.

The New Testament still has the title page and very lovely it is. The title is in the middle of the page with a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit hovering above. Christ is symbolised by a lamb holding a cross; above is cloud and Yahweh (God) written in Hebrew. Below the title, Christ is again represented by a sacrificed lamb and at each corner the four evangelists appear, each busily writing his Gospel, and accompanied by his emblem – a winged man for Matthew, a lion for Mark, a bull for Luke and an eagle for John.

Down the left hand side are the tents of the twelve tribes of Israel, each with an emblem which more or less matches what Jacob said about his descendants, as reported at the end of Genesis: Judah, for example is a lion. On the right side of the page they are matched by twelve apostles.

All three sections are printed in ‘Blackletter’ type, which makes them hard to read. Since the introduction, headings and chapter summaries are printed in clearer type one can only suppose that the use of Blackletter is deliberate archaism, a sort of homage to the earliest printed bibles from Europe.

In 1884, the parish vicar, Revd. Alvis, repaired the Bible himself and, because books used to be so valuable that they were chained to a lectern, he fixed a chain to the front cover, and attached the bible to a piece of the screen which can be seen in the north aisle of the church. However, the chain, which is still attached to the Bible, looks as if he bought it from the nearest ironmonger – it is not at all authentic.

On a blank page inside he wrote “East Wynch Church” – spelling it to make is seem more medieval perhaps?

Below he wrote –

‘This Holy Volume, interesting for its antiquity (printed AD 1611), as well as, pre-eminently, for the Truths it Reveals, I have repaired with my own hands, and fastened with a chain, as was often done when Bibles were first ordered to be set up in Churches (AD 1540).

It is placed on a portion of the Ancient Rood screen, (The county of Norfolk being justly celebrated for the beauty of many of its rood screens) and I trust these and other sacred books accompanying, may be allowed to remain here to bear witnes (1) to the permanency of the saving Doctrines of the Church of Christ, established in England.

The Bible and other books I found some years since amongst various discarded articles in an old Church chest.

Sept 7th 1884 A.D. E J Alvis (Vicar)’

(1) Yes – he used the long S (∫) which had largely been abandoned in printed text by 1790 – though it continued in written text for some time.

See a gallery of photographs of the bible