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The 1,500-page Bible, a copy of Martin Luther's translation, was printed in Germany in 1670, researchers told WLUK-TV, the local Fox affiliate.
Debra Court found it while searching for old baptism records to show her students, but she thought it was just an old book. That was two years ago.
Eventually the church's pastor, Timothy Shoup, sent images of it to researchers at Concordia Seminary Library in St. Louis, who have now identified it. The library's Lyle Buettner said only about 40 copies are known, though it's likely many more are undocumented.
Describing the hand-illustrated text, Buettner told WLUK-TV: "Each time I see an illustration like this, I just think of how beautiful it looks and how much of a labor of love it must have been for the person who actually drew it."
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Shoup told the Associated Press that the church has no idea how it came to possess the Bible. "We don't know how it got into the safe. We've been asking some of our elderly folks and people in the nursing home and nobody seems to remember." The church will be 150 years old in 2013.
Watch the video report below, courtesy of WLUK:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Bonduel was in Missouri.
(Screenshot via WLUK-TV)
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- in St. Louis