[Middle English New Testament.
Illuminated manuscript on vellum.
[England, c. 1400–25.]
The first widely circulated English version of the Bible, translated from St. Jerome’s Latin by followers of John Wycliffe (c. 1330–1384), was outlawed in 1408 by Archbishop Thomas Arundel of Canterbury (1353–1414). Fearing the Wycliffites’ adoption of scriptural authority in place of Church rituals and institutions, Arundel’s council ruled that the use of unauthorized vernacular Bible translations propagated “heresy and error” because they failed “to preserve exactly the same meaning in all things.” Consequently, the Church prohibited translation of the Bible into English under the severe penalty of excommunication, while the use of Wycliffite translations was subject to fines and imprisonment.
Bridwell Library’s Wycliffite New Testament features various interlinear annotations and marginal markings. These demonstrate that the manuscript, despite its prohibited status, was used regularly for scholarly study and pious reading according to the schedule for readings provided by the church lectionary.