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French town's historic links to Joe Biden's inauguration

Family bible the President used at his swearing-in ceremony is a well-known English translation that was first published in France - while his middle name also has French origins

22 January 2021
By Connexion journalist

Almost every President of the United States of America has sworn the oath using a copy of the bible with personal or historical importance - and Joe Biden was no exception.

The impressively thick bible he used at his inauguration was a Douai bible that has been in his family since 1893.

It is a faithful English translation from the Latin Vulgate, that was first produced and published in the 16th century at a seminary in Douai, now in the Nord department. It is sometimes regarded as influencing the King James bible.

In 1562, the King of Spain, Philip II, founded a university in the then-prosperous town, with the support of Popes Paul IV and Pius IV. It's foundation coincided with the arrival of a large number of Catholics from England, following the reimposition of Protestantism during the reign of Elizabeth I.

They set up an English seminary at the university, where the translations were published from 1582.

President Biden has used the same bible at all his investitures since 1973, including seven times as senator of Delaware, twice as vice-president and now once as President. His late son Beau used the same volume when he was sworn in as Attorney General of Delaware. 

Vice-President Kamala Harris chose to use two bibles for her investiture - one belonging to a friend she considers her 'second mother', and another that was once owned by Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court judge.

In 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, and then used one that had been the property of Martin Luther King at his second ceremony.

Donald Trump also used Lincoln's bible, stacked on top of one that had been his own maternal grandmother's.

Several presidents, including Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, have used the bible that George Washington was sworn-in with in 1789.

Only rarely has a new US President not used a bible at his investiture. Lyndon Johnson used a missal - a liturgical book containing all instructions and texts necessary for the celebration of Mass - when he was sworn-in following the assassination of John F Kennedy, as it was the only religious book that could be found on Air Force One.

One final piece of Biden-France trivia. The R in Joseph R Biden stands for Robinette, and was his paternal grandmother's maiden name. She was a descendant of French Huguenots, who emigrated firstly to England and then to Pennsylvania. It comes from the French for 'tap' - robinet. 

The word robinet has an interesting etymology of its own. It comes from the name Robin - a proper name often given to shepherds and those who worked with sheep in the Middle Ages. It was linked, with the suffix, to taps because the ends of fountain pipes were often decorated with a stylised sheep's head. The hard 't' sound used at the end of President Biden's middle name is believed to be a result of English pronunciation of the original word.

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