The Reformation – John Rylands Library Manchester

King Henry VIII. Image courtesy of The John Rylands Library.


Although not my usual ‘What’s On’ blog of Contemporary Art, this exhibition ‘The Reformation’ from  The John Rylands Library in Manchester, one of Manchester’s iconic buildings and next to some of the ultra modern building of Spinningfields, focuses on a subject which continues to fascinate. And not just historians. Take the success of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’, and many still remember Keith Michelle’s portrayal of Henry VIII from TV’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

The Reformation

A monk who shattered the strength of the Catholic Church, a monarch who wanted to take more than one wife, a society that put sin up for sale – and the power of the printed word to challenge it all. To mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, The John Rylands Library in Manchester will present The Reformation (7 Sep 2017 – 4 Mar 2018), an exhibition that will explore a series of events that changed the course of history forever.

Martin Luther Portrait. Kunstsammlungen der Veste CoburgGermany.

In October 1517, German monk and scholar Martin Luther began questioning the Catholic Church, particularly for its sale of “indulgences”, or sins that could be forgiven – for a price. Luther may have remained a little-known scholar but for the fact that his words took shape in printed form, reaching thinkers all over the world – including the radical scholar, William Tyndale and one of history’s most notorious monarchs, King Henry VIII.

The Reformation invites visitors to journey through these tumultuous times and find out how Luther’s work led to the splintering of the Catholic Church in England. Learn how Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce led him to overthrow the Catholic Church and elect himself head of the Church of England and discover why William Tyndale’s translation of the bible into English is still felt in the language we speak today.

Julianne Simpson, Rare Books and Maps Manager at The John Rylands Library and Lead Curator of this exhibition said: ‘Much like the digital communications revolution of the 21st century, the invention of the printing press meant that news, ideas and opinions could spread rapidly across the globe. It’s been fascinating to delve into these three characters and explore how their radical ideas and actions changed our society.’

This latest exhibition explores the consequences of these events via rare religious tracts owned by The John Rylands Library, letters that positively spit blood, and one of the world’s earliest examples of print. Visitors will discover how revolutionary writing not only changed the course of English history. It shows us words that changed the world.

Simpson added: ‘I’m sure our visitors will be intrigued by the items in the exhibition; we want them to discover why the Reformation happened. We also hope they take the time to reflect on the impact of the Reformation and how it has shaped the modern world 500 years later.’

The Reformation runs from the 7 September 2017 to the 4 March 2018