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Early Printed Bibles - in other European languages

We hold examples of early biblical texts in many European languages in addition to Latin and English. Some significant examples are located within the King's Library and the collection of Thomas Grenville, but most are dispersed throughout the collections.

For acquisitions made before 1975, the structured 'Bible' section in BLC to 1975 provides perhaps the best listing of what is held. More recent acquisitions will need to be located by searching Explore the British Library. Pre-1801 Welsh, Irish, Gaelic and Manx biblical texts are in the English Short Title Catalogue.

First complete Bible in Welsh

Title-page of the Welsh Beibl Cyssegr-Lan (London, 1588). Copyright © The British Library Board

In several languages, the earliest printed Bibles date from the late 15th century: German in 1466 [IC.506], Italian in 1471 [IC.19527], and Czech in 1488 [IB.51405]. These are listed in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue, with the fullest descriptions of copies at the British Library given in Catalogue of books printed in the XVth century now in the British Museum (Library) (see Selected Bibliography).

Subsequent centuries saw many important published translations of the Bible in the national and regional languages of Europe. This was accompanied by a gradual shift away from the use of the Latin Vulgate for their source in favour of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. Editions of the New Testament or the Psalms often preceded the publication of the full Bible. Religious debates associated with the Reformation meant that Catholics and Protestants within a linguistic area often preferred to produce separate translations.

Image of Samson from Luther's German Bible (Wittemberg, 1534)

Image of Samson from Luther's German Bible (Wittemberg, 1534) BL shelfmark: 1.b.9. Copyright © The British Library Board

Bibles in the Celtic languages of Britain and Ireland are well represented in the collections. Highlights include:

  • Irish: first New Testament (Dublin, 1602) [C.24.b.18; G.11753]; first complete Bible (London, 1690) [G.19996; 1003.b.8].
  • Manx: Gospel of St Matthew (London, 1748) [Cup.401.d.5]; first complete Bible (Whitehaven, 1771-75) [1411.g.15-17].
  • Scottish Gaelic: first New Testament (Edinburgh, 1767) [466.a.13]; first complete Bible (London, 1807) [842.a.2].
  • Welsh: first New Testament (London, 1567) [C.36.d.3]; first complete Bible (London, 1588) [1.b.13].

Highlights in continental European languages include:

  • Basque: Joannes Leizarrga's New Testament (La Rochelle, 1571) [217.d.2].
  • Church Slavonic: 'Ostrog Bible' (Ostrog, 1580-81) [C.17.b.1] and the first Moscow Bible (Moscow, 1663) [1.f.12].
  • Czech: 'Bible of Kralice' (Kralice, 1579-93) [C.114.n.18].
  • Dutch: 'Statenvertaling' (Leiden, 1636/7) [L.11.e.2].
  • Finnish: First complete Bible (Stockholm, 1642) [C.108.aaa.12].
  • French: Bibles by Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples (Antwerp, 1530) [C.18.c.12], Pierre Robert Olivétan (Neuchâtel, 1535) [1.d.1; 676.i.9], René Benoist (Paris, 1566) [L.10.e.3], and Charles Le Cène (Amsterdam, 1741) [8.h.8,9].
  • German: Johann Mentelin's Bible of 1466, the first to be printed in any vernacular language (Strasbourg, 1466) [IC.506]; Bibles by Martin Luther (Wittenberg, 1534) [1.b.9,10] and Ulrich Zwingli (Zurich, 1534) [C.36.c.13].
  • Hungarian: Revised edition of János Sylvester's New Testament (Vienna, 1574) [C.128.c.2.], a revised edition of Gáspár Károlyi's Bible (Hanover, 1608) [1411.k.14.(1.)], and György Káldi's Bible (Vienna, 1626) [C.36.g.13].
  • Icelandic: Guthbrandur Thorláksson's Bible (Copenhagen, 1584) [692.i.1].
  • Italian: 'Malermi Bible' (Venice, 1471) [IC.19527]; Antonio Brucioli's Bible (Venice, 1532) [3022.i.9]; and Giovanni Diodati's Bible (Geneva, 1607) [C.81.d.7].
  • Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish): 'Ferrara Bible' (Ferrara, 1553) [1.b.11; 4.d.2; G.12214; etc.].
  • Polish: 'Radziwill Bible' (Brest-Litovsk, 1563) [C.11.d.6], the Antitrinitarian New Testament (Cracow, 1577) [C.110.e.8], and Wujek's Bible (Cracow, 1599) [C.144.e.2].
  • Spanish: 'Biblia del Oso' (Basle, 1569) [676.e.2].
  • Slovene: Bible by Jurij Dalmatin (Wittenberg, 1584) [465.d.12].
  • Swedish: 'Gustav Vasa Bible' (Uppsala, 1541) [1109.kk.5].