With the evolution of letterpress printing, literacy was not just limited to the elite. Since mass production was cheaper, it was accessible to an audience that previously did not have any access to it. With the exposure of letterpress printing, more people realized that religion could be used as a political tactic. It was not just limited to spirituality, but human politics.

 

Printer operating a Gutenberg style screw press. William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen. Fifteenth century. Published in The Graphic refering to The Caxton Celebration. 1877. Wikimedia Commons.

Printer operating a Gutenberg style screw press.
William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen. Fifteenth century. Published in The Graphic refering to The Caxton Celebration. 1877. Wikimedia Commons.

 

The concept of religion was prevalent in European countries with many people leaning towards Christianity. The invention of letterpress printing helped make the process of preaching religion an easier task. Instead of relying on the word of mouth, the printed paper was distributed widely throughout European countries. Many people including John Baskerville had their own printing press where they were able to produce mass copies of the Bible and distribute it amongst the people. The invention of this mechanical process also helped spread the word quicker through posters, whether it was a call for war, laws, or messages for the public. Just like Gutenberg’s 42 line bible.

 

A page from Gutenberg’s 42 line bible. Image by Parker Malenke. Photo taken on July 26, 2013. Flickr.

A page from Gutenberg’s 42 line bible. Image by Parker Malenke. Photo taken on July 26, 2013. Flickr.

 

At the time, Gutenberg was in the process of creating a bible which took a significant amount of time to complete due to setting the type page by page. While enduring the process, he was printing side jobs which some were mechanically printed and mass produced. One of those side prints were the mechanically printed letters of indulgence, c. 1454. Similar to Medieval Catholic Churches, There were firm speculations that Catholic priests were actively selling the forgiveness of sins to raise funds. Martin Luther was outraged at this practice due to its mass production and what the funds were being used for. He believed there were greater needs that the fundings could have been used for. This practice was one of many reasons that caused the reformation in the 16th century in which practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church was exercised and protested. The reformation caused religious and political dispute in Europe.

 

Thirty one line letters of indulgence. Johann Gutenberg. c. 1454. Wikimedia Commons.

Thirty one line letters of indulgence. Johann Gutenberg. c. 1454. Wikimedia Commons.

 

Despite the lack of resources like wealth, the Gutenberg’s letterpress printing took away the power from the catholic churches. This happened because religious scholars were only able to interpret divine scriptures. On the other hand, European troops, who were invading the world, were the ones who took it upon themselves to spread the religious teachings. Therefore, the letterpress printing enabled the masses to get in touch with the happenings of the world, break the isolation, and be global. Bringing forward the spread of ideas and controversial thoughts. Letterpress printing allowed the distribution of large amounts of information in a short time.