June 9

“Nos, laus Deo, omnia absolvimus qua ad Biblla regia pertinent,” wrote the great Antwerp printer Christopher Plantin on this day in 1572, in a thankful and weary statement which may be translated, “Praise be to God we have finished everything pertaining to the Royal Bible.”

Plantin bad reason to be weary, as he had just completed one of the great undertakings of any printer up to his time and for centuries afterward—a Polyglot Bible, composed in parallel columns of Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Aramaic. Twelve hundred copies of this 8-volume bible were printed on paper and thirteen on vellum, which alone required some 35,000 calfskins, more than were available in all of the Low Countries.

The idea of printing a bible in its original languages, with an annotated text from the’ great theological authorities of the day, and the whole to be produced in a style fitting to its content, had been a continuing thought in Plantin’s mind for some years. In 1565 he suggested such a project to Don Gabriel de Zayas, one of the two foreign secretaries to Philip II. King of Spain, to whom the Netherlands had been given as a gift in 1555.

The King was not immediately disposed to finance Plantin, but he placed the proposition before the Council of the Inquisition for examination. While this body was deliberating, Plantin was instructing his compositors in the setting of the Syriac and Aramaic types. The period was one of famine in the Netherlands, and Plantin found it necessary to sell much of his stock in order to keep his bible moving ahead. The French punch-cutter Granjon cut the Greek and Syriac types, and Plantin had begun to acquire the paper for the job when word to proceed was finally received from Spain.

From that point Plantin maintained some forty printers on the one task and set aside four presses exclusively for the bible. From 1566 until 1572 the printing of the bible was the principal work of the office, although Plantin found it necessary to continue his normal printing in order to pay for the tremendous undertaking.

When the work was finally printed, it needed only be published, and as Philip wished to have the highest authority to ap prove the text, he sent the Spanish ambassador to Rome to petition the Pope. Pope Pius V refused to grant his permission to publish the bible. The Pope stated that he had no way of knowing whether the Syriac translation contained material which could be attacked as uncanonical. Montana, the editor, was then sent to Rome with a vellum copy for the Pope, but before he reached his destination Pope Pius V had died. The new Pope, Gregory XIII accepted the bible and granted a privilege for twenty years.

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