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Treasure of the Month

Highlighting some of our most precious historic artefacts, from manuscripts to jewellery.

May 2019: La Biblia – the ‘Bear Bible’, Basle, 1569

Said to be as important to the perception of the Bible in Spanish as the King James Version is to the Bible in English, Durham Cathedral Library’s Treasure of the Month for May 2019 is a first printed edition of the complete Bible in Spanish. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Bear Bible’ because of the illustration on the title page (the device of its printer Apiarius: the image of a bear discovering a bee’s nest in the hollow of a tree is a linguistic trick, and a play on his name – ‘Apiarius’ is a latinised form of the German name Biener, which literally translates as ‘bee master’), only 2,600 copies of this volume were ever printed, with many early editions being burnt by the Spanish Inquisition.


The translation of the text was primarily undertaken by the Spanish reformer Cassiodoro de Reina (c.1520-1594); originally a monk of the Hieronymite monastery just outside Seville, de Reina became an adherent for the Protestant Reformation after encountering the works of Luther. Fearing for his life under the Inquisition, he fled to Geneva (which he later described, with dissatisfaction, as being “a new Rome”), then on to London and Antwerp, before finally settling with his family in Frankfurt. Labelled as a “heresiarch” (leader of heretics) in Spain, an effigy of de Reina was burned in Seville, and his works placed on the Index of Prohibited Books by King Philip II.


The translation took De Reina – most likely with assistance from a number of colleagues, including some from the Isidorean community – a period of twelve years to complete.

He used the Hebrew Masoretic text as a basis for the Old Testament, while his New Testament translation came from the ‘Textus Receptus’ (the ‘received text’ – by which the Greek text of the New Testament edited by Erasmus and printed for the first time in 1516 came to be known). In turn, a fellow Hieronymite monk, Cipriano de Valera, produced a revised edition of De Reina’s text in 1602; this has served as a basis for all Bibles printed in Spanish since the mid-19th century (the ‘Reina-Valera’ Bible).


This lovely ‘Bear Bible’ is one of a number of books which will be displayed in Durham Cathedral’s Refectory Library as part of our ‘Treasures of Durham Cathedral Library: Languages’ event, which will take place next on 15th June.  An opportunity to visit the beautiful Refectory – not usually open to visitors – the event will display volumes from the Cathedral Library’s collections ranging in date from the 13th to the 19th centuries, and will highlight some of the different languages and scripts featured in our 30,000-strong collection of early printed books. For more information and to book tickets online please visit the Treasures of Durham Cathedral Library event page.


All of the books in Durham Cathedral Library are available to be studied by researchers and interested parties. For more information on how to make an appointment and access the library’s collections, please visit Durham Cathedral Library's page.