chained Bibles

Until the middle of the 11th century all books, and for centuries afterwards the greater bulk of them, were locked in chests, or in recesses of library walls, to insure them against loss or theft. This custom entailed severe hardships on the majority of students, since only the privileged few had ready access to them. Nor did the practise of lending books out on adequate security, begun in the early part of the 11th century, contribute much to the solution of the problem; because poor students, who were in the majority, could ill afford the financial sacrifice involved. The first real advance toward solving the problem came about the middle of the 11th century, when the custom of chaining books was inaugurated. Books were thus secured against theft or loss, and, at the same tIme, students had more ready access to them. The earliest document to refer to chained books is the catalogue of the library of Saint Peter’s monastery at Weissenberg, Alsace (1040). After this there are no allusions to them until the beginning of the 13th century, when the custom of chaining books to desks or walls of libraries was introduced on a more general scale. The middle of the 15th century saw the advent of the printing-press, and the extension of the custom of chaining books so as to embrace the entire contents of libraries. As a result chained books became more numerous than ever. The Protestant Reformation did not essentially alter the medieval conception of a library. Hence we find that the leading Protestant libraries contained chained books in great numbers. Indeed, it can be safely stated that the number of chained books, in Protestant as well as Catholic libraries, during the two centuries following the Reformation, was far greater than that during the three preceding centuries.

The chained Bible was an institution in the medieval Church. From the 12th century on, the Bible could be found in countless monasteries and churches, chained to a desk, or lectern, or stall, near some window, where the student or pious reader would have sufficient light to read it. This demonstrates how strong was the popular demand for an open Bible in the medieval Church, and how earnestly the Church strove to make that open Bible a reality for all its communicants. Bias and ignorance have falsely interpreted this usage of by-gone days as a proof that the Church purposely withheld the Bible from the laity. No such malicious interpretation of the chained Bible was forthcoming so long as Protestants remembered their own chained Bibles. The myth, that Bibles in the Middle Ages were chained in order to prevent people from reading them, arose in Germany in the 18th century, and was given its present currency principally through M. D’ Aubigne, Swiss historian, in his history of the Reformation (1817).