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Easter reading: La Salle is home to Bible collection

La Salle is home to Bible collection
More than 200 volumes now in Dunleavy set
by Jennifer C. Yates

Associated Press
In a dimly lit room in the basement of an academic hall at La Salle
University, dark wooden bookshelves that line a back wall are filled
with thousands of pages of the same story. Some of the books are
written in English, others in Latin and even Arabic.

Some of the pages are illustrated with intricate prints made from wood
blocks carved by hand more than four centuries ago.

The carvings were dipped in ink and stamped onto the books' delicate
pages, some made with cloth or lambskin.

More than 200 Bibles dating back to the 1400s make up the university's
Susan Dunleavy Collection, named after a student who died in a car
accident in 1977.

Dunleavy's father, Tim, donated money that was used to start the
collection 20 years ago.

Brother Daniel Burke, who founded the basement art gallery where the
collection is housed, keeps watch over the books, which are often
show-cased during exhibits of biblical illustrations.

"It's a great intellectual lesson. You're learning something all the
time," Burke said.

The centerpiece of the collection is a 1535 Coverdale Bible, the first
complete English translation to be published on a printing press.

The book was translated by its namesake, Miles Coverdale. La Salle's
copy is one of only a handful of the first editions to be found in
North America.

The pages in the brown, leather-bound book have not yellowed with age,
and the black ink used for the words is still dark.

The gilt-edged Bible is missing eight original pages.
The Bible was acquired by the university during a 1980 auction at
Sotheby's for thousands of dollars, thanks to a corporate donation,
Burke said.

"The Lord is good to poor but persistent collectors," he said.
The Coverdale Bible, with editions also in collections at the Free
Library of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, was
translated from Latin and German, said Liana Lupas, a curator of the
Scripture Collection at the New York-based American Bible Society.

"It's really rare," Lupas said. "For the first time, the complete
English Bible became available in print." Flipping through the pages,
Burke said he was amazed that most of the translation holds up to
modern versions of the Bible.

"That's 90 percent of what we have today," Burke said, reading aloud
from the first words in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

The collection also includes a large first edition of the King James
Bible from 1611, which sits on the lowest shelf in the library and
weighs about 20 pounds.

With yellowed pages and some fraying bindings, some of the more
delicate books are kept undercover.

The Quincuplex Psalterium, a first edition from 1509, is kept in a
maroon-colored leather box lined with green silk.

Before the printing press was invented, Bibles were created by scribes
writing each word by hand.

The books were rare and expensive, and even after printing presses,
were often chained to lecterns to prevent thefts. Smaller books, such
as the palm-sized black-bound ones that make up the Medieval Books of
Hours, were used during prayer services in 1475.

La Salle's collection was originally a history of early Bible
illustrations, but has since grown to include many translations from
the last five centuries and modern editions.

The Gospels in Arabic and Latin from 1591, was the first edition Bible
ever translated into Arabic.

With little funding, the university relies on donations for the
collection and gets many of the books through auctions.

1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.


Ton Cremers
(Book History Chronology)
(Cultural Property Protection)

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