Only 30 copies of the 1616 edition of the King James Bible are thought to exist – and one of them has recently surfaced in the cupboard of a 1960s church in Manawatū, in the lower North Island of New Zealand. It was discovered during a search for Palmerston North’s oldest Bibles for a display by neighbouring church St Johns, for New Zealand’s Bible Sunday this weekend. The assistant priest at St Peter’s, Amy Houben, believes the Bible may have been passed to the Church in 1912, but there are no records of the gift other than an inscription on its cover.
The inscription says that the Bible was donated by congregation member Thomas Pattinson, who emigrated from England to New Zealand between 1874 and 1881. “People gift bibles all the time because no one likes throwing them out,” Houben told the Stuff news website. “It may be that it was passed to the church without knowing its true significance.”
St Peter’s Church has been in existence since 1902; but the present building was constructed in 1961. The Bible was printed in 1616 – some 330 years after the islands were first settled in around 1280 by Polynesian travellers who became the Maori; and more than 153 years before British explorer Captain Cook first arrived on the islands, leading to a wave of European migration.
The Bible was first accidentally discovered in 2012 wrapped in a tea towel. It was authenticated by Dunedin City Library curator Anthony Tedeschi, who said that only 30 copies remain from that 1616 print run. Most are in Britain and the US. It is thought that St Peters’ copy is the only one in Oceania.
Since its discovery in 2012, the Bible has been restored and placed in a secure display cabinet. This weekend it will join other old editions in a Bible Sunday exhibition.
“I’m not sure what place an old bible would have had in a new church,” Houben told Stuff. “I feel quite sorry for this old girl in a way. They were made to be read and held. They weren’t made to be locked in a glass coffin.
“It almost seems out of place having it down in little, old New Zealand. It’s got old bones and a good heart, but it's from a whole different world.”