John Wycliffe's Bible

No man is so rude a scholar but that he might learn the words of the Gospel according to his simplicity.

Written by John Wycliffe - what did he mean?

New Words

laity (or lay people):  people who are not priests or monks.

Heretics: people who believe wrong things about religion.  


It seems amazing to us today, but in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church forbade people to read the Bible in their own language.   The Council of Toulouse in 1229, forbade the laity  to read the Bible at all, even in Latin.   All that people were allowed was a 'book of hours' (a book of prayers and devotions) - and even these had to be in Latin.


John Wycliffe, a priest from Yorkshire, believed differently.   He said:


Those Heretics who pretend that the laity do not need to know Godís law, and that the things which priests have told them is enough, do not deserve to be listened to.   For the Bible is the faith of the Church, and the more widely it becomes known the better it will be.   Therefore since the laity should know the faith, it should be taught in whatever language is most easily understood.


In 1382, he translated the Bible into English.   


It is hard for us today to understand how exciting this was to the people of the time.   Although every copy had to be hand-written, thousands of bibles were made - 170 of them still survive today.   One man gave a wagon-load of hay for a few pages.   People who could not afford the whole Bible paid to read it for an hour.   Wycliffe trained preachers (called Lollards) to go round the country - people gathered in small groups to hear them reading out the words of the Bible in a language they could understand.


This made the Church angry.   Wycliffe was put on trial, but powerful friends stopped him being punished.   He died quietly in his bed in 1384.   Other Lollards were not so lucky.   In 1408, Wycliffe's Bible was outlawed.    Many Lollards were burned, with their Bibles hung round their necks.    In 1428, on order of the Pope, Wycliffe's body was dug up and burned, and his ashes thrown into the river.


But nothing could stop the English people reading the Bible in their own language.   Wycliffe said:


The Bible belongs to the people, and no one should be allowed to take it from them.    Christ converted the world by making God's truth known to men in a form familiar to them, and I pray with all my heart that through doing the things in this book we may all together come to everlasting life.



A good starting point would be:

The Medieval Church.

John Wycliffe


Read a famous passage from the Bible in Wycliffe's translation.


You could look at 19th century pictures of:


Wycliffe sending out his preachers


Wycliffe on trial

but you must remember that these sources are biased in their interpretation towards Wycliffe.


And see some more paintings by George Clausen:

Source A

After a painting by George Clausen (1852-1944).  Click here for a larger version, and here for a colour version.

It shows people of different ages and classes listening to a Lollard preacher reading aloud from the Bible.   

Can you see the ploughman and his wife and baby, the younger student looking over the preacher's shoulder, a young nobleman, a rich old woman with her daughter, and other country characters?   

The artist has accurately shown their clothes as they would have been at the end of the 15th century.

George Clausen trained in London as a decorator, before becoming a full-time artist.   Marrying in the 1880s, he moved to the countryside, and most of his paintings are impressionist rural scenes.


Task 1

Make a list of SIX things you can see happening in Source A.



Task 2

What does Source A suggest about people's faith in the 15th century?




Source B

He was a pestilential wretch of damnable memory ... the very herald and child of anti-Christ who, as the complement of wickedness, invented a new translation of Scripture into his mother tongue.

Written about Wycliffe by the Bishop of Arundel in 1405

Click here for an easier version.

A Passage from 

Wycliffe's Bible:

Oure fadir that art in heuenes, 

halewid be thi name; 

thi kyngdoom come to; 

be thi wille don `in erthe as in heuene; 

yyue to vs this dai oure `breed ouer othir substaunce; 

and foryyue to vs oure dettis, as we foryyuen to oure dettouris; 

and lede vs not in to temptacioun, 

but delyuere vs fro yuel.

Matthew 6:9-13


Can you recognise it?


Task 3

Does Source B support the picture given by the artist in Source A?   Explain your answer using both Sources.


Your name:


Your form: