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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Bible

Hugh of Saint-Cher, Petrus Comestor

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript contains the complete text of the Bible in a single volume. The text was copied by an Italian scribe, with the decoration being completed in England during the second quarter of the fourteenth century. It exemplifies important developments in how the Scriptures were copied, read, transmitted and mediated during the late medieval period, changes that continued to exert a guiding influence upon the production and reproduction of the Bible text beyond the medieval period and into the era of the printed book. Nothing is yet known of the circumstances in which it was made, or for whom; by the mid-fifteenth century, however, it appears to have been in the possession of St Paul's Cathedral in London.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The association of its decoration with later products of the Queen Mary Psalter workshop suggests either London or East Anglia as a possible locus of production for that part of the manuscript (see Sandler, <i>Gothic Manuscripts</i> (1986), no. 75). The female personifications of Synagoga and Ecclesia (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(13);return false;'>5r</a>) have been painted in semi-grisaille; as Deidre Jackson and Nigel Morgan have noted, 'The purple colour in particular...resembles grisaille in contemporary Parisian manuscripts by Jean Pucelle, even to the extent of the use of linear and dot stippling, a particular characteristic of Pucelle's technique. It is possible,' they conclude, 'that the English artists working in semi-grisaille had seen French manuscripts painted in the Pucellian technique' (see Panayotova (2016), no. 66).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The dissemination of the Bible in one volume has a long history. The earliest complete extant single-volume bible, Codex Amiatinus (now at the Bibliotheca Laurenziana in Florence), was produced around 700 C.E. in the north-east of England, at the Benedictine monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Such bibles are commonly referred to as 'pandects': a Greek term of originally legal application meaning 'cover all', it was used to describe Byzantine legal texts, in particular a single volume that contained a comprehensive legal code. Single-volume bibles came in and out of fashion. Books of the Bible were, for centuries, circulated as distinct and discrete books or groups of books, even alongside their single-volume equivalents. The physical unwieldiness of the complete Bible text, the lack of a set order for the constituent books, and the status of some books as canonical and others as apocryphal are factors that made the separation of the books of the Bible practicable, even desirable. The development from the mid-twelfth century onwards of glossed books of the Bible, in which the text was heavily annotated with theological interpretation and commentary, lent further weight - literally - to keeping them as separate entities.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Nevertheless, there were marked intervals in which single-volume bibles enjoyed a revival. The twelfth century, in particular, saw the production across Europe of very large, so-called 'giant' bibles. Written in large script and often exquisitely decorated with miniatures and ornamental initials, these prestige items were used in institutional settings - primarily wealthy monasteries and cathedrals - as lectern bibles for the cycle of communal readings, as part of the liturgy but also in the refectory.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Single volumes continued to be produced after the heyday of the 'giant' bible had passed. CUL MS Dd.1.14, likely produced for institutional use, included features that had been developed in smaller, portable scholastic bibles. The constituent books follow a historical sequence and are often preceded by a specific prologue (drawing on the writings of Jerome or later exegetes). Accompaniments to earlier bibles, such as the canon tables of Eusebius, have been dispensed with; instead, clearer textual articulation has been introduced in the form of chapter divisions, and guides to the deciphering of the meaning of the text have been incorporated (the <i>Interpretationes nominum hebraicorum</i>, for example).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Such changes were part of a larger transformation in the way that the Bible was disseminated, read and mediated. As research by Eyal Poleg has shown (<i>Approaching the Bible in medieval England</i> (2009)), there was a 'staggering paratextual uniformity in script and addenda, mise-en-page and textual division' in bibles produced between c. 1230 and c. 1450. The Bible became a 'highly efficient reference book', its narrative qualities taking second place to its use a source-book for preaching and teaching. The articulation of the text through capitular numbering - and their exploitation by theological treatises, biblical aids and concordances - enabled discrete reading strategies dependent upon the reader's priorities and the integration of such manuscripts into other forms of Biblical mediation, such as preaching and the performance of the liturgy.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was on display in the exhibition <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Colour: The art and science of illuminated manuscripts</a> at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge from 30 July-30 December 2016.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr James Freeman<br /> Medieval Manuscripts Specialist<br /> Cambridge University Library</p>

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