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Just who was the most dangerous man in Tudor England? BBC documentary comes to St Paul's

The life of the man who dared to translate the Bible into English, an extremely rare copy of which is housed at St Paul's, is the subject of a dramatic new BBC documentary.

Broadcast on BBC2 at 9pm on Thursday 6 June, the life of William Tyndale will be explored by Lord Melvyn Bragg in a programme entitled The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England.

Part of the BBC's Tudor Court Season, the programme will explore the life and work of Tyndale, who Lord Bragg believes sits alongside William Shakespeare as the greatest influencers of the English language as we know it.

The English translation of the Tyndale New Testament housed at St Paul's is one of only three copies remaining in the world. In the BBC Documentary, Lord Bragg visits the Cathedral Library to see for himself the precious and fragile book.
 
Simon Carter, Head of Collections at the Cathedral, said: "The book is the great treasure of the Library Collection. However, in keeping with its earlier contraband status it arrived in the Cathedral surreptitiously; its true nature was unappreciated at the time that it was acquired as part of a bequest in 1783.

"The leaves of the Gospels and epistles had been deliberately intermixed to ingeniously disguise the contents of the book, should it have been discovered. In the nineteenth-century this was curiously thought to have been undertaken some years after the endeavours of Bishop of Durham, Cuthbert Tunstall, to incinerate every copy, and the sheets were rearranged in proper sequence and the volume was rebound.
 

"This tiny book has a huge cultural significance; it was the basis for several subsequent Standard English translations of the Bible. Today it is still greatly admired for the lucidity of the writing, and a surprising number of Tyndale's phrases are still in common use today, including: 'signs of the times'; 'broken-hearted'; 'eat, drink and be merry'; 'the salt of the earth'; and ‘judge not that you not be judged”.

Watch the BBC trailer for The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England

William Tyndale
A great scholar and priest (b.1494), educated at both Oxford and Cambridge, Tyndale was a controversial advocate of 'personal faith' - the idea that the individual should be able to have a relationship with God without the established Church getting in the way. This put him in direct conflict with the Church and King Henry VIII, who could effectively control the Christian practices of all those in England by keeping the bible in Latin, a language read only by the educated few.

Determined to push ahead with the forbidden translations, Tyndale left England for Germany, the centre of the Protestant Reformation under Martin Luther, where the translation was printed. Many copies made their way to England, where they would be read in secret. Any copies which were discovered by the authorities were burned in public, many of them at St Paul's Cathedral in a campaign led by Bishop Tunstall.

The authorities eventually caught up with Tyndale and he was executed near Brussels, Belgium, in 1536.