A teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School in Bonduel discovered a 17th century relic inside a walk-in safe.
A German Bible of Luther’s translation, printed in 1670 in Nuremberg, Germany, by Christoph Endter was discovered in an old section of the recently remodeled church and school.
The Bible is huge by today’s standards — 17.5 inches long, 11.5 inches wide and 6.5 inches thick. It has a pigskin binding over boards with brass bossed corners and clasps and contains a copy of the Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers as presented to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530.
The Augsburg Confession relates that the grace of God and faith alone save Christians, not deeds and tithes as was the practice at the time for Catholics.
“It is a beautiful link connecting us back 3 1/2 centuries ago to a different continent where God provided his same eternal life-giving word,” Pastor Timothy Shoup said.
Experts say the Bible is in fine condition.
The congregation intends to keep it long enough to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2013 and possibly permanently.
Debra Court, the sixth-grade teacher who discovered the Bible, said she found it a couple of years ago while searching for a baptismal reference book to show her class.
“It was just tucked away in the corner on a shelf,” she said. “I never would have imagined it was that old.”
Still, no one realized its significance. After changing hands among some staff for lesson purposes, the Bible was brought to the attention of Shoup.
“Thinking the Bible was probably from the 1800s, I let it sit in my office for months before taking a closer look,” Shoup said.
The Roman numerals MDCLXX (1670) found on the cover page sparked his interest in finding out more about it.
Shoup contacted Concordia Seminary Library in St. Louis and sent personnel there several photographs of the Bible. They were able to determine its authenticity.
“It’s rare to find one that old,” Special Collections Cataloger Lyle Buettner said. “No two copies of hand-pressed books are absolutely identical.”
Copies of the 350-year-old Bible can be found in various libraries in Germany and the United States, including Concordia.
Buettner believes the value to be between $1,000 and $1,500.
Considering the rarity of the piece, keeping it safe from damage was a top priority.
Buettner’s instructions were quite simple, to keep it stored away from light and away from humidity.
“A dark, cool place is good,” Buettner said.
Handling it with clean, bare hands is the best way to preserve it for viewing.
The school’s safe was really an ideal place for preservation over the years, Shoup said.
After debating between keeping the Bible or donating it to Concordia’s collection for research purposes, Shoup decided it would be kept with the congregation for the time being.
“Our ancestors came over to settle in the Bonduel area approximately 150 years ago, with likely one family porting this Bible in their trunk,” Shoup said.
He hopes to create an acid-free display case for it.
“It would be nice to allow God’s people to enjoy this precious book for generations to come,” Shoup said. “This particular Bible is important because it marks time, how God has chosen to speak his same grace into our hearts in all times, in 2011 or in 1670.”
The congregation was able to view the Bible during services this past fall.
“To have something keep that long and be preserved so well, that’s really something special,” John Boettcher, 60, said.
As a member of the congregation all his life, Boettcher said ancestry is very important to him.
“I would want to keep the Bible here in Bonduel,” he said.
Another long-time congregation member, Jim Brandt, 81, was impressed when he saw the Bible.
“Modern printing methods don’t produce anything like that,” he said.