Rare 17th-century King James Bible back in service

10 August 2018

The Revd Amy Houben

A COPY of a rare 17th-century edition of the King James Bible has been brought into use in a 20th-century church on the other side of the world.

Only 30 copies of the 1616 edition are believed to have survived to the present day, most of which are in collections in the UK or United States. This one had been in St Peter’s, Palmerston North, in New Zealand, since 1912, but was eventually forgotten.

In 2012, a parishioner found it wrapped in a tea towel in a cupboard. It was restored, and locked in a cabinet, where it remained until last month, when it was taken out for a display to mark National Bible Sunday, on 15 July. Since then, it has been used during regular worship by the Assistant Priest, the Revd Amy Houben.

“I presided at St Peter’s on Bible Sunday, and decided to read the Gospel from our old girl,” she said. “Old Elizabethan language is very rich, like a wine, well-aged. It is beautiful, and a privilege to read. Bibles, young and old, were published for a purpose.

The Revd Amy HoubenThe Revd Amy Houben

“They are a gift that Thomas Cranmer encourages us, in his well-known prayer, to ‘hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them’. They were published for spiritual consumption. If someone has not picked up their Bible in a while, or is about to read from one for the first time, I recommend finding Psalm 139. Hear how wonderful God thinks you are, and how well God knows you.”

An inscription on the Bible’s cover says that it was donated by a member of the congregation, Thomas Pattinson, who emigrated from England to New Zealand between 1874 and 1881. Ms Houben said: “People gift Bibles all the time because no one likes throwing them out. It may be that it was passed to the church without knowing its true significance.”

The parish dates from 1902, but the present St Peter’s Church was built in 1961. “I’m not sure what place an old Bible would have had in a new church,” Ms Houben said. “I feel quite sorry for this old girl in a way. They were made to be read and held. They weren’t made to be locked in a glass coffin.

The Revd Amy HoubenThe Revd Amy Houben

“It almost seems out of place having it down in little old New Zealand. It’s got old bones and a good heart, but it’s from a whole different world. We feel honoured to have the privilege of looking after this old taonga [treasure]. We hope our Anglican family in the United Kingdom can rest assured that this 400-year-old King James Bible is in good and caring hands.”

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