Influential bible exhibited at UC

21 October 2011

A 400-year-old King James Bible, one of only two original 1611 printings in Australasia, is now on display in UC's Central Library.

Influential bible exhibited at UC - Imported from Legacy News system

Bronwyn Matthews and Dr Chris Jones with UC's 400-year-old King James Bible.

A 400-year-old King James Bible, one of only two original 1611 printings in Australasia, is now on display in UC’s Central Library.

The bible, part of the Library’s Rare Book Collection, is being exhibited to mark the 400th anniversary of the bible’s publication in “Through a glass, darkly”: Canterbury’s King James Bible – 400 Years of Mystery, Power & Imagination.

The King James Bible - or “Authorised” version - is the English translation of the Christian Bible by the Church of England. On the instruction of King James I of England, work began in 1604 with 47 scholars working on the translation.

UC historian Dr Chris Jones (Humanities), who curated the exhibition with UC Liaison Librarian (Special Collections) Bronwyn Matthews, said the King James Bible is an influential book, having played a significant role in the development of modern English and in the evolution of western culture.

“And its influence continues today in terms of the phrases we use [for example, “a two-edged sword”, “a law unto themselves”, “see eye to eye” and “signs of the times”] and in the structure of the English language we use every day. Without this book we would be speaking a very, very different form of English. It’s as influential as the works of Shakespeare.”

Dr Jones and Ms Matthews said it was unknown how the UC volume came to New Zealand but it was given to the UC Library by ChristChurch Cathedral in 1983, and Christ’s College gave the bible to the Cathedral.

“We know that books like this were given to Christ’s College when it was being set up as an educational establishment so it could have been part of the foundation kit of a new Anglican settlement as this is a key text of Anglicanism,” said Ms Matthews.

Dr Jones said the UC bible may have come from Christ Church, Oxford, but researching the book’s provenance was part of an ongoing research project based in UC’s History programme.

“But it’s definitely from England and came here very early in Christchurch’s history.”

Those viewing the exhibition can look through some of the pages from the bible on an iPad. Other items on display include medieval manuscript leaves; a facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible; the Douai-Reims Bible of Bishop Grimes, the first Catholic Bishop of Christchurch); and a selection of literary and musical works from the 18th to the 20th  centuries that have been inspired by the text of the bible.

The exhibition will be held in the Central Library, Level 2 lounge area, until 10 November. Dr Jones will give a public lecture entitled “The King James Bible from James I to Barack Obama” at 7.30pm on 9 November in the Library.

For more information please contact:


Ross Calman family

Recognition for Māori history scholar and translator

One of the country’s leading Māori history scholars will be awarded an honorary degree in recognition for his work revitalising te reo Māori as a ...

Margaret and Jack Austin

UC awards honorary doctorate to Margaret Austin

The University of Canterbury is bestowing an honorary doctorate on educator, politician, scientist and passionate community advocate, Margaret Austin.