University alumni & donors help save Aotearoa’s ‘Wicked Bible’

In 1631, Robert Barker, printer to the English King Charles I, made one of the most serious typos in publishing history. So much so, one contemporary labelled it “a ſcandalous miſtake in our Engliſh Bibles.” Barker’s error was indeed grave: his 1631 printing had rendered one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt commit adultery”.

The University of Canterbury has recently revealed a previously unknown copy of this remarkable book, discovered in Christchurch. University of Canterbury Associate Professor and medieval historian Dr Chris Jones is aware of its historical context and amazed at its remarkable survival.

“Why the King’s Printer omitted the all-important ‘not’ remains a matter of debate. Was it a joke? Was it sabotage by a rival? What is certain is that Barker was threatened with an astronomical fine, and very few copies of his so-called ‘Wicked Bible’ survived,” says Associate Professor Jones.

“Until now it was thought that the handful that did were all to be found in the libraries of the British Isles and North America. So, it was a thrilling discovery to find one in Christchurch and to be able to preserve it for future generations to ponder.”

UC alumna Sarah Askey is a Book and Paper Conservator based in Wellington. She initially studied Art History and Classics at the University of Canterbury and, after completing her Honours in 2015, moved to the United Kingdom to pursue conservation. Askey carried out the painstaking stabilisation and conservation work to preserve the book. Former UC staff member, Dr Stephen Hardman, now Southern Regional Manager for New Zealand Micrographic Services, managed the digitisation process and the challenges associated with producing a digital facsimile of a delicate 17th-century volume.