This is the story of how King George VI’s bible got to Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina.
King George VI (formerly Duke of York) became king of the United Kingdom when his brother Edward VII abdicated the throne to marry twice divorced American socialite Wallace Simpson.
The story begins in 1950, 14 years into his reign as king, and is the same monarch whose fight to overcome his stammering problem is the subject of the movie “The King’s Speech”.
It was during this time, when Queens College was preparing to dedicate the newly constructed Belk Chapel, that Miss Rena Harrell the school librarian came up with the idea to invite King George to donate a bible that could be used in the pulpit of Belk Chapel. Miss Harrell an enthusiastic Anglophile was crazy about all things British, including the Royal Family.
The king, known to be a religious man, had made gifts of bibles to churches, but up until 1950 only two had gone to the United States. A prayer book had been given to St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, and a bible had been given to St. James Church in Hyde Park, New York.
“As “Defender of the Faith” and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, titles that came with being king, His Majesty rarely passed up a public opportunity to invoke the Divine.
Days after the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, he told his subjects: “(we) reverently commit our cause to God.”
He also inscribed the following message in copies of the New Testament that were given to every British fighting man in that war:
“To all serving in my forces by sea or land, or in the air and indeed, to all my people engaged in the defense of the Realm, I commend the reading of this book. For centuries the Bible has been a wholesome and strengthening influence in our national life, and it behooves us in these momentous days to turn with renewed faith to this Divine source of comfort and inspiration.””
The good librarian did employ more than prayers in her quest for a donation from King George VI, she promoted a letter writing campaign. There was no Internet in the 1950’s, just a lot of hard work. Although many of the details of her campaign were lost in the “mists of history”, it has been said that Miss Harrell wrote many of the letters herself.
Help was also received from the United States Ambassador to Brazil and they also traded on the fact that Charlotte was named after a former queen of England. Through her prayers, creative resourcefulness, determination to make it happen, Miss Harrell managed to secure a bible from the king on a Sunday in March 1950.
King George VI, who was not a robust man, died in Feb 1952 George VI from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at Sandringham House in Norfolk, at the age of 56.
Some of the students and faculty at Queens came up with the idea to send Miss Harrell to the coronation of the kings daughter Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. A dream came true for Rena Harrell.
Miss Harrell died in 1973 and the bible now rests safely under glass in the library. When Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, George VI’s widow and Queen mother, died in 2002, the bible made a special appearance a month after her death at a memorial service in Meyers Park United Methodist church.
True to archival preservation, the holy book arrived in an acid-free archival box along with the white gloves which had to be used by anyone who touched the book.
This post summarizes another gem from the “Charlotte Observer”, today Saturday, February 12, 2011. If you’d like to read the article written by written by Tim Funk, please click on Charlotte Observer.