It was a cool autumn evening, a group of people had gathered in the home of Deryk Carver, a brewer, in Black Lion Street in Brighthelmstone a fishing hamlet connected to the county town of Lewes by the Jugg’s way.
They had gathered as a small house group to study the Bible and read the English prayer book. This would seem to our eyes an innocuous gathering of citizens.
However the year was 1554 Mary Tudor was on the throne and married Phillip of Spain in that year.
She had restored the Catholic church and forbidden the reading of the bible in English in fact even owning a bible was punishable by burning. So when the Sheriff of Sussex’s men broke in they were caught red handed . Bound and taken to Newgate prison in London, he was interrogated many times by Edmund Bonner, bishop of London and eventually condemned to death. He was brought back to Lewes and a stake with a barrel attached was prepared outside the Starr inn. His bible was thrown in followed by Carver himself and faggots were piled around, before the fire was lit he addressed the crowd.
“Dear brethren and sisters, witness to you all that I am come to seal with my blood Christ’s Gospel, because I know that it is true. It hath been truly preached here in Lewes and in all parts of England but now it is not. Because I will not deny God’s Gospel and be obedient to man’s laws I am condemned to die!”
His dying prayer as the flames were upon him was, “O Lord my God, Thou hast written, he that will not forsake wife, children house, and all that ever he hath, and take up his cross and follow Thee, is not worthy of Thee. But Thou Lord knowest that I have forsaken all to come unto Thee! Lord, have mercy upon me, for unto Thee I commend my spirit and my soul doth rejoice in Thee”.
Carver threw his bible out into the crowd and it was not returned. There was a very old bible stained with blood said to be his, however this was a so called “breeches” bible. So called because of the verse in Genesis where it says that they sewed leaves to form breeches to cover their nakedness. It was first printed in Geneva in 1560 several years after Carver’s death.
Carvers bible would have been the work of William Tyndale and fellow translators Miles Coverdale and John Rogers who edited the texts after Tyndale was himself martyred by burning in 1536 .
Tyndale used the Greek version of the texts which had been compiled by Erasmus of Rotterdam who had edited a parallel compilation of the best Latin and Greek manuscripts which was far superior to the rather corrupted Latin Vulgate which was used at the time. He used the Hebrew bible and lexicon to translate portions of the Old Testament. Tyndale was concerned that there was a lack of biblical knowledge among both clergy and laity and swore to a fellow cleric, “if God spared him life, ere many years he would cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of Scripture than he did”
We owe Tyndale an enormous debt for his scholarship, determination, and sheer bravery which saw the bible translated into English.
In Lewes we commemorate the brave men and women who read and were transformed by his work. They came to a living faith in Jesus having read His words and story in their native English and were willing to follow Him even into the flames, remembering like Carver the words from Wycliffe’s bible :
Matthew 16:24-26Wycliffe Bible (WYC)
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, If any man will come after me, deny he himself, and take his cross, and follow me;
25 for he that will make his life safe, shall lose it; and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it.
26 For what profiteth it to a man [Soothly what profiteth to a man], if he win all the world, and suffer impairing of his soul? or what (ex)changing shall a man give for his soul?