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Western Medieval Manuscripts : New Testament lectionary

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably produced in the late 12th or 13th century, is unusual in being a combined <i>New Testament lectionary</i>. It gives the readings for each day both from the Gospels and from the Acts and Epistles, whereas these were normally read from two separate books. The two types of lection alternate in a single sequence. It is also unusual in that it gives only the lections for the Sunday liturgy, with the exception of the first Saturday of Lent and the Saturday of Lazarus, preceding Palm Sunday. Normally lectionaries give either the lections for both Saturdays and Sundays or those for the whole week.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Much of the early part of the manuscript has been lost. The surviving original portion was copied by three different scribes, one of whom was responsible for most of what remains. At some point after it was first produced, its content was slightly expanded. Two extra bifolios were inserted into one of its quires, giving additional lections. These pertain to the morning service of Epiphany and to the Sundays either side of the festival, and were inserted on either side of the folios containing the lections for the main liturgy of Epiphany itself. The scribes who copied each of these bifolios and the ruling patterns used are different from one another as well as from the original body of the manuscript, so despite the similarity of their content, it may be that the two additions were made on different occasions, whichever intervention came later perhaps being inspired by the example of the earlier one.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript shows signs of being a product of the Greek communities of southern Italy. A substantial Greek-speaking population existed in this region while it was under Byzantine rule in the early Middle Ages, and although the empire was expelled from Sicily by the Arabs in the 10th century and from the mainland by the Normans in the 11th, Greek language and culture persisted for centuries thereafter. Worship in Greek according to the Byzantine rite continued, for which liturgical books continued to be produced.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>One of the characteristic features found in this manuscript is the poor quality of its parchment, which displays numerous holes created during the stretching and drying of the skin. When making a high-grade manuscript, any sheet in which such holes appeared would have been rejected, while even in more humble products of the Byzantine mainstream they would usually only be used if the holes were positioned where they could be kept to the margins, rather than impairing the writing surface itself. In peripheral regions such as southern Italy standards were often lower, leading to the appearance of manuscripts such as this one, in which the text is frequently interrupted by holes in the material, appearing right in the midst of the written area. That these are original to the process of production, rather than the product of later damage, is clearly visible from the fact that none of the text has been lost to them. Instead it skips over them, with the beginning of a word often appearing on one side of a hole and the remainder on the other side. Even where no hole has opened up, flaws in the parchment have led to areas of the written surface being left bare, which can account for a large proportion of the folio (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(166);return false;'>f. 130v</a>).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The work of one of the original scribes displays deficiencies in the use of breathings, which are always of the smooth type, even where the word requires a rough breathing (e.g. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(7);return false;'>51r-53v, line 5</a> ). The copyists of one of the inserted bifolios (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(231);return false;'>ff. 163* recto-163** recto</a>) follow the same practice, and make other widespread errors, often omitting breathings altogether, wrongly including them or placing them over the wrong letter, sometimes in ways which are not merely incidental slips but are consistently applied. The copyist of the other inserted bifolio (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(241);return false;'>ff. 166* recto-166** verso</a>) largely omits breathings altogether. This haphazard grasp of orthography shows deficiencies in the scribes' training which seem consistent with an origin in a region such as southern Italy, somewhat detached from the mainstream of Greek-speaking culture.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Another feature suggestive of an origin in southern Italy is the use of translucent yellow wash to highlight various pieces of information on lections. Such highlighting is a characteristic south Italian feature, though one that is also found in manuscripts from neighbouring Epiros in western Greece.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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