Bryn Athyn Cathedral Altar Copy of the Word

wordonaltaroct09.jpgAt worship services in Bryn Athyn Cathedral in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, the visual focus of the congregation is a large copy of the Word on the altar in the sanctuary. On sunny mornings the Word is bathed in a soft violet light created by stained glass windows on either side of the altar. Additional light is provided by seven golden lampstands. Although Bryn Athyn Cathedral’s copy of the Word has been the focus of services since the building’s dedication in 1919, many are not familiar with its interesting history, which dates back to the sixteenth century.

genesisoct09.jpgnewtestoct09.jpgThe text was printed by Christophe Plantin, a well-known Renaissance printer and publisher, in Antwerp in 1584. It was originally part of the Academy of the New Church library collection, and is now on permanent loan to the Cathedral from the Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA. Plantin’s Bible is interlinear, with Hebrew and Latin occurring together in the Old Testament, and Greek together with Latin in the New Testament (see photos). The Latin translation of the Old Testament was the work of Santes Pagnino, a Dominican priest and leading Biblicist of his day. The Latin translation of the New Testament was the work of Benito Arias Montano, who also served as editor of Plantin’s Bible. The order of the material is reversed from what most Christians are accustomed to in a modern Bible. The Old Testament material is placed at what we would consider the back of the book, so that the Hebrew pages can be read correctly, from right to left. The New Testament is at the front of the book and is read from left to right. (See photographs of the outside cover and title page, below.) 

faithofncoct09.jpgIn order to have a representation of the three-fold Word of the New Church, Winfred Hyatt, an artist and member of the congregation, was asked to make a copy of “The Faith of the New Church in Its Universal Form” from Emanuel Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion, paragraph 2 (see photo). This was done at the time of the Cathedral’s dedication in 1919 (Hugo Lj. Odhner. Typescript of handwritten notes. March, 1941. Academy Archives). The page is inserted before the beginning of the Old Testament.

closedwordoct09.jpgThe dedication service on October 5, 1919, began with a procession of the clergy along the outside of the Cathedral with the Rev. George de Charms, Assistant Pastor, carrying the Word. The procession then continued through the west door, and up the nave towards the chancel. At the communion rail de Charms handed the Word to Bishop N. D. Pendleton, who walked up to the altar and kneeled until the end of the opening hymn. He then rose, placed the Word on the altar, and opened it. (See Richard Morse, “The Dedication: A Description by the Rev. Richard Morse,” New Church Life 1919, 742-743.)

titlepageoct09.jpgAt a pastor’s council meeting in 1939 it was decided to investigate whether the 1584 Plantin Bible could be responsibly altered in order to remove the books of the Bible that were not part of the New Church canon. Various experts were enlisted, with the result that the original binding was reduced in size to accommodate only the books of the Word (Hugo Lj. Odhner. Typescript of handwritten notes. March, 1941. Academy Archives). The non-canonical books that were removed are stored in the Swedenborgiana/Rare Book Vault at the Swedenborg Library (Carroll Odhner, e-mail communication to editors, 10/19/09).

The editors of would like to thank Marvin B. Clymer, Academy of the New Church Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA, for suggesting this New Church History Fun Fact and for taking all the photographs. We would also like to thank Carroll Odhner, Director of the Swedenborg Library, for her assistance.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at

October 25, 2009 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact