10 Mysterious Documents We Couldn’t Read Until Recently

Man has been documenting history with the written word for centuries. Occasionally, we still find something that is completely unlike anything we’ve ever seen before and sometimes modern technology reveals elements hidden in even the most well-known and well-documented of texts. This list looks at ten incredibly important documents and the secrets they have kept hidden until recently.

10. Hidden Text in England’s Oldest Bible

Today, you can’t go into a hotel room without finding a copy of the Bible. They’re seemingly everywhere, but that wasn’t always the case. Translating the Bible into English was once deadly work, and by the time Henry VIII started re-writing centuries of religious beliefs to suit his own needs and was well on his way to making the country Protestant, owning an unapproved version of the Bible could earn a person a death sentence. In 1535, an official and authorized version of the Bible was published, complete with an introduction by the king himself. Today, there are only seven copies left, and almost five centuries after the books came off the press, scholars have found that one of them has a series of annotations hidden in the margins.

The text had been hidden underneath pieces of paper that had been fixed to the Bible’s original pages. Since there was no way to remove the paper without destroying the Bible, historians turned to the Queen Mary University of London’s School of Dentistry to help them take long-exposure photos of the hidden text. Those photos were then run through a computer program that would drop out all of the text that had been printed and leave behind only the handwritten words.

Some of the handwritten notes turned out to be instructions as to which parts of the Bible were to be read on which days of the year, and which verses were associated with which occasion. Written in English, the notes were based on information written in Thomas Cromwell’s later Great Bible, and it seems to be an attempt to bring older Latin ceremonies in line with new orders from the monarchy that said religious ceremonies now needed to be conducted in English. The discovery of the text is helping to rewrite the history of the Reformation, showing just what a gradual process it really was.

Interestingly, not all of the notes were of a religious nature, as there was also a promissory note from James Elys Cutpurse. The Londoner promised to pay William Cheffyn of Calais 20 shillings for purposes unknown. When researchers looked sought to find historical information on Cutpurse, they found that he had been hanged in 1552 in Tyborn.

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