Coronation Bible

The scene from The King’s Speech doesn’t show it at all, but there was even more drama around the coronation of George VI than the movie reveals.  It may not be obvious, especially to Americans, but there is a great deal of prestige in being the supplier of a coronation Bible.  The two ancient presses in the United Kingdom, Cambridge and Oxford, vie for that honor.  In 1937 Oxford had won out.  Coronation Bibles are works of art and are extremely rare.  You’ll never find one at your local library’s used book sale.  As a recent Oxford University Press blog post indicates, the Bible at George VI’s ceremony was a last-minute replacement.  What could possibly go wrong with a ceremonial Bible, of all things?  Quite a lot, but this one had to do with an aging cleric.

Despite being the eve of war time, an elaborate Bible had been designed and manufactured.  Symbolism is important.  Britain faced not only the aggression of Hitler, but also the abdication of Edward VIII.  Instability was in the air.  In such times, as we’ve seen in American politics, leaders look to the Bible for support.  Printed on special paper, chased with gold on its cover, the coronation Bible was a work of art.  However, the Bishop of Norwich, Bertram Pollock, couldn’t lift it.  At 73 he wasn’t in the best of health, and he had a role in the ceremony.  At the last minute a lighter, replacement Bible was sent.  According to the OUP blog post, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued a rare apology to the press, but also noted “I cannot but wish that you had given some more consideration to the physical infirmities of those who would have to carry it.”

A big Bible

Swearing on the Bible is an archaism that seems likely to persist into the foreseeable future.  The future of the British monarchy (which I do not follow) itself seems in doubt, but to quote the Good Book, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”  As long as many people believe this, such swearing will persist.  Even if such belief fades, the solemnity of swearing on a Bible is likely to continue.  The Bible has, in its tangible way, become a stand-in for God.  And as another archaism, a king, is sworn in today, it is to be hoped that the bishops involved have kept their muscle tone intact.  At least to heft, for a little while, a ceremonial Bible.

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