After 9 months the 1754 King James Pulpit Bible has been repaired through donations by parishioners and returned to St. George’s. This was a project of the Archives Committee of St. George’s
This Bible is the oldest single item of the Church that is in our possession. In fact, we have no other 18th century items except for the Vestry Minutes but they are housed in Charlottesville.
Due to its size it is considered a pulpit Bible. The Bible measures 19” long, 12” wide and 4” deep and on the cover has gold titling, tooling reading “Episcopal Church” on one line and then “Fredericksburg”. (St. George’s was known as the “Episcopal Church” until the 1820’s). It is made of very good materials (cotton, linen rag paper and vegetable-tanned leather) which have allowed it to remain in viable condition.
One reason it has not been used is due to the need for substantial repairs. The main issues were
-binding, sewing and damaged pages. The spine leather was missing entirely on the binding and cover was weak. The corners and edges of the leather covers were missing their leather.
-The board materials (layers of paper making up the cardboard under the leather) were badly eroded especially on the back cover. There were approximately 35 damaged pages but were largely in the front and back of the text where the pages have been loosened as a result of the weakened cover. There was evidence of water damage which may the result of the 1854 fire at St. George’s which was centered in the chancel area where the Bible may been placed.
Our conservator was Cat Tail Run Hand Bookbinding in Winchester, Va. Jill Deiss the conservator said of the repaired Bible, “It’s glorious. There’s no other word.”
While the Bible is repaired, our work has just started understanding it. We know it was meant for St. George’s and that it’s 1754 but beyond there are no references to it in the 18th century Vestry minutes or otherwise as we can find. It was illegal to print Bibles in America so it came from England. The Archives Committee will be meeting to work on storage for this valuable book. We are hoping it can be used for special services.
It’s possible that its twin, also a 1754 Bible, resides at Christ Episcopal Church in Spotsylvania. Jeff Packard, the rector, has agreed to do a “Bible compare. Tradition has it was used in worship for more than 75 years in the colonial Mattaponi Church, affectionately known as the “Old Mother Church” of Spotsylvania County. Its doors closed in 1828 and we think the last rector’s son brought it to Christ Church.