If all goes well, we will be moving soon to a small town an hour-and-a-half away on the fast road, or several hours meandering through curvy little by-ways near the ocean, through thick forests, along many lakes and farm meadows, until we reach the village of Bible Hill. I had thought the place might be the site of a Christian college or of an especially large old church, or even that the place was named after a settler family with the unlikely last name of Bible. As it turned out, it was none of these.
Local people sometimes refer to a “Holy Well” that used to be there, just below the large but not very high hill on which the village is located. I know there are many such holy wells in Europe, ancient places that were used even before Christian times for sacred rituals or healings, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to home. It seems that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the French-speaking pioneers known as Acadians found a spring at that location of which the water was very pure and sweet. It was therefore the place to get “holy water” for Roman Catholic ceremonies, particularly baptism. And it is not impossible that the location held a similar special interest for the Mi’kmaq tribes in the area before the arrival of the Acadians.
A tragic scene played out starting in 1755, when British troops in response to competition and hostility from France, expelled most of the Acadians. Their homes and barns were put to the flames, and a few years thereafter Protestant and British settlers were welcomed in. One of the English-speaking pioneers then found the remains of a French Bible near the “Holy Well.” And so the first hint of association was made between the hill and the Bible.
Over the next generation, a certain Matthew Archibald, an Ulster-Scot (and therefore usually called “Irish”) lived in a house at the top of the hill. This man was what people would call an outstanding citizen — a farmer, tanner, justice of the peace, county coroner, and member of the provincial legislature. He was also reputed to be very pious, often seen with a Bible in his hand. This strengthened the association of hill and book. Many area people believe it was mainly because of Matthew that the village got its name, and every year they still hold a festival to honor him.
That’s not the end of the story, because during the 1800s, a Reverend William McCullough of the Presbyterian Church lived in the old Archibald house, and he continued the practice of his father of handing out a Bible without-charge to any one who cared to walk to the house on the hill to obtain one. For almost fifty years, the free distribution, a considerable expense in those days, spread Bibles through the village and beyond. By then the connection we’re speaking of had become etched in stone.
Today, the community is more multicultural, being known also as the home of Atlantic Canada’s first mosque and first Islamic community center. It’s the contemporary world, but it would seem that the name of the village has been proudly owned and accepted by most everyone in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.