In January 1530 a priest named Thomas Hitton was making his way to Dover to catch a ship to Antwerp. Walking through fields near Gravesend, a posse of men looking for a thief who had stolen some clothes from a hedge, stopped him & searched him. They found none of the stolen clothes on him, but they did find letters written to certain ‘evangelicals’ on the continent. Aware of a recent change of policy on ‘heretics’, he was handed over to the officers of Archbishop of Canterbury for interrogation.
Hitton had recently visited William Tyndale and others in the Low Countries, and had returned to arrange distribution of forbidden books, including Tyndale’s new translation of the Pentateuch and the Psalter. Hitton was quickly interrogated, condemned, and burned alive at Maidstone on February 23rd 1530.
Hitton was the first martyr of the English English Reformation, first of many to lose their lives on both sides of the debate over the
future of the English church and nation, over the coming decades. In all our enthusiasm for the literary beauty and grandeur of the King James Bible, published 400 years ago this year, Hitton's story, as is Tyndale's, is a reminder that the appearance of the English Bible was not a gentle, affair sorted out by committees, but was won with blood and fire.
Bible translation was a dangerous business then. It could cost you your life. It still can. This week, Mary Gardner, another Bible translator lost her life because she had gone to Jerusalem to improve her Hebrew so she could better translate the Bible into the language of the people of Togo In west Africa. She caught in a blast that tore apart a bus, part of the ongoing tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No-one had heard of Mary Gardner before. She is a true heroine of the faith, joining the ranks of Hitton, Tyndale and numerous others who paid an ultimate price to allow others to read the subversive and life-giving message of the Bible.
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