A Carolingian Masterpiece: the Moutier-Grandval Bible
On Christmas Day of the year 800, Charlemagne, King of the Franks, was crowned Europe’s first Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III. Many people, including Charlemagne himself, saw the empire he had established (called Carolingian in his honour) as a continuation of that of the Romans, and the Christmas ceremony in Rome confirmed this in the eyes of the world.
Charlemagne was committed to resurrecting the classical scholarship of Greece and Rome that many felt was lost during the so-called Dark Ages, and he gathered intellectuals from around Europe to his court in Aachen. One notable recruit was the English cleric Alcuin of York (c. 735 - 804), who joined Charlemagne's ambitious project around 781. Alcuin became the leading figure in the group of scholars and artists assembled to stimulate the cultural revival that became known as the 'Carolingian Renaissance'. This Renaissance was focused on Charlemagne’s Court at Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) and monasteries such as Tours, where Alcuin was abbot.
The frontispiece to Genesis, depicting the Creation of Adam and Eve, their Temptation and Expulsion from the idealised landscape of Eden to labour on thorny soil, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 5v
One of Alcuin's contributions was to produce an emended version of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Subsequently a number of single volume Bibles were produced by teams of scribes and artists at his abbey of Tours, for distribution around Charlemagne’s empire. We are delighted to announce that the one of the great products of that scriptorium, the Moutier-Grandval Bible, made under Abbot Adalhard (834-843), is now available online on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website here.
Miniature of Christ in Majesty, surrounded by the Evangelists and their symbols, , from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 352v
This immense pandect—it is an enormous 495 x 380 mm, and has 449 folios—is one of three surviving illustrated copies produced in Tours in the 9th century. The four full-page miniatures reveal this manuscript’s debt to classical art. The decorated initials are followed by square capitals and uncials which lead into the text script, which is a form of caroline minuscule, upgraded here by the introduction of some variant letter-forms such as 'a'. Some twenty different scribes worked on the manuscript, a signal of the scale of book production at Tours during this period.
Decorated initial ‘F’(rater Ambrosius) from the beginning of Jerome’s prologue to the Bible in the form of a letter to Paulinus, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 2r
The manuscript takes its name from the monastery of Moutier-Grandval, in the canton of Berne, Switzerland, where it was housed from at least the 16th century until the 18th when it made its way into private hands. Little evidence exists concerning the Bible’s early history, but it is possible that it belonged to Moutier-Grandval from the very beginning, as the Tours scriptorium routinely produced manuscripts for use in other foundations.
Miniature of the book ‘sealed with seven seals’ on an altar, being opened by the Lamb and the Lion of Juda, with the symbols of the Evangelists; below, an enthroned figure holding a canopied cloth (the vault of the heaven?) and an angel blowing a trumpet, at the end of Revelation, from the Moutier-Grandval Bible, France (Tours), c. 830 – c. 840, Add MS 10546, f. 449r
The enormous size and weight of the Moutier-Grandval Bible, as well as the fragile state of its binding, made it a particular challenge for us to digitise. A special cradle was employed to safely house the manuscript during photography, and a team of experts from a number of departments in the British Library worked together to transport, tend, and watch over it during the days of filming – have a look at some of our behind-the-scenes photos below! And if there are any queries about our use (or rather, lack of use) of white gloves, please see our previous post on the subject here.
Special thanks are due to Andrea Clarke, Kathleen Doyle, and Julian Harrison of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscript department, Ann Tomalak and Gavin Moorhead of the British Library Centre for Conservation, and Antony Grant, Senior Imaging Technician.
- Sarah J Biggs