The Book of Common Prayer

The Book of Common Prayer (The Folio Society, 2007, based on the edition published in 1853 by William Pickering and Charles Whittingham the Younger)

Introduced by Anne Brichto of Addyman Books, Hay-on-Wye

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This beautiful volume from The Folio Society is quarter bound in leather, tooled in gold, by Lachenmaier in Germany. The marbling is by Payhembury Papers.

The book is a facsimile of the stunning 1853 edition produced by William Pickering and Charles Whittingham which was ornamented with woodcuts from designs by Durer, Holbein and others.

As with the original, each of the 718 pages is bordered with woodcuts and/or decorations. This volume comes in a matching green slipcase which also has decorated columns. It is one of the most beautifully produced Folio Society books I have seen recently.

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The Book of Common Prayer is part of the fabric of the English language. When Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, his chief responsibility was to secure for Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. But he was also determined to give substance to the newly established Church of England by changing its language of worship from Latin to the vernacular.

The first authorised English version of the Bible appeared in 1539; ten years later, under Edward VI, Cranmer compiled and published a complete Anglican liturgy, detailing prayers, scripture readings, psalms and the order of service for the ceremonies that marked the Christian year and the passage of human life.

The Book of Common Prayer is a testament to Cranmer’s genius as a translator and writer of formal religious prose, and its phrasing and cadences have echoed around the churches of England and the Commonwealth for more than 450 years. The Collects alone would be enough to secure its place among the great books of the world. Next to the Authorised Version of the King James Bible and the plays of William Shakespeare, it is among the most widely read and influential of English literary works.

So many phrases we use in the English language without thinking come from The Book of Common Prayer – ‘the apple of my eye’, ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ – as well as having been pillaged for titles of books by authors as different as Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast), P. D. James (Devices and Desires) and P. G. Wodehouse (Joy in the Morning). Though it experienced fluctuating fortunes over the first century of its existence, gradually The Book of Common Prayer came to embody the unique position of the Anglican Church, in both doctrine and ceremony, between Catholic excess and Puritan austerity.

This facsimile volume is based on the edition published in 1853 by William Pickering and Charles Whittingham the Younger, as part of the ‘Caslon Revival’. William Caslon (1693-1766) was the first English type-founder to produce types of international quality and his elegant, deliberately old-fashioned faces were perfectly suited to the 16th and 17th-century texts so beloved of Pickering, a distinguished London publisher, and Whittingham, his printer. One of the most distinctive editions of The Book of Common Prayer, it is set in ‘Caslon Old Face’ and illustrated with beautiful neo-classical borders and devotional woodcuts from designs by Dürer and Holbein.

 

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