Family Bible of Little Falls man harkens to 16th century

Categories: Around the Diocese

June 21, 2013, edition
By Nancy Leasman

Bible study refers to a quest for an understanding of the messages in this holy book of the Jewish and Christian traditions.

But there’s another kind of Bible study: that of understanding how this oldest of books came to its present form, and how that form manifests in homes throughout the diocese. This leads to the question: What do you know about your family Bible?

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All by hand

Jim Braud of Little Falls has worked to uncover the history of an old Bible handed from generation to generation within his family. The Braud family Bible was printed in 1569 and may be among the first printings of books after Gutenberg’s press made mass production possible.

Before Gutenberg’s invention, Bibles were individually written and illustrated by hand. This desire to carry the gospel accounts from one place to another became considerably easier when printing presses speeded the process of duplication.

Hand copied Bibles have vellum pages and are usually bound in wood and calfskin. Printed versions are on rag paper and also have wood and calfskin bindings, and the Bible was the first mass-produced book off Gutenberg’s press.

Jim Braud’s family Bible was donated to the Ottertail County Historical Society in Fergus Falls in 1935.

A description from the Fergus Falls newspaper at that time said, “This book is a collection of daily Bible readings. . . . The gospel for each Sunday is illustrated with an appropriate picture.

“Mr. Braud (this refers to Jim’s father, Jacob) is uncertain how long the book has been in his family, but it is known that his great, great grandfather used it in the early part of the 1700s. Relatives intended to bury the book with this great, great grandfather, who prized it highly, but one of the family objected and the volume was saved.

“In 1896, the book was brought to America [from Norway] by his uncle, Carl Braud, who located at Ada, Minn. It was brought to Otter Tail County in 1914. His uncle died in 1933, and the book has since been in his father’s (Jim’s grandfather) possession.”

The historical society also noted that it was doubtful that Norway had a printing press at the time the book was printed. In fact, only three places in Norway produced any printed books prior to 1500.

According to “Religious Reading in the Lutheran North: Studies in Early Modern Scandinavian Book Culture,” “From 1562 — (through at least 1582) — Copenhagen was, by law, the only city in the kingdom of Denmark and Norway where the printing of books was allowed, and in the city only two or three printers would actually be operating at any given time.”

The Braud Bible, however, was printed in Lubeck, Germany in 1569. It was printed in the Norwegian language with a German script. Jim Braud pointed out that Norway was considered a Lutheran country before the book was printed, and that it is a book of prayers.

Following this lead, research further reveals that a Book of Common Prayers was printed in 1569, a first edition, followed by others in 1578, 1581, 1590 and 1608.

In 1569, Fredrik II ordered that all foreigners in Denmark had to affirm their commitment to 25 articles of faith central to Lutheranism, on pain of deportation, forfeiture of property and death. Making common prayers available to the populace certainly assisted them in “affirming their commitment.”

It’s difficult to know the literacy rate in Denmark in 1569, but considering that the Gutenberg press was less than a century old then, reading and book ownership were probably not that common. This fits into the Braud family tale, too, in that the book was said to have been owned by a priest, a man who would have known how to read and used the book for which it was intended.

Braud family genealogy traces back to Palle Christenson Trane who was born near Stavanger, Norway in 1537.

Trane, Jim Braud’s 10th great-grandfather, was a priest in the Høyland parish when he died in 1584. Since the Braud family Bible or Book of Common Prayer was printed in 1569, it may have been owned by this man.