"On Tuesday, 25 November 2014, word spread about the discovery of a “first folio” of the works of William Shakespeare, an artifact that news outlet placed somewhere between the holy grail and a black rhinoceros on the scale of metaphorical rarity. It was uncovered by some industrious librarians in St.-Omer, France, near the city of Calais, at a public library that already boasts possession of an even rarer Gutenberg Bible.
The folio, as the BBC noted, “collects 36 of Shakespeare’s 38 known plays for the first time, and was originally printed in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death.” As Jennifer Schuessler reported, the folio’s unearthing brings the total number of known Shakespeare compendiums to 233.
So how did a public library in northern France come into possession of such an artifact? Well, the mystique is only enhanced by the fact that the folio was absorbed by the library from a collection held by a now-defunct Jesuit college. Add that flourish to an already semi-simmering theory that Shakespeare was secretly a Catholic and you’ve got yourself a mystery (or a Dan Brown novel).
For centuries, Shakespeare’s status as an upstanding member of the Anglican Church was unimpeachable. His father held community positions that only Protestants could hold and his family’s names appear in church registries. Throughout his life, Shakespeare was said to be a member of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
But over the past century-and-a-half, based on his works and some biographical plot points, scholars and religious figures have begun to debate Shakespeare’s faith. In 2011, the Vatican’s official paper offered that Shakespeare “convincingly adhered to the Catholic faith,” submitting his inclusion of purgatory in “Hamlet” as part of the evidence."