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Where the translators wrestled

17 November 2011

Glyn Paflin attends a royal celebration of the Bible of 1611 in Westminster Abbey

THE King James Bible came home on Wednesday afternoon. Its 400th birthday was celebrated in splend­our in Westminster Abbey, where the final editing had taken place in the Jerusalem Chamber.

As the Abbey Choir sang a Jubil­ate by Thomas Tomkins, a Gentle­man of the Chapel Royal who would have been not quite 40 in 1611, there was a procession of vast Bibles to the high altar — 1611 first editions from Elton Hall, North­amptonshire, and Hatfield House, the seat of the Cecils, a 1611 second impression from Hilmarton Parish Church, and another ancient copy from South­well Minster.

Together with them was brought up the People’s Bible, borne by Elaine Duncan, chief executive of the Scottish Bible Society. In an online project, which began at King James VI and I’s birthplace in Edinburgh, two verses each have been handwritten by people across England, Scotland, and Wales, as part of the year’s celebrations.

This Service of Celebration, organ­ised by the King James Bible Trust, was attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Patron of the KJB Trust, the Prince of Wales. The RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, and other ecumenical church leaders were among those seated in the sanctuary.

The Marquess of Salisbury, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, a trustee of the KJB Trust, read the opening words of the service: “When the Lord saw that Moses turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

A new hymn followed, by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, “Lord God in high thanks­giving”, to the tune Wolvercote. Then Anne Michaels’s The Crossing, a short monologue in response to Exodus, which is part of the Bush Theatre’s “66 Books” cycle (Arts, 14 October): wearing a simple grey shift, Polly Frame acted it only a few feet away from the Queen.

Among other participants, Riona Kelly, a pupil from the University Academy, Birkenhead, read out 2 Corinthians 4.1-13, one of those challenging passages from St Paul to which Dr Williams referred in his sermon. The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, read the opening of St John’s Gospel. And the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was among those who led the prayers.

The anthem Out of the South Cometh the Whirlwind, by a young composer, Zachary Wadsworth (born 1983), had won a competition organised by the KJB Trust with support from the Dean and Chapter: it set a substantial passage from the book of Job, and included a treble solo that hovered with seeming fragility in the air of the Abbey, and made one recall that the translators were contemporaries of Shake­speare: “Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? . . .”

Will the King James Bible be used more in your church as a result of the anniversary? Vote here

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