In the mid-15th century, one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human communication occurred in central Europe, in what’s now Germany. Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press that utilized movable type, and in doing so started the process that would eventually put medieval scriveners–such as those who created the Domesday Book or the Madrid Codex–permanently out of business, and brought religion, literature, politics and knowledge within the reach of common people. Almost nothing any other single human being accomplished has ever been so consequential.
This object–actually, several objects–are a result of this legacy. The first book commercially printed with Gutenberg’s new process was the Bible. This version of the Bible was created in 1458 in Bamberg, Germany. It’s also known as the “36-line Bible” from the number of lines that appear on each page. The Bamberg Bible was the second version of the Bible printed. Gutenberg’s original Bible had 42 lines, but this was the next derivative.
Were it not for Bibles commercially printed on Gutenberg’s invention, it’s almost a certainty that the Protestant Reformation would never have happened–nor is it a coincidence that the Reformation began in Germany, when Martin Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church in 1517. The idea of Christianity being accessible to common people, without the intermediary of the Catholic priesthood, lies at the heart of the Reformation idea. How could common people have read the Bible without the printing press? Thus, Gutenberg is indirectly responsible for one of the great intellectual and political revolutions in human history.
There are fourteen Bamberg Bibles in existence today, of which 8 are in Germany. The one pictured above has been digitized and is available here, at the website of the Bavarian State Library in Munich.