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Cover of the Miles Coverdale Bible in the British Museum

St John’s Gospel – Prologue

Translated by Miles Coverdale [1535]

In the begynnynge was the worde, and the worde was with God, and God was ye worde. The same was in the begynnynge wt God. All thinges were made by the same, and without the same was made nothinge that was made. In him was the life, and the life was the light of men: and the light shyneth in the darknesse, and the darknesse comprehended it not. There was sent from God a man, whose name was Ihon. The same came for a witnesse, to beare wytnesse of ye light, that thorow him they all might beleue. He was not that light, but that he might beare witnesse of ye light. That was the true light, which lighteth all men, that come in to this worlde. 10 He was in the worlde, and the worlde was made by him, and ye worlde knewe him not. 11 He came in to his awne, and his awne receaued him not. 12 But as many as receaued him, to them gaue he power to be the children of God: euen soch as beleue in his name. 13 Which are not borne of bloude, ner of the wyl of the flesh, ner of the wyl of man, but of God. 14 And the worde became flesh, and dwelt amonge vs: and we sawe his glory, a glory as of the onely begotte sonne of the father, full of grace and trueth.

Cistercian monks’ numeral system once competed with Roman numerals

Used widely by religious communities in the Middle Ages, it fell out of style when printing became widespread.

Before the Arabic system became cemented as the world standard of numbers, there were Roman numerals. Each conquered nation adopted the Romans’ counting style, spreading the system across Europe and into Asia. The system is not without its difficulties, however, and some folks strove to make a simpler, easier to follow system. That’s where medieval Cistercian monks came in.

From the 13th to 15th centuries the Cistercian monks of Europe developed and used a brand-new numeral system. Called Cistercian numerals, this counting method is notable for its incredibly condensed form. Just a few lines could record any number from 1-9999. At a glance the system can seem dizzying, but the numbers don’t lie — they’re just hard for us to understand.