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‘I found out Archbishop was Bible smuggler’ says biographer
AUTHOR Andrew Atherstone sacrificed part of his Christmas holiday to work on his biography of the new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
But the hard work paid off, with the new book revealing the astonishing story that Archbishop Welby smuggled Bibles in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
Rev Atherstone, 39, from Eynsham, was selected by a publisher last year to write the biography.
The father-of-three began his research when the 105th Archbishop was nominated in November to replace Rowan Williams.
He was the first to discover details of the Archbishop’s Bible smuggling activities.
The unauthorised biography – the first biography of Archbishop Welby to be published – was in the shops earlier this month, in time for the church leader’s enthronement today.
“I had to carry out a blitz of research for two months and found it a fascinating story,” said Rev Atherstone.
“We wanted the book to be out in time for the enthronement, so there wasn’t much Christmas holiday for me. From November 9 until January 21 it was an intense 10-week writing period and I would often be working until three in the morning.
“It was a mad rush getting the first draft ready for the deadline of Christmas Eve.
“The biography is unauthorised, so the Archbishop has not been involved, but I have spoken to his friends and colleagues from his student days and he has been very happy for me to speak to them.”
Rev Atherstone teaches Christian history at Wycliffe Hall in Banbury Road, North Oxford, a training college for Church of England vicars.
He is a member of Oxford University’s faculty of theology and has published a number of books on Anglicanism, including a biography of Oxford Anglican Charles Golightly called Oxford’s Protestant Spy.
Rev Atherstone added that one of the most enjoyable parts of tracing Archbishop Welby’s story, from his beginnings to the present day, was hunting through parish magazines in Southam, Warwickshire, where the archbishop worked as a rector in the mid-1990s.
“The best part of my research was digging up that he was a Bible smuggler in Eastern Europe in the early 1980s,” he said.
“He was recruited by the Eastern European Bible Mission and travelled around Romania during the Ceausescu regime.
“The camper van he was travelling in had Bibles hidden beneath false floorboards and as they travelled about he handed out the contraband Bibles.
“It was amazing to find this out by reading about it in parish magazines.”
Rev Atherstone added that Archbishop Welby also put himself at risk by working in conflict zones in Africa including Nigeria.
Mr Atherstone said: “He is willing to speak out on all sorts of issues and has hit the ground running.
“He is very bright, but not an academic.
“He communicates clearly, is confident with the media, and has a great sense of humour – I think the public will warm to him.
“I think I have got to know him through writing this book and have been impressed by his character and expertise.
“I have only told the start of the story, which is crying out for a fuller biography in the next few years.”
No-one from Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop, was available for comment.
Archbishop Justin Welby: The Road to Canterbury is published by Darton, Longman & Todd price £7.99.