THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

13 posts from January 2019

31 January 2019

The Ascension in Anglo-Saxon England

Many fine examples of medieval art can be found in the pages of manuscripts. These illuminated books reflect the huge variety of artistic expression present in England and France during the early Middle Ages, as discussed in more detail on our new Medieval England and France, 700-1200 website. Biblical events provided the inspiration for many illustrations in these manuscripts, but medieval artists often interpreted these scenes in different ways. The Ascension of Christ was one biblical event whose representation changed in the course of the Middle Ages.

According to biblical accounts, Christ ascended to Heaven 40 days after his resurrection, leaving his disciples to continue his work on Earth (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11). The event was frequently discussed in the writings of the Church Fathers, most notably St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), St Jerome (347–420) and other early Christian authors. It quickly became a significant feature in the Christian calendar, as one of the major feast-days celebrated in the course of the year, alongside Pentecost, Easter and Christmas. 

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The Ascension of Christ, on an added leaf in the Galba Psalter, Reims (France), 1st quarter of the 9th century (additions England, 1st half of the 10th century): Cotton MS Galba A XVIII, f. 120v

Christ’s Ascension was a popular subject in early medieval art. There were at least three different ways of representing the scene in English manuscript illumination by the 11th century. One was to depict Christ in an almond-shaped frame in the sky (also known as a mandorla or aureola), supported by angels who carried him to Heaven. One illustrator adopted this design in an added page in the Galba Psalter, a book of Psalms reputedly given to the Anglo-Saxon King Æthelstan (reigned 924–939). Christ appears with a halo, enthroned in majesty, with angels on either side. He holds a book in one hand, while the other faces outwards to display his open palm and the wound left by the nail of the Crucifixion. The actual moment of Ascension has already taken place. Christ gazes at his disciples on earth, and appears much as in contemporary and later medieval images of the Last Judgement, where the focus is on the glory of his divinity.

Other depictions of the Ascension from the Anglo-Saxon period show a more active Christ, who climbs unaided across the clouds to reach Heaven. An illustration in the lavishly decorated Benedictional of St Æthelwold represents a bearded and radiant Christ in profile, walking through the air. His arm reaches up to the extended hand of the Father that descends from the frame above. The artist even managed to capture the movement in Christ’s clothes as he ascends, his robes fluttering, almost ruffled by the wind.

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The Ascension of Christ from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, Winchester, c. 971–984: Add MS 49598, f. 64v

Around the turn of the first millennium, a new type of Ascension image developed from these artistic traditions, becoming a standard iconography in the decoration of liturgical and devotional manuscripts in England. Such images attempted to depict the exact moment that Christ vanished from the Earthly realm into the presence of God and to represent only the lower half of his ascending body, at the last moment of his human incarnation. This iconography is sometimes referred to as the ‘Disappearing Christ’.

One example is found in the 11th-century Caligula Troper, recently digitised for the British Library by The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. The Troper is a liturgical manuscript that contains the text and notation for chants added to the mass on feast days (for the manuscript’s use and unusual provenance, see this earlier blogpost). It also includes a series of illustrations of English saints and the Apostles, and biblical stories such as the naming of John the Baptist and the Ascension itself. In its representation of the Ascension, Christ’s upper body disappears into the clouds and the frame of the image itself. His arms, head and face are hidden from our sight and the gaze of the disciples, with only his legs and bare feet visible.

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The Disappearing Christ from the Caligula Troper, England (Worcester?), 2nd half of the 11th century: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV, f. 18r

The iconography of the ‘Disappearing Christ’ may have been linked to an earlier exegetical tradition that maintained that Christ did not need help from Heaven in his ascent, but used his own divine power (Gregory the Great, Homilia 29; Bede, Homilia II.15). We notice that the celestial beings that appear on either side of the scene in the Caligula Troper do not carry Christ’s body. Instead, they raise their hands in adoration at his return, their heads craned upwards in much the same way as the watching disciples. The clouds offer Christ no support in his climb. They appear above his feet and he rises through them to Heaven.

The ‘Disappearing Christ’ motif also appears in the Tiberius Psalter, a late Anglo-Saxon manuscript that contains a series of illustrations from the Old and New Testament. In the Psalter’s representation of the Ascension, a notably independent Christ rises to Heaven. The artist has chosen to omit the company of angels, as well as the Hand of God and the mandorla, so that the focus is on Christ and his disciples. The caption at the top of the page is barely legible because of the damage the manuscript sustained in the Cotton library fire in 1731. The Latin reads Hic ascendit Christus ad caelos (Here Christ ascended to Heaven). Meanwhile in the centre, the artist introduces a new detail to the scene: Christ leaves behind a crown and an open book in the hands of his disciples, a signal to them to carry on his work and spread his teachings on earth.

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The Disappearing Christ from the Tiberius Psalter, Winchester, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 11th century: Cotton MS Tiberius C VI, f. 15r

You can see all four of these manuscripts in person at the British Library’s Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (on until 19 February 2019). Demand is high so we strongly recommend that you book your tickets in advance.

 

Calum Cockburn

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29 January 2019

Queen Emma: wife of two kings, mother of two more

Emma of Normandy was one of the most significant figures in the turbulent politics of 11th-century England. She was queen to two kings of the English (Æthelred the Unready and Cnut), and mother to two more (Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor) as well as being an influential figure in her own right. We know more about her than other women in Anglo-Saxon England thanks to a variety of charters, illuminated manuscripts and a biography written during Emma's own lifetime.

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Detail of Emma from the New Minster Liber Vitae (Winchester, c. 1031): Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

Emma was born in Normandy in the early 980s. Her brother, Richard II, duke of Normandy (d. 1026), sent her to marry the English king, Æthelred the Unready, following a dispute regarding Viking forces that were attacking England and Normandy. When in England, Emma was sometimes known by the English name Ælfgifu. With Æthelred, she had at least three children: Edward the Confessor (who ruled England from 1042 to 1066); Alfred; and Godgifu.

When King Æthelred died in 1016, he was succeeded by Cnut, bringing England into an empire that stretched to Denmark, Norway and into the Baltic. Emma married King Cnut sometime in 1017, and they had at least two children: a son, Harthacnut; and a daughter, Gunnhild. The children from her first marriage (Edward, Alfred and Godgifu) went into exile in mainland Europe.

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Emma persuades Cnut to give land to Archbishop Lyfing (Canterbury, 1018): Stowe Ch 38

Emma seems to have been a crucial figure in Cnut’s government, with surviving documents showing her advising the king. A charter on display in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (at the British Library until 19 February) emphasises that Cnut gave land to the archbishop of Canterbury at Emma’s request. In the early days of Cnut’s reign, Emma may have helped him establish alliances with important English institutions, such as the church at Canterbury.

It is quite fitting that the only surviving manuscript portrait of Cnut also features Emma at his side. This portrait can be found in the Book of Life of the New Minster, Winchester. The couple are shown standing on either side of the altar at that monastery, where they were remembered as major benefactors.

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Emma and Cnut from the New Minster Liber Vitae: Stowe MS 944, f. 6r

After Cnut’s death in 1035, Harald Harefoot, his son by a previous wife, succeeded to the English throne. In 1036, Emma’s sons from her first marriage, Edward and Alfred, invaded England to challenge Harald, believing that they had their mother's support. Their coup was unsuccessful, and although Edward escaped, Alfred was captured, blinded and killed. Edward never seems to have completely forgiven his mother for what he perceived as her role in Alfred’s death.

When Harald Harefoot died in 1040, Harthacnut, Emma’s son by Cnut, became king of England. However, in 1041, Harthacnut’s half-brother, Edward, became joint ruler of England, perhaps facilitated by Emma.  

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Opening miniature from the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 1v

Around this time was written the text known as Encomium Emmae reginae (In Praise of Queen Emma’). This is the earliest surviving account dedicated to a female political figure from England (excluding saints’ Lives). This work was probably composed for Emma by a monk of Saint-Bertin, in Flanders, who appears to have re-framed history to justify Emma’s actions. Emma’s first husband, Æthelred, is not mentioned in this work, with Cnut being portrayed as the rightful ruler of England.

Emma may have used the Encomium to shape both the present and the future. The earliest surviving manuscript (Add MS 33241) ends with an account of Edward and Harthacnut ruling jointly: ‘here the bond of motherly love and brotherly love is of strength indestructible’. In 1042, Harthacnut died and Edward the Confessor became the sole king of England. At this stage, the author re-wrote the final part of the text. 

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Ending of the earliest surviving copy of the Encomium Emmae reginae: Add MS 33241, f. 67r

In 2008, a later medieval copy of the Encomium emerged at auction. This copy is now held at the Kongelige Bibliotek in Copenhagen. The ending in this manuscript praised King Edward, and suggests that it was written when Edward had become sole king after Harthacnut’s death in 1042. Although Edward’s father, Æthelred the Unready, was not mentioned at all in the earlier version of the text, Edward and his lineage were praised in the new ending.

Edward’s relationship with his mother did not necessarily improve. At the beginning of his reign, Edward deprived Emma of much of her wealth and banished her for a period from his court. She died in 1052 and was buried at Winchester.

Emma’s political influence had far-reaching consequences. She both stabilised Cnut's Anglo-Danish dynasty and provided the man who supplanted it, Edward the Confessor. Later chroniclers even suggested that Emma’s marriage to King Æthelred the Unready led to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, since it gave her great-nephew, William of Normandy, a claim to the English throne.

You can view several of the manuscripts connected with Queen Emma, including the New Minster Liber Vitae and the oldest version of the Encomium Emmae reginae, in the British Library's once-in-a-generation exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. It's on in London until 19 February 2019, and we strongly advise (due to high demand) that you buy your tickets in advance.

 

Alison Hudson 

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26 January 2019

Charteriffic

The British Library holds the world’s largest collection of Anglo-Saxon charters, wills and letters, over 200 of which have recently been added to our Digitised Manuscripts site. An impressive selection of these charters are also currently on display in our landmark Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

What makes these charters, letters and wills so fascinating?

(1) We sometimes know the dates when specific charters were issued

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The Hlothhere Charter: Cotton MS Augustus II 2

In general, charters are formulaic documents. The main portion of text outlines the transaction, often a grant of land, and then states when and where it was formalised. A list of witnesses might then be added at the bottom. This charter, issued in the name of King Hlothhere of Kent (d. 685), states that it was issued ‘in the city of Rochester in the month of May, the seventh indiction’. This refers to the Roman dating system, split into fifteen-year cycle, which equates to the year 679. 

(2) Charters were often created in response to a meeting or event

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Charter of Æthelwulf, king of the West Saxons and of Kent: Stowe Ch 17

This charter was issued in the name of King Æthelwulf (d. 858), who styled himself ‘king of the West Saxons and the men of Kent’; in it, he granted land in Chart, western Kent, to a nobleman called Æthelmod. The small piece of parchment stitched to the bottom reveals that this charter was made in a two-stage process. The main part of the document was drawn up in advance and used at the official ceremony. A note was then made of all the witnesses present, listing the king, his entourage, the archbishop and members of the Canterbury community. These names were copied onto the main document at a later date.

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3. Charters sometimes confirmed important changes in the Anglo-Saxon Church

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Decree of the church council at Clofesho abolishing the archbishopric of Lichfield: Cotton MS Augustus II 61

In 787, the bishopric of Lichfield was raised to an archbishopric, most likely at the request of King Offa of Mercia. For sixteen years, Lichfield was the third archbishopric in the English Church alongside Canterbury and York. However, in 803, a church council held at Clofesho confirmed that Lichfield should revert to a bishopric. The charter above confirmed the decision made at that council.

(4) Wills can provide valuable insights into the private lives of Anglo-Saxon noblemen and women

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Will of Wynflæd, late 10th or early 11th century: Cotton Ch VIII 38

Wynflæd was an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman who lived in south-western England in the first half of the 10th century. She left a will detailing what should happen to her possessions, which survives in a copy made in the early 11th century. Wynflæd’s will lists several estates, tamed and untamed horses, slaves, coins, livestock, items in gold and silver, and books. The will also stipulates what should happen to her clothing, including her engraved bracelets, linen gowns, caps and headbands. This fascinating document provides an insight into the estate of a wealthy woman in the 10th century in a level of detail rarely found in other sources.

(5) Charters could very occasionally be decorated

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Detail of King Edgar from a charter for the New Minster, Winchester, 966: Cotton MS Vespasian A VIII, f. 2v

In some very rare instances, Anglo-Saxon charters could be decorated. A stunning example of a decorated charter is King Edgar’s charter for the New Minster, Winchester, which depicts Edgar, flanked by St Peter and the Virgin Mary, presenting the charter to Christ.

(6) Charters were sometimes consulted several centuries after they were created

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King Æthelbald of the Mercians and of the South Angli grants ten hides at Ismere by the river Stour and land at Brochyl in Morfe forest, Worcestershire, to Cyneberht, comes, for the construction of a minster, dated 736: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

Inscriptions on the reverse of these charters can often reflect how they were archived. On the back of this charter issued in the name of King Æthelbald of Mercia in 736, it is still possible to see the impressions from where the document was folded for storage. A portion of parchment that would have been exposed is slightly discoloured and bears two inscriptions: ‘Norð stur’ is written twice in a 10th-century hand, and ‘Æþelbald rex’ in a 12th-century hand. These notes would have helped the archivist identify the charter's content without having to open it.

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Reverse of a charter issued in the name of King Æthelbald of the Mercians: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

You can explore these charterrific documents on our Digitised Manuscripts site. A full list of all digitised Anglo-Saxon charters from the British Library’s collection can be found here. And you can see a host of Anglo-Saxon charters, letters and wills for yourself in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition (until 19 February 2019).

 

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23 January 2019

Cambridge loans in Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms  

What do the St Augustine Gospels, the Eadwine Psalter and the Moore Bede have in common? They have all been kindly loaned to our Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition by institutions in Cambridge. On display in the exhibition are a host of manuscripts from Corpus Christi College, Trinity College and the University Library. Read on to find out more about some of these fantastic loans.

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The St Augustine Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 286, f. 129v

The St Augustine Gospels is one of the great treasures on loan from Corpus Christi College. This gospel-book dates from the late-6th to the early-7th century and is thought to have been made in Italy, possibly at Rome. This manuscript likely came to England soon after its creation, perhaps with the mission of Augustine of Canterbury. The St Augustine Gospels is still used today at every inauguration of a new archbishop of Canterbury, travelling from Cambridge for the occasion. This splendid manuscript provides a tangible link to the very early days of the Anglo-Saxon Church.

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The Dean of Canterbury holds the “Canterbury Gospels”, as Archbishop Rowan Williams kisses the ancient book (by permission of James Rosenthal/Anglican World)

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The Otho-Corpus Gospels: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

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The Cotton-Otho Gospels: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 197B, p. 245

In the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition are displayed two portions of the Otho-Corpus Gospels. One fragment is from the British Library’s own collections, and was badly damaged in the Cotton Library fire in 1731; the other part has been loaned by Corpus Christi College. This is a rare opportunity to view these two portions together and to compare the illustrations of John’s eagle and Mark’s lion.

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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscript A: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, f. 13v

Another manuscripts on loan from Corpus Christi College is the A-text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, otherwise known as the ‘Parker Chronicle’. This is a 9th-century copy of the original compilation of the Chronicle, one of the most important narrative sources for the Anglo-Saxon period, and the earliest surviving witness of this text. Later versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are also on display in the exhibition, namely manuscript B, manuscript C and manuscript D.

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Asser’s Life of King Alfred: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 100, p. 325

Corpus Christi has also loaned a 16th-century transcript of Asser’s Life of King Alfred. This is a biography of the 9th-century King Alfred the Great of Wessex, written during the king’s lifetime by the Welsh monk Asser. The only medieval manuscript of the ‘Life of King Alfred’ that survived into modern times was destroyed in the Cotton Library fire in October 1731. Although Alfred is commonly remembered as the Anglo-Saxon king who defeated the Vikings, Asser’s work barely mentions this, instead giving a more personal account of Alfred’s life.

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The Eadwine Psalter: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.17.1, f. 24r

The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition also features a selection of manuscripts on loan from Trinity College, Cambridge. Among them is the Eadwine Psalter, a mid-12th century manuscript made in England. This Psalter is the second copy made of the 9th-century Utrecht Psalter, which was revolutionary for its inclusion of drawings outside the confines of decorative initials and borders. The Eadwine Psalter is extraordinary because of its elaborate illustrations, and also its inclusion of all three of Jerome’s translations of the Psalms, an Anglo-Norman French translation and a translation into Old English.

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The Trinity Gospels: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.10.4, ff. 59v–60r

The Trinity Gospels, also on loan from Trinity College, is one of the most elaborately decorated of all surviving 11th-century gospel-books. This manuscript is notable for containing all four of the full-page decorated ‘incipit’ pages at the beginning of the gospels. They are decorated with gold and painted haloed figures holding books and scrolls.

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Hrabanus Maurus, De laudibus sanctae crucis: Cambridge, Trinity College, MS B.16.3, f. 30v

A copy of Hrabanus Maurus’s fascinating text, ‘In Praise of the Holy Cross’, is also on loan to the exhibition from Trinity College. This is one of only two copies of this text to be made in Anglo-Saxon England. Hrabanus Maurus was a renowned Carolingian scholar whose works were popular throughout medieval Europe. This particular work contains poems where both word and metre are embedded into a grid, with concealed phrases revealed only by superimposed images and shapes, in this instance a cross.

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The ‘Moore Bede’: Cambridge University Library MS Kk.5.16, f. 22r

One of the manuscripts on loan from Cambridge University Library is known as the ‘Moore Bede’. This is perhaps the earliest surviving copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731. This well-known text is the first narrative historical account of the origins of the English. The manuscript is copied in Insular minuscule, which was faster to write than the more elaborate uncial script, allowing scribes to meet the exceptional demand for Bede’s work.

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The Book of Cerne: Cambridge University Library MS Ll.1.10, f. 32r

Finally, Cambridge University Library has loaned us The Book of Cerne, a beautifully decorated 9th-century prayer-book. It contains extracts from the four Gospels, 74 prayers, a selection of Psalms and the earliest surviving liturgical drama in England, the Harrowing of Hell. The illustrations in this manuscript are very sophisticated, with each gospel proceeded by a portrait of the evangelist and his symbol.

We are incredibly grateful to our Cambridge friends for lending these manuscripts to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 19 February. Tickets are available here. Hurry… they’re selling fast!

Eleanor Stinson

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21 January 2019

Cataloguing Greek papyri at the British Library: new PhD placement position

According to conventional estimates, the British Library holds some 3,136 glazed Greek and Latin papyri. This may well convey the exact number, but the actual figure is potentially much more, given that certain glass frames may contain several unrelated papyrus fragments (for example, Papyrus 113(9)).

The Library's papyri cover all phases of the ‘Greek millennium’ of Egypt’s history and many areas of the country. They were digitised in 2016–2017, thanks to the joint efforts of staff from Western Heritage Collections, the Library's Conservation Centre and and our Imaging Studios, producing images of extremely high resolution. The project itself might be compared to one of the labours of Heracles, given the number of papyri and the size of some of them. This first stage was presented at the ‘Third Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation Meeting’ held at Cambridge University Library in 2017.

Following digitisation, the papyri are now being catalogued: this phase started exactly one year ago and since then the Library's online catalogue has already been enriched with some 300 records. The high resolution images have been added to our Digitised Manuscripts site, while some of the papyri have been published in a new viewer, as the example below shows.

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Hyperides' Pro Lycophrone and Pro Euxenippo (P.Lond.Lit. 132): Papyrus 115

Many important papyri held at the Library are now available online. They include literary texts such as Pindar’s Paeans (Papyrus 1842); the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia (Papyrus 1843); and Bacchylides’ Epinician Odes and Dithyrambs (Papyrus 733), as well as interesting documents that shed light on administration and everyday life in Egypt during the Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine periods.

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Columns 8-10 of Bacchylides: Papyrus 733(1)

The first results of this cataloguing project were presented at the ‘Fourth Papyrus Curatorial and Conservation Meeting’, which took place at the British Library in June 2018. If you want to read more about this gathering of scholars and specialists from all over the world, read our blogpost Reunion and reunification.

Collaborations with other institutions have contributed to enriching the British Library's online catalogue. Attendees of the ‘2018 Heidelberg Research Webinar on BL Greek Papyri’ have studied and produced metadata for a number of published and unpublished texts, now available on Digitised Manuscripts. The PLATINUM project (Papyri and LAtin Texts: INsights and Updated Methodologies) has also contributed to the cataloguing of our Latin papyri, recently discovering a unique piece written in Arabic but with Roman characters (Papyrus 3124).

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A drawing in Papyrus 123, catalogued by the participants of the Heidelberg Webinar

These achievements combine with exciting projects in the near future. A new training and development opportunity as part of the British Library's PhD research placement scheme has arisen for doctoral students focusing on Greek papyri. The student will join a lively team for three months (or part-time equivalent), gaining first-hand experience in working with the Library's papyri. They will contribute towards the cataloguing associated with this project, enabling the digitised images to be described and published on the Library’s online catalogue and viewer. The placement student will also contribute to blogposts, and will support other Library activities to promote the collection and its international importance.

The deadline for applications is Monday, 18 February 2019. Full details on how to apply and the placement profile are available here.

 

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19 January 2019

From Oxford to London

The city of Oxford is home to a historic network of libraries and museums. Two of these institutions, the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Library, have kindly loaned a selection of their treasures to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition here at the British Library.

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The Alfred Jewel: Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, AN1836 p.135.371

The Alfred Jewel has been loaned to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms by the Ashmolean Museum. This stunning object was discovered in Somerset in 1693, a few miles from a fortress of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (d. 899). Near to this location was the monastery at Athelney, where Alfred found shelter before fighting back against King Guthrum’s ‘Great Heathen Army’ in 878. The jewel owes its name to an inscription which surrounds the central figure, reading: +ÆLFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN (‘Alfred ordered me to be made’). The discovery of this jewel and its fascinating inscription has led scholars to suggest that the jewel may have been made by command of Alfred himself.

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King Alfred’s translation of the Pastoral Care: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton 20, f. 1r

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms also features six manuscripts kindly loaned by the Bodleian Library. Among them is an Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Cura Pastoralis (‘Pastoral Care’), which has also been attributed to Alfred the Great. In a letter which precedes the Pastoral Care, Alfred instructed his bishops to lead a programme of translation of texts from Latin to English, so as to make them more widely accessible. 

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Adam and Eve in Eden in the Junius Manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 11, p. 34

The Bodleian Library has also loaned the Junius manuscript to the British Library, a crucial witness to the Anglo-Saxon poetic tradition, containing over 5,000 lines of verse in Old English. The first three Old English poems in the manuscript, Genesis, Exodus and Daniel, are accompanied by illustrations. The page shown here depicts Adam and Eve, both naked, after Satan had tricked them into disobeying God.  

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The MacRegol Gospels: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Auct. D. 2. 19, f. 92v

Also on loan from the Bodleian Library is the MacRegol Gospels. This gospel-book is named after MacRegol, whose name occurs in a contemporary inscription urging the readers to pray for him. Although made in Ireland, the manuscript had made its way to England by the second half of the 10th century, where an interlinear Old English translation of the gospels was added.

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Primasius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 140, f. 4r 

Another manuscript with far-reaching connections is this 8th-century copy of Primasius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse. Primasius was bishop of Hadrumetum, in present-day Tunisia, but this manuscript was copied in an English context under continental influence. It provides important evidence of connections between Anglo-Saxon scholars and the Greek-speaking Mediterranean world. Two famous English churchmen are believed to have annotated this manuscript: Boniface, archbishop of Mainz (d. 754), is thought to be responsible for the notes in the margins; and Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (959–988), for the interlinear additions.

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Dunstan’s Classbook: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Auct. F. 4. 32, f. 1r

One of the most famous manuscripts in the exhibition is 'Dunstan's Classbook'. Archbishop Dunstan was a well-read scholar, and his ‘Classbook’ contains homilies, grammatical texts and an extract of a poem by Ovid.

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The earliest copy of the Rule of St Benedict: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Hatton 48, f. 38v

Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms has brought together an amazing array of manuscripts, some of which are the oldest examples in existence. This is typified by the final Bodleian loan, namely the earliest surviving copy of the Rule of St Benedict. The Benedictine Rule was written by Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–c. 547) as a series of instructions for communal life in a monastery. This manuscript was copied in England around the year 700, showing that Benedict’s principles for monastic life were known in the early English Church.

We are extremely grateful to the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Library for lending these fascinating items to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition. They can be viewed at the British Library until 19 February 2019, and tickets are available here

Becky Lawton 

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16 January 2019

The Southwark Hours: a new acquisition

The British Library is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of an illuminated medieval manuscript, the Southwark Hours, now Add MS 89309. It is now fully digitised and is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery for all to admire.

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelist symbols: Add MS 89309, f. 94r

The manuscript is a Book of Hours, made in Paris in the last quarter of the 14th century. Books of Hours contained sets of prayers for reading at different ‘hours’ of the day and night. Spanning the divides of gender, age and status, they were the most popular books owned by laypeople in the late Middle Ages. The Southwark Hours is a particularly fine example. Its pages are festooned with ivy-leaf borders glittering with gold, and its major prayers are headed with delicate illuminations attributed to the ‘Ravenelle Master’. For its patron, most likely a French noblewoman, it would have been an invaluable aid to piety as well as a beautiful book.

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The Entombment: Add MS 89309, f. 215v

We can catch a glimpse of this mystery patroness within the manuscript’s pages. The prayer for the final hour of the day (Compline) in the set of prayers known as the Hours of the Passion is accompanied by an image of the Entombment of Christ. In the image, Christ’s dead body is laid out on his tomb by two pall-bearers, while the Virgin Mary, St John, St Mary Magdalene and two other holy women gather in mourning. The woman who kneels praying in the foreground is almost certainly a portrait of the manuscript’s original owner. Her insertion into the Passion scene evokes the intimate and emotional experience that she hoped to achieve through her prayers.

The head and shoulders of the same woman also appear within a decorated initial at the opening of the Penitential Psalms, beneath a miniature of Christ in Majesty (f. 94r), pictured above. She gazes at the words from Psalm 6: ‘Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me neque in ira tua corripias me’ (O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath), while the illuminated figure of Christ looks down at her.

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The Annunciation: Add MS 89309, f. 20r

The most impressive page in a Book of Hours is usually the opening prayer for the first hour of the day (Matins) in the Hours of the Virgin — a series of prayers addressed to the Virgin Mary that were central to any Book of Hours. True to tradition, the Southwark Hours opens this prayer with an exquisite illumination of the Annunciation.

It is apparent that before the arrival of the angel, the Virgin Mary had been reading studiously. Looking closely, we can read her open book, ‘Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium’ (Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son; Isaiah 7:14), and so discover that she is studying the Old Testament text that prophesies about her own important role in salvation history. She kneels on a sumptuous blue cloth patterned with golden stars, recalling her epithet as ‘Stella Maris’ (star of the sea). The vase of lilies in front of her symbolises virginity.

In contrast with the Virgin Mary’s serene stillness, the angel Gabriel makes a dramatic entrance from the upper left. One foot trails out of frame and one peacock-feather wing projects in front of the frame, giving the impression of immediacy and movement. Gabriel’s gracefully looping scroll bears the prayer ‘Ave Maria’ (Hail Mary; based on Luke 1:28 and 42). Meanwhile, God the Father presides in the upper corner and the dove of the Holy Spirit descends. The scroll of musical notation carried by the three angels in the upper border encourages us to imagine divine music accompanying the scene, while the scroll-bearing prophets in the lower margin prefigure this momentous event.

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The Deposition: Add MS 89309, f. 210v

The manuscript formerly was on long-term loan from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark (Loan MS 85/4). Mgr Matthew Dickens, the Vicar General & Chancellor & Trustee of the Archdiocese of Southwark, commented: ‘We are delighted that the British Library has been able to acquire for its permanent collection the Southwark Book of Hours. This is a particularly fine example of illuminated manuscripts of this period and it is right and proper that it should be held in a major national collection, to be enjoyed by the public and to be available for scholarly research. I should like to thank the British Library staff and donors who have made this acquisition possible.’

Dr Kathleen Doyle, the British Library’s Lead Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, said: ‘I am delighted that the Southwark Hours is joining the Library's remarkable collection of illuminated manuscripts, including treasures of French illumination and Books of Hours from across Europe.  The manuscript is an important witness of the Ravenelle Painter’s work, and one of only two that indicates that the he worked for aristocratic female patrons.’ We are grateful to the Friends of the British Library for their assistance in funding this acquisition.

The manuscript is now on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library, together with another manuscript (Add MS 35215) and two printed Books of Hours, to allow visitors to compare the similarities and differences between the same text in different media.

 

Eleanor Jackson

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15 January 2019

Gorgeous manuscripts galore

One of our favourite online resources is the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. It has recently been updated to include fifteen new manuscripts and lots more images.

The Stavelot Missal

You can already view the enormous 11th-century Stavelot Bible on our Digitised Manuscripts website (Add MS 28106 and Add MS 28107). Two more manuscripts from the Benedictine abbey of Stavelot, in the diocese of Liège, have now been added to the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

This 13th-century missal is bound in two volumes (Add MS 18031 and Add MS 18032). The litany of saints includes St Remaclus, patron of the abbey, and a notice of the dedication of the monastery ('Dedicatio Stabulensis ecclesie') on the calendar page for June. The manuscript's 14th- or 15th-century additions include a mass for St Poppo of Stavelot and the feast of Thomas Becket, inserted in  the calendar (f. 13v).

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The Crucifixion with Mary and John, from the ‘Stavelot Missal’, volume I: Add MS 18031, f. 18v. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here, together with the second volume.

 

A Psalter from Stavelot

This early Psalter with a Latin commentary is one of a group of manuscripts produced at Stavelot around the year 1000 and illuminated in the distinct Mosan style.

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David and Goliath in the Stavelot Psalter: Add MS 18043, f. 64v. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

The Gospels from Tours

Tours was an important centre of Carolingian manuscript production in the 9th century. The style of decoration of this gospel-book is Franco-Saxon, combining elements of Frankish and Anglo-Saxon decoration, including a distinctive combination of orange-red and gold. This framed incipit page includes display capitals in gold on purple grounds.

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Incipit page of the Gospel of Mark: Add MS 11849, f. 72r. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

Isidore’s Etymologies

This manuscript of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies was made at Neuvelle-lès-la-Charité in eastern France in the 4th quarter of the 12th century. The decorated page below contains a consanguinity diagram, showing which family members were deemed to be too closely-related to marry by the medieval Church. The entwined foliage with the tendrils held by human figures represents the blood ties between family members, and there are strange hybrid creatures at the three points of the triangle.

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Consanguinity diagram from Isidore of Seville's Etymologies: Add MS 15603, f. 93r. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

Cicero

This 12th-century manuscript, made in the southern Netherlands or northern France, contains Marcus Tullius Cicero’s De inventione, a handbook on how to be a good public speaker. It is followed by the Rhetorica ad Herennium, the most popular work on rhetoric throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These two texts were often copied together and were used to teach rhetoric in a structured and disciplined way.

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Cicero seated holding a scroll reading 'Marci Tulii liber primus incipit': Add MS 16984, f. 3r. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

The Sherborne Cartulary

This collection of royal, papal and episcopal charters contains a number of letters written by Anglo-Saxon kings (Edgar, Æthelred and Cnut). The volume also contains a series of liturgical texts including accounts of the Passion of Christ, with portraits of St Mark and St John.

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St John the Evangelist, from the Sherborne Cartulary: Add MS 46487, f. 52v. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

These two Psalters, both produced in the latter part of the 12th century, have a similar layout. The text of the Psalms in the central column is surrounded by a gloss or commentary, and there are large decorated initials marking the beginning of the major Psalms. However, the style of illumination points to different areas of origin: the first in England or northern France, and the second in southern Germany or eastern France.

An English or French Psalter

This elegant Psalter was made in the 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 12th century. It begins with a large, illuminated initial that includes pictures of David and of Christ preaching to a group of men.  

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Beatus initial from a Psalter: Add MS 17392, f. 1r. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

A glossed Psalter

The gloss in this 12th-century Psalter is attributed to the circle of Anselm of Laon (d. 1117). Added on the last leaf, in contemporary script, is a tract on curing haemorrhoids (f. 196r).

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Decorated initial from a Psalter: Add MS 18298, f. 143v. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

A Psalter of the Use of York

This late 12th- or early 13th-century Psalter was possibly made for the Augustinian abbey of Bourne in the diocese of Lincoln, since additions in the calendar include Abbot Henry of Bourne and Hugh of Lincoln. It seems to have been owned later by a Cistercian monastery, because 15th-century additions to the calendar include the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux and other saints venerated by that Order. It has large gold and coloured initials at the beginning of major Psalms, many of them with animal heads and bodies entwined in the foliage.

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Zoomorphic initial from a Psalter: Add MS 38819, f. 70r. The whole manuscript can be viewed online here.

 

The Percy Psalter

The 13th-century Percy Psalter is thought to originate from York. It has beautiful illuminated initials, while the borders contain mythical beasts and graphic hunting scenes. Unicorns were believed to be symbols of purity and grace, which only a virgin could capture; in order to hunt one successfully, it first had to be tamed by a young girl before being killed, as shown here. At the top of this page is the pelican biting its breast to revive its young. The initial depicts David pointing to his mouth, showing that he will avoid 'sinning with the tongue' (Psalm 38).

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The beginning of Psalm 38, from the Percy Psalter: Add MS 70000, f. 55r.

 

Old Testament from Genesis to Ruth

This is the first volume of another large Bible (in five volumes), produced in the Meuse valley around 1430. It belonged to the Benedictine abbey of St James, Liège, whose coat of arms and motto (‘CONSTANTER AD ASTRA’) is pasted on the spine. The opening page for Genesis has roundels of the seven days of Creation, marginal figures of angels with scrolls containing quotes from Augustine, and paired pagan and Christian philosophers These include Augustine with his attribute of a heart, Albertus Magnus in discussion with Averroes, and Old Testament figures including Melchisedek.

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The beginning of the Old Testament: Add MS 15254, f. 13r.

 

A religious miscellany

This miscellany of religious tracts, offices, prayers and meditations was compiled between the 13th century and the 15th century. Some of its texts are connected with Ely Priory, such as a metrical epitaph for Alan of Walsingham, prior of Ely (d. c. 1364). It also includes a story of the Virgin teaching a new Latin prayer, Missus est angelus, to a canon named Arnaud. The large puzzle initial below marks the beginning of a prayer to the patron saint of a church.

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Puzzle initial in a miscellany: Add MS 33381, f. 128r.

 

Chantry Westwell

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