Conflicting religious readings

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
 Library of the Russian Academy of Science [Библиотека Российской академии наук]: 484 (705), f. 150v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Conflicting religious readings
The Nuremberg Chronicles Conflicting religious readings

By kind permission of the Library of Russian Academy of Science.
Публикуется с разрешения Библиотеки Российской академии наук.

All Our Chronicles

This copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, held in St Petersburg in the Russian Academy of Sciences Library, illustrates the religious controversies raging in Reformation Europe, as it was annotated by two readers of different confessional views.

The page on display recounts short biographies of early popes alongside their portraits.  The reaction of a Protestant reader is clearly seen – he or she erased the word ‘papa’, leaving blank spaces in each paragraph. Such censorship was typical for Protestants, however, the Protestant reader of this copy of the Chronicle performed his job particularly fastidiously:  he or she not only blotted the word ‘papa’ out, but totally erased it throughout the book.

What is more interesting on this page is the response of another, Catholic reader. As we can see in the upper paragraph, this reader wrote the word ‘papa’ over the erased space, restoring the damage done by his or her predecessor.  

“A Catholic reader restored the damage done by the Protestant censor.”

It is not easy to define where and when these conflicting readings took place. Since the 19th century, this copy of the Chronicle belonged to one of the largest private libraries in the Russian Empire – that of the Mikhalkovs, an ancient Russian noble family. They had kept their collection in the Manor Petrovskoe in Yaroslavl Governorate, and in 1910 this magnificent library of 50 000 volumes was bequeathed to the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. The provenance of this book before the 19th century is vague,  but marginalia illustrates that in the  16th century it was in England.   There are two ownership inscriptions of a certain ‘Philip Pouel’, and a marginal note in English mockingly commenting on a woodcut: ‘…[t]hat bald he[a]d is the picter of Thomas H’.  So there is a possibility that the conflicting annotations of Protestant and Catholic readers may have reflected the fluctuations of the 16th-century English Reformation.


In the age of Reformation both Catholic and Protestant readers reacted to the way sacred history was presented in the Nuremberg Chronicle. They censored and supplemented its text,  carrying confessional debates into the margins of this world history.