Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Illuminated page. Click to enlarge.

Page of a fifteenth century Book of Hours, France/Flanders. Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Collection.


The Ransom Center's religion holdings include particular strengths in Christianity and Judaism.

The Center's significant collection of bibles and prayerbooks includes one of only forty-eight surviving copies of the Gutenberg Bible, completed c. 1455 by Johann Gutenberg, the first Western printer to use movable type. Among the incunabular holdings are an illuminated bible on vellum printed by Nicolaus Jenson (1420-1480) in 1476 and one printed by Günther Zainer, 1475-76. The Center has the first complete printed English Bible (1535; second printing 1537) translated by Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), as well as multiple copies of both the "Great He" and "Great She" editions of the 1611 Authorized Version (King James). The Center also holds first editions of the Rheims New Testament (1582) and the Douay Old Testament (1609-1610), Catholic English translations produced in response to the proliferation of Protestant bibles in English.

Books of Common Prayer for the service of the Church of England date from the sixteenth century through the present day. There are roughly four hundred copies in all, many bound with other religious texts.

Other rarities include a twelfth-century manuscript of the Christian gospels in Greek, an autograph manuscript, "De Elevatione," by Martin Luther (1483-1546), and a seventeenth-century petition from the Massachusetts Bay Colony seeking to limit the incursion of unwanted religious groups.

The Ransom Center's collection of recusant literature (1558-1829) consists of close to forty-five hundred books and pamphlets printed in England during periods when Catholicism was proscribed. The collection includes volumes of church history, devotional works, bibles, and a few manuscripts that document the exiled French clergy and their reception in England.

The ten thousand volumes in the Gottesman Collection of Hebraica and Judaica chronicle the Jewish experience over some three thousand years and include a large number of bibles, mishnas, talmuds, and prayer books, some dating to the sixteenth century. The South African Judaica Collection consists of four hundred eighty-five texts originally belonging to Jewish refugees who fled war-torn Europe and settled in South Africa. The collection itself is made unique by the presence of several titles once thought to be permanently erased from the written record during the Holocaust. Highlights of the collection include first editions of writings by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), first editions of Theodor Herzl's (1860-1904) diaries, and numerous nineteenth-century Hebrew and German prayer books. (See Jewish Studies for additional information.)

The Center's holdings in Islam include a manuscript Arabic Qur'an (1153) and a leaf from a 13th century Arabic Qur'an. Beyond these items, the strengths of the collection are Western perceptions of and encounters with Islam, including an early edition of André du Ryer's French translation of the Qur'an (1649); the first Qur'an published in English, The Alcoran of Mahomet (1649); and the first Qur'an printed in the United States, The Koran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mahomet (1806). Additional materials include multiple editions of fiction and non-fiction about Mohammed, including Henry Prideaux's The True Nature of Imposture Fully Displayed in the Life of Mahomet (1697), Voltaire's Le Fanatisme, ou Mahomet le Prophéte (first performed 1741), and Washington Irving's Life of Mahomet (1850).

In addition to several editions of Blaise Pascal's (1623-1662) Lettres Provinciales, the Ransom Center houses a collection of seventy-three rare Jansenist pamphlets written in the wake of Lettres, dated between 1656 and 1658. Six of them—extremely rare—were written by Pascal himself.

The Center's collections include the writings of several significant religious figures including a group of books by and relating to Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the Swedish scientist, philosopher, and religious writer. Manuscripts of British mystic Joanna Southcott (1750-1814) are also present, along with notebooks, correspondence, and over seven hundred volumes of books by and about her. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's (1859-1930) interest in spiritualism is documented by thousands of pages of manuscripts, letters, and diaries, along with hundreds of photographs taken by Doyle and others of mediums, spirits, and fairies. The collection of works by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) includes photographs, manuscripts, and other materials relating to The Order of the Golden Dawn, of which W. B. Yeats was a member.

Additional relevant materials are located throughout the Center, particularly in the Art and Performing Arts collections.