Medieval manuscripts blog

6 posts from March 2022

30 March 2022

Deciphering an English exorcism manual

We recently encountered a mysterious medieval manuscript during our current Harley cataloguing project. In the three centuries that it has been in the Harley collection, no one realised the true identity of the manuscript with the shelf-mark Harley MS 2874. Contributing to this may be the fact that its main contents start with a string of illegible and unpronounceable words: ‘Cpnkxratkp malkgnprum spkrkxxm’.

Title of the manuscript written in code
The words ‘Cpnkxratkp malkgnprum spkrkxxm’ written in red ink: Harley MS 2874, f. 1v

What to make of these strange words? The fact that they are written in red ink suggests that they are part of a title. So what does this manuscript contain? When we turn to the old catalogue of the Harleian manuscripts published in the year 1808, we find the manuscript described as a fragmentary Breviary–a common prayer book used in Christian liturgy–that was written in the 14th century.

Harley MS 2874 is described in the old 1808 Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts as an imperfect Breviary, a parchment codex in duodecimo (small-size) format, and dating to the 14th century
The description of Harley MS 2874 in the old Catalogue of the Harleian Manuscripts (1808), II, p. 717

But the 1808 catalogue must be incorrect. The manuscript does not contain any texts that one expects to find in a Breviary. Instead, the illegible words appear to be a form of secret writing. They employ a known encryption method in which vowels are replaced with their successive letters in the alphabet. With this method and some knowledge of the Latin language in mind, the title can be deciphered as: ‘Coniuratio malignorum spirituum’. In English, this means: ‘The Conjuration of Evil Spirits’. The manuscript is clearly not a fragmentary Breviary, but a complete copy of an exorcism manual that claims to describe the rituals used to drive out demons from possessed persons in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Rome.

An opening from the manuscript
An opening containing formulas for exorcising demons: ‘I exorcise you unclean spirit’ (Exorziso te immunde spiritus): Harley MS 2874, ff. 5v-6r

The Coniuratio malignorum spirituum survives in about 30 printed editions. All of these were published in Rome or Venice in the late 15th and early 16th century. Our Harley manuscript is almost certainly a handwritten copy of one of these printed books, and, based on its script, was copied around the year 1500.

A woodcut print of a man exorcising demons
A woodcut print of a man exorcising demons from a printed copy of the Coniuratio malignorum spirituum (Rome: Stephan Plannck, about 1500): British Library, IA.18786

The Harley manuscript differs greatly from the printed versions in that it not only encrypts the text’s title, but also encrypts or abbreviates any further references to the act of conjuring and invoking demons throughout the manuscript. For example, ‘Coniuro te diabole’ (I conjure you Devil) has become ‘Cpnkxrp tf dibbplf’ in code, or ‘9o te diabole’ in abbreviated form, and ‘Memento lucifer’ (I hold Lucifer in mind) has become ‘Mfmfntp lxckffr’.

‘Coniuro te diabole’ encrypted ‘Cpnkxrp tf dibbplf’. The text is written in black ink with a capital ‘C’ in red ink
‘Cpnkxrp tf dibbplf’ (Coniuro te diabole): Harley MS 2874, f. 21r
 
The word 'Coniuro' abbreviated
‘9o’ (Coniuro): Harley Ms 2874, f. 23r
 
‘Memento lucifer’ encrypted as ‘Mfmfntp lxckffr’.The text is written in black ink with a capital ‘M’ in red ink
‘Mfmfntp lxckffr’ (Memento lucifer): Harley MS 2874, f. 10v

Since none of the Italian versions contains secret writing, the Harley manuscript was almost certainly encrypted by the scribe who copied it. But why did they do this? For an answer to this question, we need to look into the scribe’s background. An important clue to their identity can be found on the manuscript’s first page. This page is not part of the Coniuratio malignorum spirituum, but rather it contains a text in a different script that is both fragmentary and faded. With the aid of Ultraviolet light it can be identified as a royal pardon from King Henry VI to William Babington (d. 1453), who was abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk between 1446 and 1453. It may be the same pardon of debts owed to the Exchequer that Babington and his monastery are known to have received on 23 December 1451.

Importantly, the royal pardon is not a later addition but original to Harley MS 2874. Whoever made the manuscript cut a fragment from the pardon and used the blank parchment on its reverse side for writing the first page of the exorcism manual. This suggests that the scribe was quite possibly a monk of Bury St Edmunds, and certainly based in England.

A faded text in black ink highlighted with UV light, revealing the name of William Babington
Ultraviolet image of a royal pardon for William Babington and Bury St Edmunds: Harley MS 2874, f. 1r

The English origin of the manuscript is significant because the historian Francis Young argues that there is no evidence for the popularity of Continental exorcism manuals in England at this time (A History of Exorcism in Catholic Christianity (2016), pp. 94-95). This means that the English scribe was probably unfamiliar with the genre of exorcism manuals. Perhaps this made them uneasy about the text’s contents, contributing to their decision to encrypt key parts of the manual. Moreover, they might have been particularly concerned about how future owners could use the manuscript. As Francis Young (p. 103) points out, the Coniuratio malignorum spirituum could be readily used for illicit magical rituals in which communication with demons is sought not to exorcise them but to control and employ them for one’s own purposes.

Its repeated use of the term ‘conjuration’ would have made the exorcism manual especially suitable for the dark arts, as in the instruction ‘I conjure you devil and unclean spirit’ (Coniuro te diabole et spiritus immunde).

The opening words of a conjuration
The opening words of a conjuration in a printed copy of the Coniuratio malignorum spirituum (Rome: Stephan Plannck, about 1500): British Library, IA.18786

Conjurations are often found in magical texts that present formulas for invoking and commanding spirits. According to a 17th-century English magical treatise you should say the following:

‘I conjure and constrain you to fulfil my will in everything faithfully without hurt of my body or soul and to be ready at my call as often as I shall call you’.

An English text for conjuring demons
A conjuration for invoking and commanding spirits (England, 17th century): Sloane MS 3847, f. 120r

In using secret writing, the scribe may have wanted to limit the number of readers of the manuscript to a select and trusted few, perhaps a circle of monks at Bury St Edmunds. If that was their intention, then they seem to have been successful. Since the manuscript was acquired for the Harleian Library on 17 May 1715, cataloguers have not identified its contents, preventing magical practitioners from using it ever since.

This is just one of our many discoveries from the Harley cataloguing project. To read about some of the others, see our previous blogposts about a newly discovered manuscript from Byland Abbey and the lost miracles of St Wulfsige of Evesham. We will keep posting our findings, so keep a close eye on this blog!

Clarck Drieshen

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26 March 2022

The secret of a silver clasp

The British Library is home to a huge array of beautiful bookbindings: from velvet and sheepskin chemises, to bejewelled covers, gold-tooled and patterned leather, and ivory friezes. Clasped bindings are a particular favourite of mine. This binding method is intended to protect a book from the effects of dust and light by an element (typically leather or metal) that secures its upper and lower covers. Clasped bindings have been in use for hundreds of years and many beautiful and elaborate examples survive from the Middle Ages.

One manuscript housed at the Library has a particularly special clasped binding. Attached to its green and gold-tooled covers, its small silver clasp is shaped in the form of a lion, with a coiled tail and a curly mane, and its right forepaw raised.

The upper cover and fore-edge of an early 16th-century Book of Hours, with its silver lion-shaped clasp

The upper cover and fore-edge of an early 16th-century Book of Hours, with its silver lion-shaped clasp: Egerton MS 1147

The silver clasp in the shape of a lion

The lion-shaped silver clasp: Egerton MS 1147, clasp

The lion alone is a beautiful addition to the manuscript, but it also hides a tantalising secret. On the reverse of the clasp, enclosed within the space directly behind the lion’s head and upper body, an artist has added a delicate engraving. It depicts a female figure, draped in robes, with long flowing hair. Who is this mysterious woman? What is her connection to the silver lion, and why has her portrait been added to the back?

The reverse of the silver clasp, with an engraving of a woman

The reverse of the clasp, showing an engraving of a female figure: Egerton MS 1147, clasp

Possible answers to these questions can be found within the pages of the manuscript itself (Egerton MS 1147), recently digitised and available to view in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The volume is a Book of Hours — a type of devotional book that was very popular during the Middle Ages — written and illuminated in the Flemish city of Bruges between 1500 and 1515. It contains numerous beautiful illustrations and decorative borders that accompany its calendar and collection of prayers and liturgical and devotional readings.

A full-page miniature of Christ as Salvator Mundi

Christ as Salvator Mundi, at the opening of the Latin Prayer to the Holy Face, ‘Salva sancta facies’: Egerton MS 1147, f. 12r (Image by Isabelle Reynolds-Logue)

One such illustration appears in the lower margin of the opening page of the Latin ‘Salva sancta facies’, or Prayer to the Holy Face. The image shows a woman sitting in an enclosed garden, the outline of a cityscape with numerous turrets and crenellations visible in the background. Before her appears a lion with silver fur wearing a golden crown and collar, its paw outstretched to the woman’s hand. In short, the image displays unmistakeable parallels to the design of the lion-shaped clasp attached to the book’s covers.

A miniature of the Maid of Ghent with a crowned lion placing its paw in her lap

A marginal portrait of the ‘Maid of Ghent’ and her lion: Egerton MS 1147, f. 12r detail

The elusive female subject of both the clasp and the marginal illustration can be identified with a symbolic medieval figure known as the ‘Maid of Ghent’. Her story originates in a 14th-century Middle Dutch poem, written by the Flemish author Baudouin van der Lore. It was written at a time when the city of Ghent (in modern-day Belgium) was threatened by the invading army of Louis II, Count of Flanders. Baudouin’s poem details a vision of the Maid stranded in a wood, and relates how she is protected from the machinations of an evil prince by Christ who appears to her in the form of a lion. The poem’s symbolism evidently resonated with the citizens of Ghent and their struggle, and by the beginning of the 15th century, the Maid and her lion had been adopted as the emblem of the city itself.

Numerous examples of the ‘Maid of Ghent’ appear in surviving medieval metalwork, armorial plates and illuminated books produced in the city. The most notable of these is a large military standard, probably painted by a female Flemish artist called Agnes van den Bossche — one of only a few known women artisans from this time — some 40 years before our Book of Hours was made. The banner adopts the same design as the clasp and the illustration above: the Maid holding the crowned lion’s outstretched paw. The lion now appears in an almost burnished gold, but microscopic analysis of the banner and its pigments has revealed it would have originally been silver.

A banner with the Maid of Ghent on the left with her lion

A military standard, depicting the ‘Maid of Ghent’ and her lion, probably painted by Agnes van der Bossche, 1481–1482: courtesy of STAM Museum Ghent

Our Book of Hours is known to have originated in the city of Bruges, where it was worked on by a succession of Flemish artists, but the recurring presence of the figure of the Maid and her lion suggests it may have been intended for a Ghentish owner, for whom this emblem would have had special significance. Moreover, the book remained in Ghent for many centuries after its production. A marginal inscription on one page displays the letters ‘IR’ linked by a lover’s knot: the monogram of a renowned bookbinder, Jan Ryckaert (b. 1516, d. 1573) whose workshop was based in the city. Eventually, it had become part of the collection of the Ghentish bibliophile Pierre Joseph Versturme-Roegiers (b. 1777, d. 1846).

The monogram of the Ghentish bookbinder Jan Ryckaert in the lower margin of the page

The monogram of the Ghentish bookbinder Jan Ryckaert, showing the letters IR linked by a lover’s knot: Egerton MS 1147, f. 13v

 

Calum Cockburn

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23 March 2022

Medieval and Renaissance Women — thank you

We recently put out a request for readers to suggest manuscripts for our Medieval and Renaissance Women digitisation project. The call is now closed, but we wanted to say a HUGE 'thank you' to everyone who contributed. We have been thrilled by the response. We received over 60 nominations for manuscripts that have some connection with the lives of women in Britain and Europe between 1100 and 1600. And we were extremely gratified by all your kind comments about our project, either added to the blogpost or sent via Twitter or email.

An illuminated manuscript page, showing Bishop Henry on the left, wearing red robes, and St Elizabeth on the right, holding a crucifix

One manuscript nominated for Medieval and Renaissance Women is this copy of the Rule of the Minorite Order of Sisters of St Clare, illuminated by Sibylla von Bondorff (Swabia, c. 1480): Add MS 15686, f. 32r

We are currently collating these suggestions, and assessing them against our criteria for selection (such as the condition of each manuscript and its suitability for digitisation). We are keeping a list of all the nominations, so that even if they are not selected this time round, we will bear them in mind for future projects, if funding allows. It was great, in any case, to see such a wide variety of manuscripts put forward, in so many different languages, from across the whole period, and relating to so many different subjects, from women's education to domestic and economic life to female health. We are delighted to have so many different ideas to choose from.

A shrouded head in the margin of a manuscript of Bridget of Sweden's Revelations

Another nomination is a manuscript of the Revelations of Bridget of Sweden, which has several marginal illustrations (England, 15th century): Harley MS 612, f. 78v

The British Library would once again like to thank Joanna and Graham Barker for their generous support for Medieval and Renaissance Women. We will be updating you on this Blog over the coming months about the progress of the project.

 

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17 March 2022

Irish voyage tales for the holiday of a lifetime

After the last two years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, many of us are dreaming about travelling abroad, for rest or adventure. But where to go? Worry not, dear readers, for help can be found in some of our medieval manuscripts. The medieval Irish also imagined journeys to foreign shores, and there is an entire genre of such voyage tales called immrama, in which explorers travelled West to fantastic islands. There are a number of these immrama among the British Library's Irish manuscripts. Here we pick some of our top island destinations for your consideration.

A page from a 16th-century Irish manuscript with a zoomorphic initial followed by text
The opening lines of Immram Curaig Mail Dúin, 16th century: Harley MS 5280, f. 12r

The recently digitised Harley MS 5280 contains two tales of island-hopping Irishmen: The Voyage of Maeldúin’s Curach (‘Immram curaig Mail Dúin’) and The Voyage of Bran mac Febail (‘Immram Brain Meic Febail’). Maeldúin visited a number of islands after being blown off-course on his quest to avenge his father (you can read more in a previous blog post). The first island that the disoriented sailors came across was full of giant ants, each the size of a foal. They swarmed the beach trying to eat the travellers before they ever made it ashore. Even the most enthusiastic entomologist would have a tough time on this island. If you're determined to visit, we'd recommend looking from a distance as you search for friendlier shores. 

Illustration of ants
Illustration of ants from a Bestiary, England, 2nd quarter of the 13th century: Harley MS 3244, f. 50r (detail)

Maeldúin and his friends were chased off another island by a horse-like creature, with the legs of a hound, sharp nails and an appetite for sailors. Even after fleeing to their ship, the creature dug up the beach and pelted them with the rubble. For animal lovers, the safest option is the island of birds, which, as the name suggests, is an island full of birds. They do not seem to mind visitors and it is only a few days away by curach to the land of monsters, should you insist on going.

Illustration of house martins
Illustration of house martins from a Bestiary, England, late 12th to early 13th century: Harley MS 4751, f. 37v

If you want something more relaxing, perhaps try an island divided into four parts by fences of gold, silver, brass and crystal. The inhabitants of this island are excellent hosts, treating their guests to food and drink. But be warned, they take check-out very seriously. When Maeldúin and his friends woke on their third day on this island, they found themselves already back on the curach and the island nowhere in sight. 

If you prefer self-catering, a small island containing a fort, some white houses and a playful cat jumping on pillars could be the one for you. Food, drink and comfortable beds will be provided, but you're advised not to take any of the jewellery. One of Maeldúin’s companions tried this and did not make it halfway across the courtyard before the little cat jumped through him like a flaming arrow, reducing him to ash. This is a great destination for lovers of fine food and drink (and cats). We would recommend bringing some cat treats, just in case.

Illustration of a cat
Illustration of a cat from a Book of Hours, Bruges, late 15th to early 16th century: Add MS 18852, f. 300r

Some of you may be seeking a total escape, a chance to leave all your worries behind. No need to fret, since both Maeldúin and Bran visited islands where you can forget all your troubles (and everything else). Maeldúin encountered an island full of constantly wailing people dressed in black. When one of his companions alighted on the island to investigate, he joined the islanders in their weeping. Two others who went to rescue him were unable to recognise him and also succumbed to the wailing. A further four were successful in their mission to rescue their friends, but had to cover their mouths with their clothes and to avoid looking at the island so as not to succumb to the same fate.

Illustration of a mourning woman, wearing black and weeping
A mourning woman representing Rome, from Carmina Regia, Italy, 1335: Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 11v

If being surrounded by sobbing strangers is not your idea of a good time, then you might prefer the Island of Joy, the only island Bran visited on his journey. Everyone there will greet you with a smile, or at least they will stare at you in silence. When one of Bran’s crewmembers set foot on the island, he broke out in a grin. If you think this island is for you, prepare for an extended trip. Bran was forced to leave that crewmember behind when he responded to their calls only with more smiling and staring.

Beasts of the End Times, with animal bodies and human heads
Beasts of the End Times, with broad toothy grins, from an Apocalypse, 2nd half of the 13th century: Add MS 18633, f. 16r

The wandering of the clerics of Colum Cille (‘Merugud cléirech Choluim Chille’), found in Add MS 30512, contains a number of ideal locations for foodies. One of the first islands visited by Snedgus and Mac Riagla had a river flowing through it which tasted of milk. While staying with an Irish cleric on an island of cat-headed people, they were treated to their fill of wheat, fish and wine.

There is also the option of an educational trip. On a later island, Snedgus and Mac Riagla found trees covered in birds with golden breasts and silver wings. A large bird in the middle sang the story of Creation, of Christ’s life, and of Doomsday. But make sure to bring an umbrella, as the other birds shook their wings after hearing the story, causing blood to gush from them.

Wildlife, comfort, education, fiery cats — there is an island for everyone. If you want to see more travellers’ tales, check out our previous blogpost Dragons, heroes, myths and magic for more tales of adventure.

 

Seosamh Mac Cárthaigh

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09 March 2022

Tall tales of the medieval ‘holster book’

If you have a modern medium-sized paperback (also known as B-format in the UK) or an A4-sized notebook at hand, you can check the page proportions of most modern printed material. That is, that the width of the page is between 65 and 70 percent of the height of the page. This relationship between height and width also holds true for most medieval manuscripts. But there are intriguing exceptions to this norm. For instance, there is a subset of medieval books that have remarkably tall and narrow dimensions.

One of the advantages of this unusual format is that it makes it easy to hold the book open with one hand and to turn the page with the other. This suggests that the text within these books may have been referenced while standing up or moving around. They are also often relatively small and portable, and some scholars have suggested that they were meant to hang from a belt or to be kept in a leather ‘holster’. Another theory is that they were easily packed in a saddlebag to take travelling. This is why they are now often called ‘holster books’ or ‘saddle books’.

A miniature of St Benedict holding a book open with one hand and presenting it to three monks
A miniature of St Benedict holding a book open with one hand and presenting it to three monks, from a copy of Regula Sancti Benedicti, Southern France, 2nd quarter of the 12th century: Add MS 16979, f. 21v

One late 10th-century English example of such a book is now the first part of a composite manuscript. It mainly contains the Rule of St Benedict (Regula Sancti Benedicti), by St Benedict of Nursia (b. c. 480, d. c. 550). The Rule is a set of guidelines for the spiritual and practical life of a monastic community and was the most important such rule in the early medieval period. Its influence was especially marked during the so-called Benedictine reform movement in England during the second half of the 10th century. The reformers, with the support of King Edgar (r. 959–975), aimed to reinstate strict monasticism following the Rule of St Benedict. In reformed houses, a passage of the Rule was read aloud every day.

This copy is around 230 mm tall and only around 95 mm wide. The proportions of this book were discussed by John Lowden in this virtual exhibition, in which he suggested that it might have been made to fit a recycled ivory plaque used to decorate the book cover. The large writing and short lines of this copy of the Rule would also have assisted with the communal daily readings.

A tall and narrow manuscript page showing the beginning of the Regula Sancti Benedicti, marked with a large zoomorphic initial M and a large initial O in black and red.
The beginning of the text of the Regula Sancti Benedicti, with a zoomorphic initial M[onachorum]; Southern England (? St Augustine's Canterbury), c. 975-1000; Harley MS 5431 (ff 4r-126v), f. 15r

Books used in the liturgy were also quite often made in this format. One example is the Noyon Sacramentary, a book containing the prayers and texts needed to perform Mass and other ceremonies made for the use of Noyon Cathedral in the late 10th century. It has been called a ‘saddle book’ since it might have been meant for use by the bishop of Noyon when he needed to travel to consecrate churches throughout the bishopric. You can read more about its decorated initials and their connections to earlier 9th-century manuscripts in a previous blogpost.

A tall and narrow manuscript page with two large ligatured initials TE drawn in brown ink and left unfinished
Unfinished initial ligature TE (for the Te igitur opening) at the beginning of the Canon of the Mass; Noyon, France, c. 975-1000; Add MS 82956, f. 7v

Many tall and narrow books from the late 10th and 12th centuries contain works by classical authors, for instance this copy of the Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil (b. 70 BC, d. 19 BC) made in the late 12th or early 13th century. Considered Virgil’s masterpiece, the Aeneid soon became a standard text in Latin education and it continued to be used to teach Latin grammar and rhetoric throughout the Middle Ages. It is possible that this book was used by a teacher who needed it constantly at hand, to read aloud from and refer back to, while moving through a classroom setting. Another possible reason for this format specifically for classical poetry is that it fits the generally short lines of verse, such as the hexameter of Latin epic poetry.

A tall and narrow manuscript page showing the beginning of the Aeneid by Virgil, with generous outer margins
The beginning of Virgil, Aeneid, marked by a large red initial A; England or France, c. 1175-1225; Harley MS 2777, f. 1r

It is even more likely that another 12th-century manuscript, which was digitised as part of The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project, was used in a classroom. This book contains the Thebaid by the Roman poet Statius, another Latin epic poem that was a popular text of the medieval school curriculum. As seen on this page, with the end of Book I and beginning of Book II, the layout of its tall and narrow pages left generous outer and lower margins. This was evidently necessary, considering the many marginal and interlinear glosses and annotations that were added subsequently, in several layers and by different hands. This is a sign of its use in a scholarly teaching context.

A manuscript page showing the beginning of Book II of the poem Thebais (Thebaid), marked by a large initial I in green and red and where the main text is surrounded by marginal annotations
The beginning of Book II of the poem Thebais (Thebaid), marked by a large initial I; France, c. 1125-1175; Harley MS 2608, f. 11r

If you want to learn more about the medieval engagement with ancient Greek and Roman works and authors, check out the article on The classical past on the Polonsky Medieval England and France 700-1200 project website.


Emilia Henderson

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Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

The Polonsky Foundation logo

01 March 2022

GOLD tickets go on sale

Tickets are now on sale for our upcoming exhibition, Gold. Bringing together fifty spectacular items from around the world, this exhibition explores the use of gold in books and documents across cultures.

For thousands of years, people have found all kinds of ways to incorporate gold into books and documents: gold writing, inscriptions on gold surfaces, gold-illuminated pictures, gold book covers. So intrinsic was gold to the craft of luxury book production that manuscript decoration is known as ‘illumination’ from the use of gold to light up the pages. 

An illuminated manuscript page with figures against a gold background
Gold illumination in the Queen Mary Psalter, London, early 14th century: Royal MS 2 B vii, f. 68r

Gold has long been considered deeply meaningful. Its extraordinary appearance means that many religions around the world have found gold a fitting way to express the divine. As a rare luxury material, gold was adopted by rulers to convey political messages about their power and wealth.

Gold plates inscribed with Buddhist texts written in Pali language
Maunggan gold plates inscribed with Buddhist texts written in Pali language, Myanmar, 5th-6th centuries: Or 5340 A & Or 5340 B

The exhibition will explore the different techniques employed by craftspeople to incorporate gold into books, including gold leaf (applying thin gold foil), shell gold (painting with powdered gold, which was traditionally kept in seashells), and gold-tooled leather bindings. 

An illuminated manuscript page with figures against a gold background
Gold illumination in the Golden Haggadah, Northern Spain, probably Barcelona, c.1320: Add MS 27210, f. 5r

It will showcase books and documents from twenty countries, seventeen languages, and five major world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Exhibits range from 5th/6th-century inscribed gold plates from Myanmar to a 1920s art deco gold-tooled binding from France. There will be plenty of splendid medieval manuscripts on display, including the Harley Golden Gospels made in Germany around 800, which is written entirely in gold ink, and the Golden Haggadah made in Spain around 1320, renowned for its gold-illuminated scenes from Genesis and Exodus. 

The Latin text of the gospels written in gold ink
Gold script in the Harley Golden Gospels, Carolingian Empire, c. 800: Harley MS 2788, f. 25v

Gold will be open at the British Library from Friday 20 May - Sunday 2 Oct 2022. You can pre-book your tickets online now. An accompanying book Gold: Spectacular Manuscripts from Around the World is available from the British Library shop.

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Supported by: 

BullionVault name logo - 199w

The exhibition is supported by the Goldhammer Foundation and the American Trust for the British Library, with thanks to The John S Cohen Foundation, The Finnis Scott Foundation, the Owen Family Trust and all supporters who wish to remain anonymous.