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The Reina-Valera Bible: From Dream to Reality

by Jorge A. González

The Spanish Bible most frequently used in Hispanic Protestant churches, the classic Reina-Valera version, owes its name to Casiodoro de Reina and Cipriano de Valera, two sixteenth century Spanish reformers. It was Reina who published the “Bear Bible” in Basel in 1569. Valera edited a revised New Testament in London in 1596, and six years later, in Amsterdam in 1602, the complete Bible. Without detracting from the recognition which these men deserve, this article points out that the Reina-Valera Bible is in fact the end product of the collective efforts of a larger group of people who were obsessed by a dream: to provide Spain with the Scriptures in its vernacular.

Both Casiodoro de Reina and Cipriano de Valera were part of a group of twelve monks from the Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo, in Santiponce near Seville, who fled to Geneva in 1557, when the Inquisition unleashed its wrath against the “Lutherans” of Seville. Others had preceded them. Among them was Doctor Juan Pérez de Pineda, headmaster of the Colegio de los Niños de la Doctrina in Seville, who later became a member of the company of pastors of Calvin’s Geneva. From 1556 through 1560, Juan Pérez published in Geneva, at the press of Jean Crispin, a number of works designed to introduce Protestant ideas in Spain. Among them were his El Testamento Nuevo de Nuestro Señor y Salvador Jesu Christo (1556) and Los Psalmos de David (1557). These works were first steps toward an eventual publication of the Bible in Spanish. Pérez did not see most of his works through the press himself, for it was during this period that he was absent from Geneva for almost two years, due to problems which arose in 1554 in the French Church of Frankfurt-am-Main regarding the manner of the observance of Holy Communion. By September 1556, the crisis had reached the point where it became necessary for John Calvin and a group of notables of the Genevan Church to go to Frankfurt to arbitrate in the dispute between the minister, Valerand Poullain, and the Consistory which was led by the French merchant Agustin Legrand. Pérez was a member of the delegation, and when the others returned to Geneva he remained at Frankfurt through June, 1558. It was during his stay there that he established a fund to be used for the publication of the projected Spanish Bible. The money was deposited with Agustin Legrand, who served as its administrator and chief trustee.

The Isidorean monks arrived in Geneva while Juan Pérez was away in Frankfurt. In his absence Casiodoro de Reina became the spiritual guide of the small community of exiled Spaniards. His leadership was so much felt among the group that he became known as “The Moses of the Spaniards.” But he soon ran into trouble because of his commitment to conciliatory irenic principles, which were not very much appreciated in the sixteenth century. From the moment of his arrival he had lifted a voice of protest and censure against Geneva’s justice for having condemned Servetus to be burnt at the stake. In 1558, Reina declared that Geneva had become “a new Rome” and, followed by several of his fellow monks from San Isidoro, left for Frankfurt. At about this same time John Calvin called Juan Pérez back to Geneva, probably to help calm the Spaniards who had been roused up by Reina. It is not certain whether Reina and Pérez met at this time in Frankfurt or in Geneva. It is most probable, however, that the two discussed some time during this period the possibility of publishing the Bible in Spanish, for it is from this time that Reina dates the beginning of his work on the Scriptures, as can be seen from the preface of his “Bear Bible” and from the autograph dedicatory of the copy which he donated to the University of Basel.

Upon the accession of Elizabeth to the throne of England, Casiodoro went on to London, where he continued work on the Bible translation. There is ample evidence that by this time the plans for publishing the Bible were some kind of group project. For example, in the letter which Bishop Alvaro de Quadra, the Spanish Ambassador to England, wrote to King Philip II on June 26, 1563, he reports the arrival in London of Don Francisco Zapata, who was living in Reina’s house, and who had come to England for the purpose of working with Casiodoro de Reina “and others” on the Spanish Bible.

A manuscript found at the Bodleian Library gives further evidence of the fact that the Spanish Bible was a community project. This manuscript consists of 613 folios written on both sides, two columns to the page. The left-hand column, written by several hands, has the text of the “Ferrara” Bible from Genesis 1 through I Kings 15:22, where it abruptly ends before the last word of the verse. The right column, also the product of several different handwritings, which are not the same as those in the other column, is evidently the draft for a new version of the Bible. The right-hand column appears only from Genesis 1 through Exodus 23, is blank from there through the end of Leviticus, and at that point the text reappears again from Numbers 1 through 27. This manuscript has been identified as “an early draft of the Bible which Valera published in 1602, quite different from the finished product.” While a definitive statement of fact must await a complete study of this manuscript, it should be noted that Valera’s Bible was a revision of Reina’s and not a piece of original work. But this manuscript with its several different handwritings may be representative of the type of collective work to which Quadra referred in his letter.

A third piece of evidence for the thesis of the Bible as a communal project comes from the letter which Antonio del Corro wrote to Casiodoro de Reina from Teobon on Christmas Eve, 1563. Corro was an Isidorean monk who became a minister in France, and who appears in the records of the French church under the name “Bellerive.” In this letter he advises Reina that he has made arrangements for the printing of the Bible with a printer who has offered to print 1,200 copies with verse divisions, in folio size, for four and a half reales each if they provide the paper, or six reales if this is to be the printer’s responsibility. He assures Reina that there will be no difficulty in securing the paper, for there are three or four paper mills nearby and, as to a place to set up the printing press, the Queen of Navarra has offered one of her castles. The only difficulty will be, he says, with the proofreading of the text, and to that end he suggests that Reina bring Cipriano de Valera with him to work as proofreader.

Reina never received the letter. It arrived in London after he had fled England under accusations of heresy and sodomy. With a price placed on his head by the Spanish authorities, Casiodoro sought refuge in Antwerp, Frankfurt, Orleans, and finally in Bergerac, where his friend Corro was a pastor.

Later, when Princess Renée de France took Corro to her castle at Montargis to serve as her chaplain, Reina accompanied him. There the two had ample time to talk about the plans for the Spanish Bible with Juan Pérez, who at the time was also serving as Renée’s chaplain. Perhaps the Princess expressed some interest in the project, since the “Ferrara Bible,” published eleven years before by the crypto-Jews Yom Tob Leví Atías (Jerónimo de Vargas) and Abraham Ben Salomón Usque (Duarte Pinel), was dedicated to her husband, Ercole II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. When Reina published his own Bible in 1569, he used as one of his main sources this Jewish Bible which he calls “the ancient Spanish translation of the Old Testament provided in Ferrara.” Reina would not have called “ancient” a book printed barely four years before he began his own translation unless he was referring, not to the time when it was printed, but to the antiquity of the translation itself. In fact, this version is one which had long circulated among the Jews of Spain and of which we can find earlier evidence in the Polyglot Pentateuch published by Eliezer B. Gerson Soncino in Constantinople in 1547. This Pentateuch includes a text in Spanish printed in Hebrew characters, as was the custom of the Sephardic Jews. Comparison of this ladino text with the Ferrara Bible convinces me that both are representatives of the same textual tradition.

Reina’s own work was concentrated on the Old Testament. His plans were to use Pérez’s New Testament which was then being reprinted in Paris. On the morning of October 20, 1566, Juan Pérez died in the arms of his friend Antonio del Corro. Corro left the matter of publication of the New Testament in the hands of Pérez’s assistants, Bartolomé Gómez and Diego López. According to Corro, Pérez died without leaving a will, but in his death bed he made known his wishes that Renée was to be his universal heir. She was to see that the New Testament was published using the funds derived from the sale of his belongings. Gómez and López objected to such an arrangement. They wanted that the money which Pérez had left deposited with Agustin Legrand be also applied to their project. Corro was opposed to such a use of the funds, since they were to be used for the publication of the entire Bible. The Consistory of Paris was called to intervene in the rather nasty quarrel which ensued, and it decreed that the sum of 300 crowns was to be given from the Frankfurt fund to Gómez and López for the publication of the New Testament, while the balance of the one thousand “escudos” which Legrand held in trust were to be used in the publication of the Bible.

The Paris New Testament was never published. On April 6, 1568, Phillip II wrote to his ambassador in France Don Francisco de Avala, instructing him to confiscate the original draft and to burn the portions which had been printed. Thus Reina had to prepare his own translation of the New Testament. The Pérez fund, however, was made available to him for the publication of the Bible, and it was with this money that he contracted with the famous printer Oparino for the printing of the work of so many for so many years. Unfortunately Oparino died after he had collected the money but before he had been able to deliver on the contract. The money was lost. But again the friends and funds from Frankfurt came to the rescue, and the first edition of the Spanish Bible, the culmination of the dreams, hopes and aspirations of a wandering group of Spanish exiles, saw the light in Basel, Switzerland, in 1569.


For full bibliographical information on the sources used in this article, see my monograph Casiodoro de Reina: Traductor de la Biblia en español. (Mexico, 1969). In the Summer of 1980, I traveled extensively in Europe collecting and copying thousands of pages of manuscripts related to the lives of Casiodoro de Reina and other Spanish reformers of the sixteenth century. This will serve as the basis for further research in this area of our history.

Jorge A. González


La Biblia de Casiodoro de Reina es en realidad el resultado del esfuerzo y trabajo conjunto de un grupo de personas, y no de Reina individualmente. El autor bosqueja parte de la odisea de Casiodoro de Reina en su proyecto de traducir la Biblia, y muestra la ayuda que obtuvo de otros. Como pruebas de que la Biblia en castellano fue un proyecto conjunto, aduce la correspondencia entre Felipe II y su embajador en Inglaterra, una carta de Antonio del Corro a Casiodoro de Reina, y un manuscrito de la Biblioteca Bodleiana en que aparecen porciones del Antiguo Testamento traducidas al castellano y escritas por diferentes personas. El autor nos promete otros trabajos sobre tan interesante asunto.


One response to “The Reina-Valera Bible: From Dream to Reality”

  1. Glenn Wakefield

    I am very much interested Reina and Valera and especially their connection with Servetus. As mentioned in this article, Reina had lifted a protest against the cruel treatment of Servetus.

    Very Good Stuff. Muchas Gracias. If you could direct me to mor info I would greatly appreciate it.

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