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Encouraging Lay People to Read the Bible in the French Vernaculars: New Groups of Readers and Textual Communities

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Modern research has shown that the vernacular Bible in medieval France was closely related to the linguistic politics of the French Kings and to projects of royal self-fashioning. This has also become a generally accepted explanation for the unproblematic presence of Bibles translated into French: the biblical text was supposedly only accessible for the aristocracy and wealthy merchants. This article will argue that this is only a part of the history of the French vernacular Bible by showing that an impressive amount of books with either the entire Bible or specific parts of its text have survived. Traces in the original manuscripts show that these books were actually used by laypeople for their religious life. Past research has often focused on evidence for tensions around vernacular Bibles and restrictive measures and examples where laypeople were actually encouraged to read the Bible have been completely overlooked. Finally, archival evidence shows an impressive penetration of the vernacular Bible, reaching all levels of the French society before 1520. Other contextual sources show that lay readers could have accessed its text through textual communities and libraries with some form of open access.

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Arts, University of Groningen


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