THE King James Version of the Bible (KJV) was first published in 1611, and Monkstown is this week preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the momentous date with a number of special events.
The KJV is of globally recognised significance - historically, politically, culturally, linguistically and spiritually. Reverend Arlene Moore of the Church of the Good Shepherd (COGS) in Monkstown said: “It is important to value our heritage as we look to the future as a community. And part of that heritage is the Bible itself. But for an area like Newtownabbey and Monkstown that heritage goes way back beyond 1611 and the KJV.
“The borough of Newtownabbey and places like Whiteabbey, Abbeycentre, and Monkstown derive their names from the fact there was once an ancient Celtic Abbey in the area, located off the current Knockagh Road in Monkstown - and the ruins of this Abbey are just about still visible today and commemorated in local historian, Roddy Andrews’ book ‘Abbey in Shadowlands’.
“Monkstown Abbey predated any denominational divisions and is an echo of an era when local peoples enjoyed not just good relations but full unity.
“As we in Northern Ireland look towards a ‘shared future’ it is crucial to make our communities places where as Andrews’ describes, ‘yesterday is blended with today for the benefit of tomorrow’. With this in mind, various community groups in Monkstown are coming together from September 24 to October 2 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the KJV Bible and to highlight our local Celtic Christian heritage by producing a handwritten copy of the Gospels. This is quite a unique venture. No other region or group in the whole of the UK are commemorating the KJV anniversary in this way.
“Furthermore, apart from a complete Bible commissioned by the Northern Ireland Bible Society itself, only one other group in Northern Ireland has ever tackled producing Handwritten Scriptures, namely the Epistles of St Paul completed by St Paul’s Parish, Tartaraghan in 1999 for their own celebrations. No-one has ever tackled the Gospels or indeed linked a Handwritten Bible to local heritage.”
Reverend Moore said it seemed appropriate therefore that Monkstown should endeavour to produce a copy of the Gospels, the very Scriptures in particular which monks would have copied in Abbeys all over Ireland and possibly even in Monkstown Abbey itself.
“Newtownabbey Borough Council have given this project their full support and helped to finance many of the activities,” said Reverend Moore.
“The Handwriting will start on national ‘Back to Church Sunday’ - Sunday, September 25. Throughout the week there will be five main venues set up as writing stations where anyone can take part daily in this significant venture. These are,
• Abbey Presbyterian Church - Matthew’s Gospel;
• Monkstown Community Initiatives: the Care Centre and Fringe Youthworks - Mark’s Gospel;
• Hollybank Primary School and Monkstown Community School - Luke’s Gospel;
• Church of the Good Shepherd, Monkstown - John’s Gospel.
“When it is all completed the pages of handwritten Scripture will be bound into proper books. It is hoped that the Monkstown Community Handwritten Gospels will be a symbol and focus of unity and shared values in the community for years to come.”
Reverend Moore revealed that in addition to the handwriting of the Gospels there is also a programme of special events planned.
On Thursday, September 29, COGS will host an evening of Celtic Praise with Irish dancers from Knockagh School of Dance, the harpist Ciara Taafe from Dublin and Benedictine monks from Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor.
Throughout the week there will be daily readings from the KJV Bible at 4pm in COGS and displays from a whole host of organisations and denominations - including old maps and rare Bibles held by the Linenhall Library, army issue New Testaments and artefacts from the Somme Heritage Centre, translations of Bibles in many languages from the Bible Society in NI, exhibits from the Ulster Scots Agency, St Patrick’s Centre, Downpatrick, North Down Museum, Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Centre for Celtic Spirituality, Armagh; resources from Jordanstown Schools for the Deaf and Visually Impaired, icons from the Antiochan Orthodox Church, as well as information about the Moravians and Quaker faith communities.
On Saturday, October 1 there will be a Craft Fair and Community fun day at COGS with something for everyone from face painting, bouncy castle, DJ and cage football to balloons, magician, free hot dogs and burgers - you can even taste a Bible Cake!
The Ardglass Vikings will make an appearance along with King James himself, thanks to the Carrickfergus Living History actors, and there will be the opportunity try your hand at being a scribe or watch a contemporary calligrapher at work.
That evening the Low Country Boys and Liz Weir will lead an evening celebration of Ulster-Scots faith and culture, and on Sunday, October 2, the week will culminate with the dedication of the Handwritten Gospels by the Archdeacon of Belfast.
“Why not come along and help us re-create history and be part of forming tomorrow,” urged Reverend Moore.