One of the treasures of the Library is an exquisitely-bound New Testament which was presented to Elizabeth I during her 1578 visit to Cambridge University. Printed in Greek, the volume boasts an elaborate velvet binding with a gold centrepiece, attributed to the French protestant émigré binder, John Denys. When commissioned, Denys was warned that it should have ‘no savour of [oil of ] spike’, as was sometimes the case for dyed bindings, for fear of offending the Queen’s nostrils.
In 1939, the New Testament played a starring role in the British Pavilion at the New York World Fair, alongside Lincoln Cathedral’s exemplification of Magna Carta. The exhibition projected a carefully-curated image of Britain in an attempt to cement an uncertain Anglo-American alliance as war clouds gathered in Europe. Here, the New Testament narrowly escaped destruction by a bomb disguised as a radio left, it was presumed, by Nazi sympathisers. Two police officers died removing the bomb. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Magna Carta was whisked to Fort Knox, where it waited out the remainder of the war.
The official guide, also on display, was illustrated by the artist Eric Ravilious (1903-1941), and lists the College in the acknowledgements.
Due to the sensitivity of the binding to light, this volume is now rarely on display and will be on show in the New Library for one week only: 10 am – 4 pm, Monday to Friday of 4th Week (6 – 10 February).
Tēs Kainēs Diathēkēs Hapanta. Euangelion Kata Matthaion. Kata Markon. Kata Loukan. Kata Iōannēn. Praxeis Tōn Apostolōn. = Nouum Iesu Christi D.N. Testamentum: Ex Bibliotheca Regia. Paris, 1550. Printed by Robert Estienne. Queen’s Sel.d.21