Voragine, Golden Legend, c. 1483

JACOBUS DE VORAGINE (c. 1229–1298). The Golden Legend. Translated and enlarged by William Caxton (c. 1422–1491).
Westminster: William Caxton, [between 20 November 1483 and March 1484]. (06401)

Caxton’s translation of the Golden Legend provided the first English edition of this highly popular compendium of saints’ biographies. It also resulted in the first printing of significant passages of the scriptures in English. Whereas the ecclesiastical authorities forbade the publication of the Wycliffite translation of the Bible into English, nothing prevented Caxton from retelling the stories of Adam and Eve, the Nativity of Christ, or the Crucifixion with brief quotations. Thus, the “Lyfe of Adam” in the Golden Legend began with the first printing of the words “In the begynnyng God made and created Heven and Erthe.”

The Golden Legend is Bridwell Library’s only intact book by England’s first printer. The edition constituted Caxton’s lengthiest work of translation and publication, and this copy is the largest preserved copy – all others have had their leaves cut down by later binders. The book features woodcuts of 87 subjects, and its red initials were added in Caxton’s workshop by the same person who rubricated several other copies. Although the earliest provenance of Bridwell’s copy is obscure, the book was later owned by Rev. William Henry Havergal (1793–1870), who is credited with three hymns in the current Methodist Hymnal.

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Printing in England
Voragine, Golden Legend, c. 1483