Johannes Gutenberg, the man who printed the western world’s first Bible

Johannes Gutenberg, the man who printed the western world’s first Bible

The invention by Johannes Gutenberg played a key role in the advancement of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation.

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, February 02, 2023, 05:38 PM IST
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Johannes Gutenberg, the man who printed the western world’s first Bible |

Johannes Gutenberg, the German craftsman and inventor who originated a method of printing from movable type, passed away on February 3, 1468, in Mainz. The invention by Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, played a key role in the advancement of the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Protestant Reformation.

Gutenberg's press was used to make the knowledge contained in books and literature more affordable and readily available. His press was where the Western world's first and most famous book, '42-Line Bible' also known as the Bible, was created.

Early Life

Johannes Gutenberg was born somewhere between 1394 and 1404 in the German city of Maniz, but at the time of the 500th Anniversary Gutenberg Festival on June 24, 1400 was decided as his 'official birthday'. Johannes was the middle child of Friele Gensfleisch zur Laden and his second wife, Else Wyrich.

Just like his exact date of birth, some parts of Gutenbver's early life and education are yet unknown. This is majorly because during that period it was common for a person's surname to be taken form the house or property where they lived, which means that as you moved the names also changed. The one thing that is known for sure is that Johannes lived in the Gutenberg house in Mainz.

In 1411, Gutenber was forced to leave and move to Altavilla (Eltville am Rhein) due to an uprising by craftsmen against aristocrats in Mainz. In Altavilla, they lived on an estate that was inherited by his mother, who, according to many historians, belonged to a family that had once been members of the German noble class.

Gutenberg studied goldsmithing at the University of Erfurt, where records show the names as JOhannes de Altavilla, claimed historian Heinrich Wallau. It is also known that he worked with his father as a goldsmith's apprentice.

But after this time the next 15 years of Gutenberg's life much similar to his early life are still a mystery.

There are no records of him being married or having any children, but there are some records that show that he was supposed to marry a Strasbourg woman named Ennelin, but in the end he broke the promise and remained single.

Gutenberg's Printing Press

By the early 1400s, European metalsmiths were masters at woodblock printing and engraving, and Gutenberg was one of them. Gutenberg learned about printing during his stay in Strasbourg, when the metalsmiths across the street were experimenting with printing presses. But it was in 1440 that it is believed that Gutenberg revealed his printing press secret in a book titled 'Aventur and Kunst' or Enterprise and Art. But whether he was successful in creating the movable printer during this time is not yet clear.

It was in 1448 that Gutenberg began to assemble his own printing press with the help of a loan from his brother-in-law. It took him two years to get his first press operation. He even took money from a wealthy moneylender named Johann Fust to help make his business successful. One of the first successful projects that was taken by him was the printing of thousands of indulgences for the Catholic church which gave instructions for reducing penance and in order to be forgiven for various sins.

It was in 1452 when Gutenberg got into a partnership with Fust to continue his printing experiments. He continued to refine the process until 1455, when he printed several copies of the Bible. The Gutenberg Bible featured 42 lines of type per page with colour illustrations, and it consisted of three volumes of text in Latin.

But his invention did not stay with him for long, as he had to give the machine to Fust after asked Gutenberg to return the money he had invested. Later, a virtually bankrupt Gutenberg started a smaller printing press, but due to his blindness, he gave up printing in 1460.

In 1465, the archbishop of Mainz recognised Gutenberg and granted him the title of Hofmann, a gentleman of the court. This offered him a stipend and fine clothing, as well as 2,180 litres of grains and 2,000 litres of wine, all tax-free.

He died on February 3, 1468, in Mainz. His grave was lost after World War II destroyed the church and the cemetery.

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