A year after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and just fifty years after Guttenberg perfected the printing press, the first literal commentary on the bible was printed.
Nicholas of Lyra's the Biblia Latina was just acquired by the University of Calgary's library. The four-volume book is just one of two in Canada.
"Printing had just been invented about 40-50 years before this book was printed and it's an amazing technological achievement," said U of C Libraries and Cultural Resource vice-provost Thomas Hickerson.
Hickerson noted that beyond its significance because of the accomplishment in printing, the work is important because it was the first commentary to actually look at what the bible was actually saying.
"Nicholas of Lyra was one of the first scholars to actually inquire into the literal sense of the bible," said Hickerson "That's a very important moment in the development of religious thought, leading in the following century to the development of protestant ideas. Martin Luther probably read and may have even had a copy of this commentary."
The book is available for anyone to see and touch--it's on the 12th floor of the Library tower--but because it is in Latin it may limit those who are able to read it. However, Special Collections librarian Appolonia Steele noted that just seeing the text is worth something.
Although the internet is amazing, it's important to see paper and how books were designed at this time, she explained. As well as being an example of early printing, the work has aspects of manuscripts--books written in the past by scribes--and in the early days of the printing press.
"It includes hand-done illuminations in gold and silver, it also includes the caps at the beginning of paragraphs, which an individual artist would do by hand," said Hickerson.
Hickerson agreed being able to physically see the book will provide a good example of the history of printing and publication, especially in contrast to today's environment, as well as probably being the oldest text most will ever touch.
"Think about the way information is distributed today, it really gives you a different perspective on the nature of communication if you can see a work that is 514 years old and then think about your own way you use chat today, or the way you search the web and look across the spectrum of time," he said.