When the Catholic queen Mary Tudor ruled England (1553-1558), a group of Protestants fearing persecution fled to Geneva. While there, they created a new English translation of the Bible, which they printed in Geneva in 1560. Because it drew from the renowned international and academic resources in Geneva, the Geneva Bible was considered the best of contemporary scholarship. At the same time, the composition and style of the Geneva Bible made it attractive and accessible.
The Geneva Bible quickly became the most popular English translation and was printed primarily by the Royal Printer in London. As the notes on the text were considered to have a Calvinistic bent, the Puritans particularly loved it. Indeed, many of the early American colonists brought Geneva Bibles with them to the New World. Most of the Geneva Bibles at Dartmouth were passed down through families for generations and then donated to the college.
While one might perceive of Bible printers and sellers as pious individuals, those involved in the production of the Geneva Bible were anything but saintly. London printers and their rivals in Amsterdam engaged in a series of nasty lawsuits in the first half of the seventeenth century. The John Alden Bible on display in Rauner is an example of a Geneva Bible printed in Amsterdam in 1633 with a false imprint claiming it was printed in London in 1599.
The Geneva Bible was given the nickname “Breeches Bible” in the nineteenth century because of the reference in Genesis 3:7 to Adam and Eve clothing themselves in “breeches.” Though this rendering was memorable, it was not unique to the Geneva Bible. In fact, the earlier Wycliffe translations also contained this wording. This nickname can be seen on the spine of at 1584 Geneva Bible on display in Rauner. This Bible has original covers containing tooled leather with metal bosses and clasps, but the spine was rebound more recently.
The exhibit will be on display through Commencement in the Rauner Library Reading Room.
Posted for Abby Thornburg '15