Johann Gutenberg [1398-1468] was an enterprising trader who made money out of pilgrims by selling them looking-glasses and polished stones.  For several years, he experimented with metal types to make books.  He kept borrowing money from friends or kin and seldom repaid his debts.  In 1456, he printed the Bible at Mainz: 1,282 pages in two columns to each page, with spaces left for the illuminations that used to be inserted into the old manuscript Bibles, and sometimes known as Mazarin’s Bible because the copy belonging to Cardinal Mazarin was important in the study of early printing.  Creditors were after him even before he published and, after the Bible was printed, he had to sell all his equipment to meet the debts and died in debt, despite a pension from the archbishop of Mainz.  The invention, so disastrous for its maker, changed the religious and intellectual history of Christendom.

By 1500, we know of some 27,000 printed titles, nearly three-quarters Latin books, but also vernacular books of piety and prayer and works of entertainment.  They were carried by traders in wooden trunks or casks and sold at markets, usually unbound.  The printers’ chief object was the Bible – 94 Latin Bibles by 1500, 16 German Bibles by 1522.  Usually it was printed with commentary.

From: The Early Reformation on the Continent by Owen Chadwick; The Oxford History of the Early Church series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 1.

Owen Chadwick (1916-2015) was an English church historian, author, and editor.


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