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Historic Bible Collections

The Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives contains 12 historic Bibles published before 1900, each of them a Catholic Latin Vulgate or an approved translation of a Catholic Bible.  These Bibles offer a picture of the evolving theology of the Catholic Church throughout the 19th century based upon the unchanging foundation of the Word, a depiction of the physical ways in which the Word was made manifest, and, often, a window into the owners of these Bibles and the ways Biblical marginalia can assist with research.

In this post, we would like to highlight some particularly impressive pieces from historic Bible collections!

1790 Carey Bible

A Carey Bible is one of the rarest printed Bibles.  Published by the Catholic Matthew Carey out of Philadelphia, it was an English version based off of the Douay-Rheims Bible.  Most notably, it was the first English Catholic Bible printed in the United States.  Although this was not a Catholic Bible owned by Mother Seton – her personal Carey Bibles are located at Notre Dame and Vincennes, Indiana – this was the edition of the Bible that Mother Seton used.  Matthew Carey published other Bibles under the Carey name in subsequent years, but, due to its historical nature and limited initial publication, plus the fact that many surviving versions have association with prominent and historically important people, they often sell for high values at auction.  Although copies in private hands are difficult to calculate, it is almost certain that fewer than 50 remain extant today.

This Bible came to the archives via Sister Joan Marie Hoyt, who discovered it during her years as a librarian and archivist at various institutions operated by the Daughters.  It is far from pristine condition but does contain a few interesting notes.  The first is a signature on the cover page, whose name we have not been able to conclusively identify (any help anybody?).  The second is a copying of a few select verses onto the flyleaf, or the last, blank, loose page of the book.  It is interesting to note that these verses all relate to the subject of temperance from alcohol.

1805 New Testament – The Washhouse Bible

Monetarily, this is worth much less than the Carey Bible, although also a Matthew Carey publication.  This is an English New Testament from 1805, with plain board covers.  The entire piece shows evidence of water damage and warping.  Faded on the cover is the word “Seminary.”  On the front endpapers are the words “for the use of the Wash house.”  Between these two clues, we can place the use of the book at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, just down the road from the nascent community of Mother Seton, where the early Sisters had responsibilities for the Sulpician priests of the school.  The Sisters themselves did not do the washing but oversaw the enslaved women there who did.  This book was likely read by a lector to the enslaved women there, providing a rare surviving physical artifactual document to the labor of the enslaved.  It also served, however, as a record of the deaths of early Sisters and laypeople, including Alice Brennan, “children, boarders, widows, and other unknown persons who lived in Saint Joseph’s Valley in the early years of the Sisters of Charity.”


This Latin Vulgate Bible is notable for what it contains in addition to the text – various bits of plant matter throughout (which have now been sleeved to prevent damage to the pages) and a hand-drawn image of the Miraculous Medal, a sacred community symbol of the Daughters of Charity’s devotion to Saint Catherine Labouré and the Blessed Mother.

1870 Providence Hospital Bible

This is another Bible that contains inserted plant matter, but also begins to see the use of included illustrations.  This was not something new in religious life or even in Bibles, but that does not take away from their beauty and impressive nature.  This Bible came from the library of Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., where it records a number of births, deaths, and signatures, including Miss Annie Farrell; William Tierney; and Archbishop John McCloskey of New York.

1880 Bible Gallery

The use of images to tell Bible stories is an old one, evident in the stained glass of Medieval European Gothic churches.  This provided a way to communicate stories, theology, and values at a time when society did not have a high rate of literacy.  Although this is not technically a Bible, we included it here for the sheer magnitude of the images, all created by French artist, Gustave Doré.

All Bibles in the collection that are structurally sound enough are free to be used on-site by researchers and guests by appointment.

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