The first English Bible that was popular among the general public was the Great Bible. This was partly due to the fact that it had been authorized by the Convocation of Bishops of the Church of England — and thus became the first 'Authorized Bible' in Great Britain. Its popularity was also enhanced by the fact that at the time it was released in 1539, literacy was on the increase in England. Many of the common people had learned to read, and they were anxious to explore and study the Scriptures in their native language — a concept that was quite novel at the time.

Those responsible for the development of the Great Bible wanted this to be the most beautiful book ever printed. They got their wish. Production began in France, where the printers were more skilled and the presses more advanced than those in England. However when an Inquisition, inspired by the Roman Catholic Church, spread across France, it became necessary to complete the printing in England. (The Catholic Church was always dead set against the Bible being translated into common languages.) The first edition of the Great Bible was finally released in April, 1539. With its lush bindings and quality woodcuts and typeface, it perhaps was the most beautiful English book ever printed up to that time. It certainly was the biggest Bible ever printed — its pages measuring 11 inches by 16½ inches. This made for a very large volume. In fact it was due to its size that it was given the name "Great Bible".

Copies of the Great Bible were placed in just about every church in England. And although it was not inexpensive, its price was low enough that many people could afford a personal copy. So popular was this Bible that in many churches it had to be chained to the wall just to prevent theft. However, four years after its release, King Henry VIII of England, who had at first wholeheartedly supported the Great Bible, had a change of heart, and an edict went forth that reading an English Bible aloud was forbidden. Nonetheless in just four short years, the Great Bible had created a burning desire in many to read and study the Scriptures in English. And regardless of King Henry's proclamations, this flame was not to be extinguished.

Use the Menu on the left to read the full story, or to view actual pages from a Great Bible.