Researchers discovered hidden text inside the oldest printed Bible in England on March 24. The handwritten annotations were found in a 1535 Henry VIII Bible, of which only seven copies exist.
“This Bible at first glance seems like a blank copy, so nothing interesting there, and very clean, which is the opposite of what we want it to be,” said Queen Mary University of London historian Eyal Poleg, reported CBS News.
Curators found annotations hidden on the pages of the Bible that may shed light on the heated debates of the Reformation.
Poleg says that while examining the Bible, she noticed signs of handwritten notes, reported Live Science.
“I saw there was a very small hole, and a few letters were peeking out,” said Poleg. “That’s where I got stuck for about six months.”
Poleg was able to unearth the handwritten text with help from Graham Davis, X-ray specialist at the Queen Mary University of London’s School of Dentistry. Davis used the dentistry school X-ray equipment to scan the book, and created a program to eliminate the printed text. The handwritten notes were left visible.
Poleg says that the annotations could be a window into England’s religious controversy when the Latin Bible was published. In 1535, possession of an English-language Bible could be punishable by death in the country.
“It’s not about going against Henry, or either Latin or English, but it’s both Latin and English, both trying to do something they know before, but not going head-to-head with legislation or the reigning monarch,” said Poleg.
In 1533, two years before the Bible’s publication, English monarch Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Church of England, noted BBC History. The move altered religion and culture across England, as the influence of the Pope declined and English citizens increasingly converted to Protestantism.
The notes in the Bible could offer insight into the lives of English citizens during this tumultuous period.
“How people actually prayed, we don’t know enough about that," said Poleg. "And this bible tells us something."