King's College London
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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

The first Latvian Bible

Title page from the first Latvian BibleTitle page from the first Latvian BibleOn display is the first complete Bible to be printed in Latvian. Some portions of the Gospels and Epistles had been translated into this language as early as 1586, when they appeared in a Lutheran manual known as the Enchiridion, and a Latvian translation of Proverbs was printed in 1637, but it was not until King Charles XI of Sweden, a devout Lutheran, lent his support to the project that the translation of the entire Bible into Latvian could get underway.

Charles instructed Johann Fischer (16361705), the general superintendent of Swedish Livonia (an area comprising much of present-day Estonia and Latvia, which had been Swedish territory since the end of the Swedish-Polish War in 1629), to commission a complete translation at royal expense. A copy was to be placed in every church in that part of the Swedish Empire where Latvian was spoken. By an edict of 1686, which proclaimed Charles supreme ruler of the Church, it was compulsory for all to attend divine service on Sunday, so the text of the Latvian Bible soon became well known to his Latvian subjects.

The translation was the work of a German Lutheran, Ernst Glück (1652–1705), and was revised by a committee of churchmen at Riga. Glück also established the first schools in Latvia where children could be educated in their mother tongue and his house in Alūksne is now a national museum.

According to the preface of a later edition, the ship carrying the stock of paper for this first edition from France to Riga was captured by Algerian pirates, but when the captain learnt of the purpose to which the cargo was to be put he let the vessel proceed on its way unmolested.

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