Last year the Parker Library acquired a volume that once belonged to Archbishop Matthew Parker. Curiously enough, it looks like it was never meant to be housed in the Library, as it does not appear in the Parker Register, the list of books bequeathed to the College. Instead, it was bought from a Sotheby’s auction, and now represents the newest, and arguably most obscure, item of the collection. As it is part of a five-volume set of the Bible, one would perhaps expect it to be a rather voluminous tome, but in reality it is instead rather little (203x145mm). A lavishly decorated binding makes up for its modest dimensions, presenting gold-stamped foliage and gauffered edges. It also contains one of the most puzzling features of the volume: 4 letters on both front and back boards, reading EESSF. Despite the efforts of more than one scholar, these initials are still waiting to be deciphered – they may represent owners’ initials, or perhaps the beginning letters of a motto. They are also specific to our copy: the other 3 traceable volumes of Parker’s set (in the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the private collection of the Duke of Rutland) do not appear to have them.
Unfortunately, we only know very little about our book since Parker’s death in 1575, as it only reappeared in the mid-nineteenth century! One of the inscriptions on the first flyleaf reads: ‘Robert Gregory C.C.C. Oxon’, which refers to a student of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells us that Gregory matriculated at Corpus in 1840, was later ordained priest (1844), and then proceeded to obtain a Doctorate in Divinity in 1891. Given Gregory’s scholastic interest, it is only fitting that he would own a book such as Parker’s Apocrypha. Since the American copies present different features to ours, it is likely that Gregory only owned this one volume of the set, and one may discreetly add that it would have made quite a nice addition to his library. This is because the apocrypha is a group of texts that does not traditionally belong to the Bible, but was later added between the Old and New Testaments. The very reason why it was called apocrypha, from the Greek apokriphos meaning ‘hidden’, is that it represents non-canonical texts, thus perhaps indicating Gregory’s inclination to go beyond what was deemed traditional.
Not much more is known of the dwellings of the book prior to Gregory. One may speculate that Parker left it to his son John, as his will lists many books to be left in his possession. John also had a connection with Christ Church Oxford, which may explain how the book travelled from one city to the other. One last clue may be hiding a very faint inscription just under Gregory’s signature, dated 1791. But for now, we can only hope to keep adding pieces to this fascinating jigsaw.