27 July 2011

A visit to Lambeth Palace for an exhibition and supper

The South Front of Lambeth Palace ... Lambeth Palace has been the London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury since the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I interrupted my attendance at the Cambridge summer school of the IOCS yesterday afternoon [Tuesday] and caught a train down to London. I was at Lambeth Palace last night for a reception and a private viewing of an exhibition celebrating the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. The exhibition, Out Of The Original Sacred Tongues: The Bible and Translation, has been running from 25 May, but concludes on Friday [29 July], and has been an opportunity to see some of the library’s historic collections

Lambeth Palace stands on the south banks of the River Thames, opposite Parliament and the Palace of Westminster. Since the 13th century, this has been the London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. Today, it is home for the archbishop and his family when they are in London, and it is also the central office for his national and international ministry, with several dozen staff working here.

In summer, the grounds of Lambeth Palace are often used for garden parties for organisations and charities supported by Archbishop Rowan Williams and Mrs Jane Williams, and the Great Hall is also used for various receptions and events, especially at summer time.

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, at the exhibition in Lambeth Palace

The exhibition in the Great Hall is being hosted by Lambeth Palace Library and sets in historical context the translation of the texts of the Bible into everyday language. At the centre of the exhibition is the 1611 edition of the King James Version, set in the context of the scholarship which created it.

Other highlights of the exhibition include:

• a 10th century Greek Gospel from Palestine;
• mediaeval and English Bible translations, with documents relating to their suppression;
• John Wycliffe’s 14th century translation from Latin;
• landmark editions that drew on the new textual scholarship of the Renaissance and Reformation;
• the first edition of the New Testament in Greek by Erasmus (1516);
• the first edition of Luther’s German Bible (1536);
• early printed vernacular translations in a variety of languages, including the first complete Bible in Icelandic, the Gudbrandar Bible (1584);

• translations intended for missions, such as Gospel editions in Chinese (1807), Cree (1912), Maori (1841) and Mohawk (1787);
• documents showing the drive towards modern English translations for the 20th century, such as the New English Bible, which sold out on the first morning of publication.

The last display case in the exhibition is devoted to the New English Bible, which was published in March 1961 on the 350th anniversary of the King James Version. The translators faced huge criticism for the use of modern words such as “pregnant” and “homosexual,” and were accused of reducing the Lord’s Prayer to a shopping list. One of the translators was Bishop John Robinson, already under fire for speaking for the defence in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial.

We were welcomed to the exhibition in the Great Hall by the he Librarian at Lambeth Palace, Giles Mandelbrote, who believes two themes have emerged in depicting how Bibles had developed from manuscript to print over the centuries. The first is the quest for truth and certainty by church authorities employing analytical skills in an attempt to ascertain original meanings; the second is the production of Bibles without input from the church or the state.

The library in the Great Hall at Lambeth Palace was founded in 1610 (Photograph: Lambeth Palace)

Lambeth Palace Library is the principal library and record office for the history of the Church of England. It was founded in 1610, and the official papers of the Archbishops of Canterbury are among the most significant collections here, documenting political and social issues as well as church history in England and throughout the Anglican Communion. The papers include correspondence, diaries, sermons and newspaper cuttings.

The library’s overall focus is on church history, but its rich collections are important for a variety of topics, including architecture, colonial history, local history and genealogy. The library holds over 4,600 manuscripts and vast archives dating from the ninth century to the present, including 600 mediaeval manuscripts.

There are almost 200,000 printed books in the library, including 30,000 items printed before 1700, and many more unique books. Much of the library is housed in the Great Hall, which has been built and rebuilt many times over the centuries. It was here that Erasmus and Holbein were welcomed by Archbishop William Warham and here too that Henry VIII was entertained by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

The Guard Room, seen from the South Courtyard at Lambeth Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After the private viewing of the exhibition, we were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a buffet supper up in the Guard Room. This room is thought to date from the 14th century. It was the Great Chamber in Mediaeval and Tudor times, one of the most important rooms in the Palace in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.

Initially, the Guard Room was the archbishops’ principle audience room and was used by them for meetings and ceremonies. It is said that on 12 April 1534 Sir Thomas More was summoned in the Guard Room by Thomas Cromwell to swear an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. By refusing to deny the authority of the Pope, Thomas More was led away from Lambeth Palace to the Tower of London, where he was executed in 1535.

The Guard Room in Lambeth Palace ... the venue for supper last night (Photograph Lambeth Palace)

The paintings on the walls in the Guard Room are of Archbishops of Canterbury from 1602 to 1783 – from the reign of Elizabeth I to the reign of George III, illustrating an interesting change in fashion for episcopal garb over the centuries.

The magnificent arch-braced roof of the Guard Room is a contemporary of that in Westminster Hall – across the river in the Palace of Westminster – and predates the walls by some 400 years. When William Blore rebuilt Lambeth Palace in 1830, he retained the roof, supporting it while rebuilding the walls.

Lambeth Palace seen from Westminster Palace ... the first Lambeth Conference was held in Lambeth Palace in 1867 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The first Lambeth Conference was held in Lambeh Palace in 1867, when 75 bishops were called by Archbishop Charles Longley for a meeting.

Nowadays, the Lambeth Conferences meet in Canterbury, but the Guard Room continues to be used for meetings, receptions and dinners, and this is where we were entertained to a buffet supper last night after viewing the exhibition.

The party included bishops and clergy from many provinces of the Anglican Communion, staff from Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office, including many who had been at the Primates' Meeting in Dublin earlier this year, friends from USPG -- Anglicans in World Mission, the Revd Dr Alan McCormack, formerly of Trinity College Dublin, and staff from other mission agencies, including CMS and Crosslinks.

Morton’s Tower at Lambeth Palace ... said to be modelled on the entrance to Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

As I left by Morton’s Tower, I was reminded that this red-brick gatehouse, with its porter’s lodge, is said to be based on the entrance to Saint John’s College in Cambridge, where Cardinal John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury who gives his name to the tower, was a fellow and where his memory is still preserved in the stained glass windows in the Great Hall.

I walked across Lambeth Bridge, and on to Victoria Station, for a connection to King’s Cross and a train back to Cambridge. A night-cap in the Jolly Scholar in King Street, at the back of Sidney Sussex College, felt very appropriate before returning to my rooms.

No comments: