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Holy Writ & Lay Readers. A Social History of Vernacular Bible Translations in the Middle Ages (Holy and Lay)
Start date: 01 Oct 2008, End date: 30 Sep 2012 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The European Late Middle Ages, before the Reformation in the 16th century, were witness to a cultural revolution. The ‘traditional’ dichotomy between the categories ‘religious’ and ‘lay’ and ‘Latin’ and ‘vernacular’ dissolved into a more diffuse situation and led to ‘lay emancipation’ characterised by a dramatic increase in the production of vernacular religious texts and, more specifically, by the production and distribution of vernacular Bibles. However, the diffusion of Bible translations across Europe was not homogeneous. Some regions enjoyed several vernacular translations, counting on lenience and even incentives from religious and worldly authorities, while in other translation activities, production and distribution were at some point strictly forbidden. This disparity and the patchwork distribution of vernacular Bibles raise questions about the conditions of this late medieval cultural revolution, a key to the understanding of the transition from the medieval to modern world. What were the ‘cultural dynamics’ behind this revolution? Who were the agents of this transformation process? How can the tension be analysed between the desire of the Church to control the distribution of translations and the hunger for direct access to biblical texts by generally literate lay people? The main objective of Holy Writ & Lay Readers is to map out this late medieval cultural revolution by concentrating on one of its most relevant manifestations and to reconstruct its social context by using an experimental research method which combines extensive codicological and bibliographical textual research with a socio-historical approach. The central question will be addressed by focusing on the interaction of social and cultural elements, such as a high degree of urbanisation and susceptibility to the influence of religious movements which, as preliminary research has shown, were strictly connected to the diffusion of religious vernacular texts.
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