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Introduction

« The excellent arte of printing, most happily of late found out, and now commonly practised everywhere to the singular benefit of Christ's Church, [is] a providential gift from God to the Reformation cause. »

John Foxe, Actes and monuments of these latter and perilous days touching matters of the Church (first English edition, London, 1563)




Battle of the books

English Protestant writer John Foxe (1516/17-1587) wrote these words during a war; an ideological war every bit as bitter and bitterly fought as the Cold War of the twentieth century. Religion rather than economics divided Europe into rival Catholic and Protestant blocs in the 1500s. The battle between Catholic and Protestant was fought physically - but it was also a contest of mentalities. Foxe's own words highlight the power of the printed word - and highlight also how people even then saw the printing press as an important weapon of mass conversion on the battlefield of religion. Thousands of books and millions of words were written and printed arguing the merits of each case over decades and centuries.

The Old Library is exceptionally fortunate to enjoy a rare and rich patrimony of many of these important books in its collections and some of the most influential printed volumes in European history are displayed in this exhibition.


Still life with books