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‘An Icon For Religious Freedom’ - Museum Secures Nearly 500-Year-Old Bible As Collection Centerpiece
Page News and Courier ^ | 3/27/2009 | Benjamin Weathers

Posted on 03/27/2009 10:52:55 AM PDT by Alex Murphy

This Bible was printed in 1536 in Zurich, Switzerland. The Bible was brought to the U.S. in the early 1700s by Swiss immigrants. In 1733, it came to the Shenandoah Valley with preacher, teacher and artist Jacob Strickler.

Growing up in Page County, Rod Graves had heard about it his whole life, but he had never seen it with his own eyes.

Bound in calf-skin and held together by brass studs, it was amazing to behold. After nearly 500 years, it had remained intact, surviving damage from rain, mice, flies and a trek across the Atlantic Ocean that no doubt took several months.

It had survived all of these obstacles and perhaps countless more to arrive at this current place and time — and Graves, president of the Luray Caverns Corporation, was mesmerized.

“The condition is absolutely unbelievable, it’s all there — every single page,” said Graves. “Mechanically, it’s so beautiful it looks like it was done with the greatest of ease. I’m sure it wasn’t.”

But more intriguing than the object itself, is its story.

“It’s just so amazing,” Graves said. “Not only is it a very important chapter in Shenandoah Valley history, but it’s also an icon for religious freedom.”

The object in question is an elegantly bound Swiss Bible dating back to the Protestant Reformation movement, when religious persecution was a common occurrence. Printed in 1536 in the city of Zurich, it was one of the first Bibles of its kind. Containing both the Old and New Testaments and illustrated by legendary artist Hans Holbein, the younger, nearly all of the present day Baptists sects were derived from this Swiss-German translation.

For Graves, and wife Isabel, the Bible is the perfect choice as the centerpiece of the Luray Valley Museum and Gardens scheduled to open at the Caverns in August. It was recently purchased from the Modisett family of Luray for that specific reason.

Since its purchase earlier this month, it has been held in a safe at Luray Caverns.

“It’s so remarkable, I don’t want to do much to it,” said Graves. “I want it handled as little as possible.”

Nevertheless, come August it will be on display to the public along with a host of other historic treasures from the Shenandoah Valley.

At the time of its printing, Switzerland had just undergone a brutal religious war between Catholics and Protestants. The entire continent was fraught with extreme religious tensions.

The same year that the Bible was printed, Henry VIII had ended the Pope’s authority in England. This was also the time of the dreaded Inquisition in Portugal in Mexico.

The Bible’s owners were forced to hide the book or face persecution. Families would commonly keep such Bibles hidden in barns.

“The people who owned it before coming to America, almost certainly faced fierce religious prosecution,” said Graves’ wife Isabel.

“There was no religious freedom in Zurich at the time,” agreed Graves. “People were dying every day.”

Protestants who were found with such Bibles were frequently imprisoned. According to Graves’ research, one victim of such persecution was Conrad Strickler, who was arrested with his wife in June of 1644 and held in prison where he later died.

The book came to the U.S. with a Swiss man named Abraham Strickler, whose brother was also named Conrad Strickler. According to the family genealogy, Abraham traveled from Switzerland with three brothers to settle in Pennsylvania around the early 1700s.

The Bible was brought to the Shenandoah Valley by Abraham’s son, Jacob Stickler in 1731.

Jacob purchased 1,000 acres of land in Massanutten. He another 640 acres along the Southern Fork of the Shenandoah River, opposite of the mouth of Mill Creek. He lived there with his wife and raised several children prior to his death.

Jacob played an important role in the Valley’s history as a preacher, teacher and one of the few painters of the American South’s Swiss-German community. Jacob was also known to have had a long-standing friendship with Johannes Spitler, a well-known famous folk artist also living in the Valley.

The Bible remained in the family for the next 200 (and some odd) years, until it came into the hands of the Moddisetts, who married into the Strickler family.

Two weeks ago, it became the property of the Luray Valley Museum and Gardens, which has since conducted a wide array of research trying to learn everything they can about the book. Graves has authorized a major photographic study of the book, conducted by a former James Madison University history professor.

“I feel like we’re just scratching the surface here,” Graves said. “There is just so much to know about [the Bible].”

While Graves concedes that a “generous” price was paid to acquire the book, he refuses to put a price tag on it.

“As an object, it’s irreplaceable,” Graves said. “I wouldn’t want to pin a value on it — it wouldn’t be fair to what it represents.”

TOPICS: History; Mainline Protestant; Religion & Culture; Theology

1 posted on 03/27/2009 10:52:55 AM PDT by Alex Murphy
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To: Alex Murphy

Wow, if it could talk, the stories it would tell...

2 posted on 03/27/2009 11:01:21 AM PDT by Hegemony Cricket (The emporer has no pedigree.)
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To: Hegemony Cricket

The story it could tell as a historical novel, would be much more interesting than the Da Vinci Code. IMO

3 posted on 03/27/2009 11:12:12 AM PDT by burroak
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To: Alex Murphy


4 posted on 03/27/2009 11:14:27 AM PDT by Captain Beyond (The Hammer of the gods! (Just a cool line from a Led Zep song))
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To: Alex Murphy

Very cool. I will presume it is a Froschauer Bible.?

Books from 200+ years ago will last forever (well, the paper will, anyway), while books 100 years old are already self-destructing. Linen-hemp paper is vastly superior to modern wood pulp paper, especially with the high acidity of wood pulp, which causes the paper to decompose in a matter of decades.

5 posted on 03/27/2009 11:24:50 AM PDT by SandWMan (While you may not be able to legislate morality, you can legislate morally.)
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