Bibles Galore exhibit puts rare Bibles and religious prints on display

Highlighting a selection of McGill's collection of 1,200 Bibles, the exhibition runs until June 21
Sandy Hervieux (left) and Ann Marie Holland, co-curators of the Bibles Galore exhibit

Ever since the invention of printing in the 15th century, Bibles have been the most frequently printed texts. McGill has roughly 1,200 Bibles in English, French and various languages, along with an impressive group of polyglot Bibles in Hebrew, Latin, Greek and more.

Located in the Birks Reading Room of the School of Religious Studies (3520 University), the exhibition showcases these rich historical resources and invites researchers, students, and faculty members to envision potential research projects with these inspiring treasures until June 21. 

The Reporter spoke to co-curators Ann Marie Holland and Sandy Hervieux about the Bibles Galore exhibit.

Did you have an “aha” moment when putting together this exhibit?

Ann Marie Holland:  As the subject liaison for Book History and Incunables, I wanted to get a better sense of the collection of Bibles housed in Rare Books and Special Collections.  To my delight, McGill’s collection is impressive with over 1200 individual titles, some in multiple folio volumes. Imposing or very small – the variety is eye-opening – printers and publishers adapted Bibles for every case of reader on the social ladder.

Sandy Hervieux: As the liaison librarian for Religious Studies, it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the rare and special collections in this area. I’m always impressed with the items in rare and special collections; you can always find something unexpected.

What were some of the interesting things you found in the collection?

SH: The one historical artefact that we added as a final touch to the display is a fine example of a Bible Box. Its purpose was to protect a precious, personal copy of the Bible. This wooden box was made in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) by a native artist in imitation of similar boxes brought to the Island by the Dutch. The wood is native ebony and it has silver trimmings. The Bible Box was presented to the McGill Library by Dr. Casey A. Wood, on October 6, 1925. Dr. Wood was a key benefactor to McGill Library, and we continue to learn just how much he gave to the McGill Library in the “non-book” category.

Can you tell us briefly about the exhibit?

AMH: In one modest display case situated under stained glass windows in the Birks Reading Room, we wanted to provide a sampling of materials. There are standard Bibles, in Dutch, French and English from the 18th and 19th centuries, including a fine example of a highly decorative and illustrated version by the French artist Gustave Doré. There is also a section on Children’s Books, such as an ABC of stories from the Bible, and An Hieroglyphical Bible, “designed to promote the amusement and instruction of youth, of the Old and New Testament” and a small memoranda book with passages from the scriptures, prepared with a high-end colour-printing technique. The religious prints are another category in the display – one of the large prints is after a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, re-copied and published in Antwerp in the 17th century. It is quite spectacular.

Why does this topic interest you?

SH: Bibles are not a named special collection, like the Napoleon Collection is, for example. Nevertheless, by the simple fact that this text was printed and copied over the centuries more than any other title, Rare Books and Special Collections holds an abundance of examples. This means that we can use this collection for in-depth case studies and research across disciplines. We were happy to notice, through the bookplates, that some of these rare books come from the former collections of McGill’s Divinity Hall and the Presbyterian College of Montreal. In an effort to safeguard collections of historical and intellectual value, the McGill Library now strategically houses the Bibles and related studies in Rare Books and Special Collections.

Why is this topic important for people to engage with?

AMH: Sandy [Hervieux] and Chris Lyons, Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, came up with the topic while going through the various collections related to Religious Studies. We are on a special mission to bring collections closer to the community we serve, students and faculty members, and by laying out material, suggest topics that could be subsequently explored in depth.

Any final comments?

AMH: No matter how modest the exhibit space in this case, it is a good feeling to work together between our branches and units on outreach projects for the benefit of the School members.

Ann Marie Holland is an Associate Librarian in Rare Books and Special Collections of the McGill Library. She has curatorial responsibility, notably for the William Colgate History of Printing Collection, the Enlightenment Collection and a variety of early printed works. She is active in giving classes with Professors across several departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences programs using the physical copies in special collections.

Sandy Hervieux is the liaison librarian for the School of Religious Studies as well as the departments of Political Science and Philosophy. She offers reference services and library instruction workshops to her liaison areas as well as the general McGill community. Her research interests include reference services, information literacy and primary source instruction.

The Bibles Galore! Selections of Rare Bibles and Religious Prints can be found in the Birks Reading Room of theBirks Building  (3520 University). The exhibit runs until June 21. Get more information online.