Religion and Politics: A Bible Story from the John J. Burns Library

Portrait of Mathew Carey by John Neagle, 1825. Carey (1760 – 1839) was an Irish-born American publisher and economist who lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Oil on canvas. Library Company of Philadelphia.Gift of Mary Hudson, 1991.

Portrait of Mathew Carey by John Neagle, 1825. Carey (1760 – 1839) was an Irish-born American publisher and economist who lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Oil on canvas. Library Company of Philadelphia.Gift of Mary Hudson, 1991.

Every day when I arrive at the John J. Burns Library I first inspect the building to make certain that the HVAC system is running as expected, and that there have been no leaks or floods in the stacks overnight. On the morning of August 8, in the midst of such an inspection, as I proceeded to roll open one of the compact shelving units, I suddenly heard the cry, “hello, hello!” Alarmed that I had accidentally crushed my colleague, Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian, whose voice I recognized as the source of the call, I dashed around the shelving unit only to encounter her standing in the middle of the aisle unscathed.  She explained that she was sent to locate a Bible in the stacks, and she had been instructed by our boss, Bridget Burke, to find the book as soon as possible. Eager to help, I asked her if any Bible would do—we have a large number of Bibles in the stacks—but she assured me that we needed to find a particular 18th century Bible; which, as it turned out, was the first Catholic one printed in the United States.

Edward J. Markey, from the 1968 Sub Turri.

Edward J. Markey, from the 1968 Sub Turri.

A request for this Bible had been made by U.S. Senator Edward Markey, BC ’68, and BC Law ’72. Thomas Wall, University Librarian, had received his request at 11:00 pm the prior evening, August 7th, and had promptly contacted Ms. Burke, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, who in turn swiftly ascertained that the John J. Burns Library holds a copy of the 18th century Catholic Bible known as the Carey Bible. Senator Markey wished to use the Carey Bible for his ceremonial swearing-in at Faneuil Hall on the evening of August 8th. As a Boston College undergraduate Markey had majored in history and he wanted a historic Catholic tome to be used in that famous Boston setting.  With the help of Jay Moschella, Senior Special Collections Cataloging Assistant, Kathleen soon found the Bible, and brought it into the Conservation lab in order for me to assess its condition, and affirm that the large-sized volume was sound enough to leave the Library to be used in such a ceremony.

Before and after: in the image on the left, you see the Carey Bible before conservation treatment, on the right is an image of the same book after conservation treatment.

Before and after: in the image on the left, you see the Carey Bible before conservation treatment, on the right is an image of the same book after conservation treatment, BS185 1805.P5 Carey.

The book was in a protective clamshell box, which included documentation showing that it had received some conservation work in 1981, and that the box was made for it at that time. I recognized the 18th century “Cambridge” style of the cover. In Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, this style is described as, “An English style of bookbinding practiced largely on theological works and in university libraries. Books bound in this style were sewn on raised cords, covered in calfskin that was masked and sprinkled in such a manner as to leave a stained central rectangular panel, a plain rectangular frame, which in turn, was surrounded by a stained outside frame.”  In the adjacent image you can see this pattern on the Carey Bible. I felt that the book, if transported in the protective box, could be used for a swearing-in ceremony, however I also thought that it could use some additional conservation treatment in order to look its best for this important occasion. There were areas on the book cover where the leather was missing and overall the leather looked very dried-out. After I carefully treated the book, improving its appearance, I did some research to find out the history of the volume.

The printer of this special Bible, an Irish immigrant by the name of Mathew Carey, worked a short time for Benjamin Franklin until he was given $400.00 by the Marquis de Lafayette to start his own printing firm in Philadelphia. John Adams was also a supporter of Carey because they shared Federalist Party political views. Carey printed The Holy Bible in 1790. For this Bible, Carey used Challoner’s 1764 revision of the Douai Bible as a text source. Carey printed fewer than five hundred copies of this title and presently only thirty copies are known to still exist. The Burns Library copy was originally owned by Inquisitor General D. Jose Maria de Mello, counsel to Queen Maria of Portugal in the 18th century.

U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., raises his hand during a ceremonial swearing-in at historic Faneuil Hall, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, in Boston. Markey was officially sworn in last month by Vice President Joe Biden during a brief ceremony in the Senate chamber in Washington. At center is Markey's wife, Susan Blumenthal. At left, administering the oath of office, is Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., raises his hand during a ceremonial swearing-in at historic Faneuil Hall, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, in Boston. Markey was officially sworn in last month by Vice President Joe Biden during a brief ceremony in the Senate chamber in Washington. At center is Markey’s wife, Susan Blumenthal. At left, administering the oath of office, is Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Carey Bible use by Senator Edward Markey proved to be exciting for the Burns Library, not only because it brought attention to the historic Bible, but also because it placed the Bible in a setting beyond the special collections library. The Carey Bible, although rare, was used in a normal way that bibles have been used throughout the centuries that is, at a swearing-in ceremony. The Boston College University Libraries encourage faculty, students, and researchers to use Burns Library primary sources, rare books and archival materials, in their courses and research. We are pleased that the Carey Bible while in the hands of Senator Markey and his wife, Dr. Susan J. Blumenthal, served as a lesson for them: to demonstrate, in a dramatic and notable way, the usage of the book during its history prior to being donated to the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections.  For more information, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
This entry was posted in Conservation, Featured Collections & Books, Rare books, Staff Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Religion and Politics: A Bible Story from the John J. Burns Library

  1. Stephen says:

    Is John Neagle’s portrait of Mathew Carey in the Burns Library’s collection?

  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the response … and for the interesting blog post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s