The book that changed Europe

The book that changed Europe: Picart and Bernard's Religious Ceremonies of the World


 “All religions resemble each other in something. It is this resemblance that encourages minds of a certain boldness to risk the establishment of a project of universal syncretism. How beautiful it would be to arrive at that point and to be able to make people with an overly opinionated character understand that with the help of charity one finds everywhere brothers”

(Picart, 1727)

PICART, Bernard (1673-1733). The ceremonies and religious customs of the various nations of the known world... Faithfully translated into English, by a gentleman, some Time since of St John’s College in Oxford. London : printed by William Jackson, for Claude du Bosc, Engraver at the Golden Head in Charles-Street, Covent Garden, 1733

Provenance: William St Qunitin; Thomas Phillips, 1846

This six-volume work remains one of the most impressive records of the scholarship of eighteenth century France. It was intended as a description of all the religions of the then known world, their origins, doctrines and rites. It’s contents reveal its ambition: v. 1. The ceremonies of the Jews, and the Roman Catholics -- v. 2. A continuation of the dissertations concerning the customs and religious ceremonies of the Roman Catholics -- v. 3. The ceremonies of the idolatrous nations -- v. 4. The ceremonies and religious customs of the idolatrous nations (part 2) -- v. 5. The ceremonies of the Greeks and Protestants -- v. 6. In two parts: Part 1. The doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, of the Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, Quakers &c. Part 2. The various sects of Mahometans, with an appendix of the lives of Mohammed, Omar, and Ali.

Such ambition reflects in content and tone the self-confidence of the Ancien Régime. Just as impressive as the text, however, are the 243 engraved plates that illustrate it, and indeed the work is more frequently referred to today by the name of its illustrator, the artist Bernard Picart (1673-1733). Published ten years before Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Picart’s illustrations presented religious rites primarily as social customs, a useful and universal feature of human societies the world over.

See further:

Lynn Hunt, Margaret C. Jacob, Wijnand Mijnhardt, The Book that Chaged Europe. Picart and Bernard's Religious Ceremonies of the World (London, 2010)