The world’s oldest family Bible is Australian

Unique historic book has ended up down under

A Bible passed down in the same family since 1572 has been placed in the care of the Bible Society Australia. At a ceremony in St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, the present owner, Duncan Sanderson, handed an historic Bishops’ Bible to Rev. Dr John Harris, who looks after the Bible Society’s collection of rare Bibles.

When Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne in 1553, English Bibles were banned. Anyone who translated or printed the Bible in English was condemned to death. But when Mary died and Elizabeth I became Queen in 1558, the Bible could once more be freely published in English. This means the Sanderson Bible dates from about the time a family could first legally own such a Bible.

Led by Archbishop Matthew Parker, who was appointed by Elizabeth, the Bishops of the Church of England created a new Bible. This became the official Bible read in every English church for the next 50 years. The Bishops’ Bible is extremely important as it marks the crucial moment in history when the Bible could at last be read and heard in English – a freedom never to be lost again.

“We have loved it to death and now it needs to be cared for properly.” – Duncan Sanderson

The Bishops’ Bible was a very large lectern Bible and was not for sale to the public. Yet the Sanderson’s copy has been owned by the one ‘blood line’ for 445 years. How they first obtained it is unknown but there is no other Bible like it in the world.

For hundreds of years, this Bible was passed down through the Woods family, from eldest son to eldest son. All their names are recorded in its pages. Only a few generations ago, there was no son and so the Bible was passed on to the eldest daughter. Her married name was Sanderson, and her son is Duncan Sanderson, who now lives in Brisbane.

So it was Duncan, accompanied by his young son Cameron, who placed the worn and old Bible into the care of the Bible Society Australia.

“We have loved it to death,” said Duncan, “and now it needs to be cared for properly.”