Exhibit will be at the United Methodist Archives and History Center until October 23.

The editions of the Book of Common Prayer on display at Drew University span four centuries.

 The United Methodist Archives and History Center on the Drew University campus is displaying rare copies of the Book of Common Prayer that span 400 years in the exhibit “Comfortable Words, Anglican Piety and the Book of Common Prayer.”

Some of the Comfortable Words include:

“Til death do us part.”

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

“Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

These phrases, in regular use today, originated in the 16th-century Book of Common Prayer authored by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury under Kings Henry VIII and Edward VI of England. They were drafted as part of religious reforms enacted by Edward VI following Henry VIII’s break from Rome. The original editions will be displayed until October 23.

Highlights of the exhibit include:

  • A first edition printed in 1549 in London during the reign of Edward VI
  • Editions printed in the 1600s by printers to King Charles I and II
  • Editions from the 1700s, including the first American edition
  • Editions bound by Queen Victoria’s bookbinder in the 1900s

In addition to their singular contribution to the spread of the Protestant Reformation, the Books of Common Prayer on display are also works of art. Created by some of the world’s leading craftsmen—Joseph Zaehnsdorf, Francis Bedford, Samuel Mearne and England’s master typefounder and printer, John Baskerville—the book covers are of ivory, velvet, copper and silver and include detailed artwork, original woodcuts, a fore-edge painting and exquisite bindings and engraving.

The exhibition, organized by the United Methodist Archives at Drew University, is dedicated to the memory of Fred and Mary Louise Maser, who donated their collection of more than 150 prayer books to Drew in 1978. Kenneth E. Rowe C’59, G’69, professor emeritus of church history at the Drew Theological School and formerly the Methodist librarian, curated the exhibition with assistance from Chris Anderson, Masato Okinaka, Kim Magnell and Cassie Brand of the Methodist Archives.

Visit the library’s exhibition page for more information about the exhibit.