THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

14 May 2021

Hot off the press

Today sees the publication of Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections. This new book brings together 14 essays based on papers delivered at the British Library conference held in December 2018, in conjunction with the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

Book cover with a medieval illustration of a scribe and the title Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections
Front cover of Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections

All the essays in the book focus on manuscripts produced between the 7th and the 11th centuries. Like the exhibition, they explore the artistic, literary and historical connections between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their neighbours, and the scribal and artistic networks that developed across Britain, Ireland and much of early medieval Europe.

A striking feature of several papers at the conference was the use of multispectral imaging to enhance texts and images damaged by fire or the use of reagents in the past. This imaging was undertaken by the Library’s imaging scientist, Christina Duffy, and the results feature in three essays which span the artistic, literary and historical themes of the conference and exhibition.

Bernard Meehan’s essay on ‘The Royal-Otho-Corpus / Cambridge-London / Parker-Cotton-Wolsey Gospels’ includes new multispectral imaging of Cotton MS Otho C V, which was badly damaged in the Cotton Library fire of 1731. This image shows the lion – the evangelist symbol for St Mark – as it appears to the naked eye:

Medieval illustration of the lion of St Mark, darkened and damaged by fire
The fire-damaged lion evangelist symbol: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

Multispectral imaging reveals significant new details in this black and white image:

Medieval illustration of the lion of St Mark in black and white, enhanced by multispectral imaging
Black and white multispectral image of the lion evangelist symbol: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

And the psychedelic colours of this enhanced multispectral image show the dotting on the lion’s lower front legs and paws:

Medieval illustration of the lion of St Mark in vibrant colours, enhanced by multispectral imaging
Coloured multispectral image of the lion evangelist symbol: Cotton MS Otho C V, f. 27r

Jonathan Wilcox’s essay, ‘The Wolf at work: uncovering Wulfstan’s compositional method’, draws on multispectral imaging of two pages in Add MS 38651 which have been treated with blue reagent in the past:

A medieval manuscript page that was previously treated with blue reagent, which obscures most of the text
One of the pages previously treated with blue reagent, which obscures most of the text: Add MS 38651, f. 58r

The multispectral imaging reveals texts by Archbishop Wulfstan which Jonathan uses as new evidence to explore Wulftan’s compositional method:

A medieval manuscript page that was previously treated with blue reagent, with the texts revealed by multispectral imaging
New texts by Wulfstan revealed by multispectral imaging: Add MS 38651, f. 58r

Winfried Rudolf, who has an essay in the book on the Italian provenance of the Vercelli Book, has also been working on these images in parallel, to publish an edition and commentary of the newly revealed texts.

And Simon Keynes draws on several further multispectral images in his essay, ‘The “Canterbury letter-book”: Alcuin and after’. His essay includes this page from the letter-book, Cotton MS Tiberius A XV, before and after multispectral imaging:

A page from the Alcuin letter-book, with faded text
The Alcuin letter-book before multispectral imaging: Cotton MS Tiberius A XV, f. 172v
A page from the Alcuin letter-book, with the text recovered through multispectral imaging
The Alcuin letter-book after multispectral imaging: Cotton MS Tiberius A XV, f. 172v

The imaging published today adds to Christina Duffy’s earlier multispectral imaging of erased additions to the Bodmin Gospels (Add MS 9381). The imaging of these erasures, which record the freeing of slaves in early medieval Cornwall, was shown on a video in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, next to the manuscript itself.

All of these examples show the power of multispectral imaging to recover evidence previously obscured by the effects of fire-damage, the use of reagents and erasure. You can read more about the new imaging in the book, as well as the eleven other essays by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Richard Gameson, Larry Nees, Joanna Story, Rosamond McKitterick, David Johnson, Tessa Webber, Winfried Rudolf, Francesca Tinti, Susan Rankin and Michael Gullick.

We are grateful to the Leverhulme Trust for funding the Insular Manuscripts: Networks of Knowledge international research network, which ran from 2016 to 2019 and supported research opportunities for Bernard Meehan, Dáibhí Ó Cróinín and Joanna Story. We also thank the British Library Collections Trust for their generous subvention towards this publication, Martin Fanning at Four Courts Press, Christina Duffy for her multispectral imaging, Ellie Jackson for all her editorial support and Jessica Hodgkinson for compiling the indices. And I would especially like to thank Joanna Story for her tireless collaboration over the last five years in preparing for the exhibition and the conference, and for co-editing the exhibition catalogue and this new book of conference essays with me.

Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections is available through the Four Courts Press website, and the publisher is offering a 20% discount until Tuesday 18 May.

Claire Breay

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