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Category: Medieval manuscripts
Medieval manuscripts are written by hand; in Western Europe, they are usually written on the prepared skins of cows, goats, or sheep. Earlier Romans like the Egyptians used papyrus. First, manuscripts were rolled and are referred to as scrolls. Later, most Medieval manuscripts were produced on roughly rectangular pieces of prepared animal skins that were then stacked and bound on one side, much like the familiar printed book. This kind of binding is referred to as a codex.
By the first century BC there existed at Rome notebooks made of leaves of parchment, used for rough copy, first drafts, and notes. By the first century AD such manuals were used for commercial copies of classical literature. The Christians adopted this parchment manual format for the Scriptures used in their liturgy because a codex is easier to handle than a scroll and because one can write on both sides of a parchment but on only one side of a papyrus scroll. By the early second century all Scripture was reproduced in codex form. In traditional Christian iconography, therefore, the Hebrew prophets are represented holding scrolls and the Evangelists holding codices (AHDs.v. codex).
Manuscripts may be subdivided into various classes or kinds. There are illuminated manuscripts, carefully illustrated with drawings and colored ink embellishments, including gold leaf. There are large, ornate display Gospels, containing the first four books of the New Testament like The Book of Lindisfarne and The Books of Kells. There are also elaborate personal prayer books known as Books of Hours, and many other kinds of manuscripts.
The Benedictine monastery of Reichenau was founded in 724, and by the Carolingian era, was one of the most important scriptoria in Europe, with particularly strong ties to Ireland.
Baden State Library in Karlsruhe has released high-quality digital images of 224 fragments (some small pieces, other several folios) from the Reichenau library. The site is here. Notice that “fragment” is used very loosely; when you are navigating through the images, be aware that most of the fragments contain a number of images, of ms. pieces and entire folios.
The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important mss. we have, and the oldest extant New Testament. The fourth century (c. 350) Greek ms. is over 1600 years old and contains the complete Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. The other central “complete” ms. bible is Codex Vaticanus, which varies in several ways from this carefully corrected ms. The Codex Sinaiticus has been in four sections for several hundred years. In 1844 a German Biblical scholar, Konstantin von Tischendorf, found several folios of the ms. at Saint Catherine’s Monastery by Mount Sinai. He brought part of the ms. to Leipzig University Library. Later he brought other sections to Russia. The Project, a collaborative work between the Russian National Library, the British Library and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, has digitized the entire ms. and will be placing high resolution images on the Internet starting July 24 here. You’ll note, if you look at the sample image aboveimage from the end of Jeremiah and the beginning of Lamentations, that the Codex was written before word spaces were used.
A driver of a backhoe in Ireland’s Faddan More in north Tipperary has discovered a small psalter. He was digging peat for use in commercial potting soil. The tannin in the peat preserved the vellum (specially prepared cow hide, used to make the medieval manuscript) much as the Irish bogs preserve bodies for hundreds of years. Once the backhoe operator realized what he had found, he immediately covered the medieval psalm collection with moist peat, very cleverly preventing it from being destroyed by exposure to air. Bernard Meehan, the curator of manuscripts at Trinity College Library, Dublin (the eventual home of the Faddan More psalter), said
Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800AD— but how soon after this date it was lost we may never know.
The psalter is bound in leather, with a fairly common style of thick wrap-around leather cover (often compared to a wallet) and contains about twenty large folios, with about 45 letters per line and a maximum of 40 lines per page. The actual ms. is now loose within the cover. When it was found, it was open to Psalm 83, in the Vulgate, or 84, in the modern numbering system (modern English Bibles follow the Masoretic or Hebrew numbering of the Psalms). In other words, it’s part of this:
Faddan More psalter
In finem pro torcularibus filiis Core psalmus quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum concupiscit et defecit anima mea in atria Domini cor meum et caro mea exultavit in Deum vivum etenim passer invenit sibi; domum et turtur nidum sibi ubi ponat pullos suos altaria tua Domine virtutum rex meus et Deus meus beati qui habitant in domo tua in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te diapsalma beatus vir cui est auxilium abs te ascensiones in corde suo disposuit in valle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit etenim benedictiones dabit legis dator ibunt de virtute in virtutem videbitur Deus deorum in Sion Domine Deus virtutum exaudi orationem meam auribus percipe Deus Iacob diapsalma protector noster aspice Deus et respice in faciem christi tui quia melior est dies una in atriis tuis super milia elegi abiectus esse in domo Dei mei magis quam habitare in tabernaculis peccatorum quia misericordiam et veritatem diligit; Deus gratiam et gloriam dabit Dominus non privabit bonis eos qui ambulant in innocentia Domine virtutum beatus vir qui sperat in te
News reports keep mentioning the Book of Kells, probably because it’s the most famous Irish manuscript; a better comparison would be the Cathach of St. Columba, R.I.A. MS 12 R 33, c. A.D. 560-630. This is not the same period as the bog find, but it’s a better match in terms of the type of ms. than Kells is. The text of the Psalms is in Latin, but there are glosses and rubrics in Old Irish, making this the earliest extant example of Irish (exclusive of ogham inscriptions). The Book of Kells is a huge book, containing the text of the Gospels, and extensively ornamented; not something to be used daily. Kells is and was an exhibition piece; this new find looks to be a working psalter.
UPDATE 8/5/2006: Morefragments of the Faddan More psalter have surfaced in the bog owned by Kevin and Patrick Leonard in Faddan More in north Tipperary. Pieces of the cover, and a leather bag used to carry and protect the book were also located. Some years previously a fine leather bag was located in the same bog, which perhaps lends credence to the current theory that the psalter was deliberately hidden by someone who intended to collect it later, some thousand or so years ago.
In a 1990 seminar Derek Pearsall made a passing reference to the Gough Map, in a discussion of the journey Gawain makes across the realm of Logres, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
The Gough Map is the oldest surviving road map of Great Britain, dating from around 1360. It’s roughly oblong in shape, made of two pieces of vellem, and is half map and half sketch. Not much is known about its provenance; the map was given to the Bodleian library in 1809 by its owner, Richard Gough. The dating is based on the inks and materials used to make the map, and on the place names.
691. Now rideȝ þis renk þurȝ þe ryalme of Logres,
692. Sir Gauan, on Godeȝ halue, þaȝ hym no gomen þoȝt.
693. Oft leudleȝ alone he lengez on nyȝtez
694. Þer he fonde noȝt hym byfore þe fare þat he lyked.
695. Hade he no fere bot his fole bi fryþez and dounez,
696. Ne no gome bot God bi gate wyþ to karp,
697. Til þat he neȝed ful neghe into þe Norþe Walez.
698. Alle þe iles of Anglesay on lyft half he haldez,
699. And farez; ouer þe fordez by þe forlondez,
700. Ouer at þe Holy Hede, til he hade eft bonk
701. In þe wyldrenesse of Wyrale; wonde þer bot lyte
702. Þat auþer God oþer gome wyþ goud hert louied.
703. And ay he frayned, as he ferde, at frekez þat he met,
704. If þay hade herde any karp of a knyȝt grene,
705. In any grounde þeraboute, of þe grene chapel;
706. And al nykked hym wyþ nay, þat neuer in her lyue
707. Þay seȝe neuer no segge þat watz of suche hwez
If Sara Zettle sent you, I’m especially pleased that I can tell you there’s more news about the medieval Cornish mystery play fragment rediscovered in 2000. Thanks to Alan Hawke, I can tell you that the National Library of Wales has added high quality digital images of both the Beunans Ke manuscript NLW MS 23849D and the Beunans Meriasek manuscript Peniarth 105B, to their Digital Mirror collection. Andrew Hawke adds that Michael Polkinhorn has provided a collaborative translation online here.
The National Art Collections Fund is spearheading the campaign to save the remarkable 14th-century Macclesfield Psalter for the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
The Macclesfield Psalter is a jewel-like treasury consisting of 252 richly-illustrated pages providing a fascinating record of medieval English humour, and teeming with highly surreal and imaginative marginal illustrations. This exquisite manuscript was sold to the Getty Museum, California, at auction in June for £1,717,335. However, the Government’s export system, which recognised the outstanding importance of the Psalter to this country, gave the UK the chance to match this sum.
As of today, only £96,511 more needs to be raised in order to keep the Macclesfield Psalter on view in the UK for all to see. We have until 10 February 2005 to raise the remaining funds.
Ordinarily, I’m in favor of the Getty buying manuscripts; they’re in my back yard, so to speak. But this is a special case. We know a fair bit about the manuscript; it was almost certainly a local product in every sense of the phrase, created in East Anglia (likely in Goreleston) for a local landowner. There are incredible miniatures, and fascinating marginal figures. The miniatures, which are of such high quality that it’s clear they’re the work of a master, include images of the patron saints of Suffolk and the Gorleston church, localizing the manuscript. The marginal “border” illustrations are particularly interesting because they feature the kind of “world upside down images” that are subversive comments on the main images, or, more likely in this case, (following Dr. Ruth Mellinkoff’s argument) attempts to distract or avert the devil or other evil influences.
The scribe of the Macclesfield Psalter is likely the scribe of the no longer extant Douai Psalter and the Gorelston Psalter. Some illumination by the same artist was part of the Douai Psalter (destroyed inadvertantly because of poor storage during World War I when the Douai Psalter was buried in a zinc box to hide it from enemy troops).
You can read more about the Macclesfield Psalter here, and see some images here, and donate online here. They’ve come very close to matching the Getty price; they’ve enough for 245 of the 252 leaves.
One of my very first interests in terms of computers and scholarship was the potential of digital editions; I wrote about it a bit in my “What’s a Digital Medievalist” page. On my static web site, I have a page on digitizing manuscripts, one on Celtic medieval manuscripts, and one on manuscripts in general. I’ve been bookmarking sites for a while, thinking I’d update those pages, but digital manuscript editions are fortunately increasingly common, and I’m pretty preoccupied right now. My current obsession, and the necessity of paying tuition fees, mean that I’m not going to be updating those pages until next year.
Thanks to Del.icio.us, I’ve started accumulating links to complete digital manuscripts, and making them publicly available. I’m not trying to be complete about this, and I’m not trying to bookmark the individual manuscripts of frame-based sites like the excellent Irish Script on Screen site for Irish mss. I’m also not really tracking digital manuscripts that are Latin only; I’m a vernacular person. Mostly. I’ll add links if people send them to me. I’m not including the flash-based sites, like the otherwise excellent British Library Turning the Pages manuscripts. The Digital Manuscripts links page is here, and there’s an .RSS feed you can subscribe to, so you’ll be notified of updates.