For six centuries, the Imitatio Christi (“Imitation of Christ”) has been the most widely read Christian book after the Bible. It consists of four Books: the first two counsel the reader on the spiritual life; the third deals with the inward consolation of the soul; and the fourth concerns the virtues of Communion. Written ca. 1418 by Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380–1471), the Latin text has been translated into hundreds of languages and printed in some ten thousand editions. Its spirit of personal devotion patterned on the life of Christ helped sow the seeds of the Protestant Reformation as well as the Counter-Reformation, and it profoundly influenced such diverse figures as St. Ignatius Loyola and John Wesley.
Bridwell Library holds twenty-six fifteenth-century editions of the Imitatio Christi and scores of editions dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. These include many vernacular translations into English, German, French, Italian, Arabic, and Croatian, as well as fine modern editions. The books selected for this exhibition highlight the history of this perennially popular text from ca. 1473 to 1905.