Exhibition commemorates the Reformation

The Anglican
 on April 1, 2017

On the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto will be holding an exhibition of books, manuscripts, pamphlets and engravings from the religious revolution that took place in the Western church.

The exhibition, called “Flickering of the Flame: The Book and the Reformation,” will run from Oct. 4 to Christmas. Admission is free. The library is located at 120 St. George St., Toronto.

As its name suggests, the exhibition will show how print played a key role in the emergence and development of the Reformation. In addition to some of the more famous books, such as a first edition Book of Common Prayer from 1549, there will be lesser known items such as pamphlets and caricatures created by Martin Luther, the German monk who officially launched the Reformation in 1517. Another seldom seen artifact on display will be an indulgence, a printed piece of paper sold by the Roman Catholic Church in medieval times to absolve sins.

The exhibition will have several sections on the reformation of the church in England. There will be an original copy of Henry VIII’s “primer,” which begins to establish what form of liturgy the Church of England will use. There will be a 1559 Book of Common Prayer, used during the reign of Elizabeth I and her successors for nearly 100 years. Another part of this section will show how Roman Catholics responded to the changes taking place in the English church.

Propaganda was used extensively during the Reformation. The exhibition will show a first edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, one of the most important books for developing the idea of England as a Protestant country. The library has every edition of the book since 1561 – and the Catholic responses to it, urging the English not to abandon their Catholic heritage.

“The exhibition is very much about that struggle that goes on to win over hearts and minds through the official documents, like bibles and prayer books, but also through propaganda,” says Pearce Carefoote, curator of the exhibition and interim head of the Department of Rare Books and Collections at the library. “A lot of the propaganda is illustrated because that was the best way to get people’s attention, especially in a time when literacy was not quite up to snuff.”

The exhibition looks at the Reformation in Scotland and in Europe. There is also a section of how the Reformation unfolded in North America with the arrival of the Puritans and Catholic orders such as the Jesuits.

There will be about 100 items on display, giving visitors an in-depth look at the momentous changes in the church – changes that are still felt today. “These documents remind us of where we come from,” says Dr. Carefoote. “It’s very important to do that – to realize the struggle that was there to reform the church.”

For more information, visit the library’s website,


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