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Western Medieval Manuscripts : MS Ff.1.27

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'><b>Parts I, III-X</b></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.27 (Part I) is a miscellany of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, containing, amongst other texts, Gildas’ De excidio Britanniae (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(15);return false;'>1-14</a>), the Historia Brittonum attributed to Nennius (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(28);return false;'>14-40</a>), an anonymous life of St. Cuthbert (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(209);return false;'>195-202</a>), and the collected works of Gille of Limerick (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(251);return false;'>237-242</a>), a twelfth-century Irish bishop. Probably conceived as a compendium of historical material, the manuscript shows a considerable interest in Irish and Northumbrian history, as suggested by its inclusion of Symeon of Durham’s Historia Dunelmensis Ecclesiae (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(136);return false;'>122-194</a>), Aethelwulf’s De abbatibus (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(217);return false;'>203-215</a>), and the Old English poem known as ‘Durham’ (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(216);return false;'>202</a>).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The complex provenance of the manuscript, which was once bound with Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 66, has been much disputed by scholars. Once thought to have originated at the scriptorium of the Cistercian Abbey at Sawley (Lancs.), the most recent analysis has suggested an origin at Durham Cathedral Priory, thus placing Durham as an important twelfth-century centre for the copying and transmission of historical material (Dumville, 1998). At some point in its history, probably under its ownership by Matthew Parker in the sixteenth-century, the original manuscript was broken up: Ff.1.27 Part I bound with the latter half of a thirteenth-century manuscript from Bury St. Edmunds, and CCCC 66 with the first half of the Bury manuscript (now separated into CCCC 66a).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Despite the composite nature of the manuscript, many of its constituent texts are highly significant within their respective traditions of transmission and textual history. The copy of the Historia Brittonum is a rare recension of the text that explicitly ascribes the work to Nennius, and is thought to have been copied from the first witness of the Nennian Historia in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 139. The manuscript’s copy of Symeon of Durham’s Historia is likewise one of the first to name Symeon of Durham as author - a feature that does not even appear in the two earliest manuscript witnesses of the text (Durham University Library, MS Cosin V.II.6 and London, British Library, Cotton Faustina A.v). The manuscript’s copy of the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto has been identified as the second oldest copy in existence (Johnson South, 2002), and, uniquely, is followed in the same hand by the latest extant poem in regular Old English metre known to exist, the vernacular poem “Durham”, which describes the fame of the city and its most famous inhabitants, from the “famous writer Bede” to the “gracious, blessed [saint] Cuthbert”.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Though written by several hands, the appearance of the manuscript’s various texts are pleasingly coordinated, each written in two columns, structured by red rubrics and decorated with alternating red and green initials. Some initials, such as those to the opening of Gildas’ De excidio on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(16);return false;'>2</a> and Symeon of Durham’s Historia Dunelmensis on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(137);return false;'>123</a>, are finely executed, characterised respectively by intricate foliage and arabesque motifs. A particular highlight of the manuscript’s illumination occurs on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(252);return false;'>238</a>, which contains a fully coloured Imago ecclesiae illustrating Gille of Limerick’s De statu ecclesie. Based on a Gothic architectural frame, with arching and arcading reminiscent of stained glass window designs, the image illustrates episcopal and secular church hierarchy, together with the orders of society descending from the emperor and kings.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Perhaps the most codicologically complex manuscript in the University’s collection, the codex is a highly significant witness to the evolution of several textual traditions, and for the dissemination of historical material about the British, Irish and Hiberno-Saxon past. Compiled at the very transition between the late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods, the manuscript shows contemporaries coming to grips with the rich literary legacy of some eight hundred years of historical writing in the British Isles, marshalled here into a diverse compendium that attests to the wealth of historical scholarship in twelfth-century Durham.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'><b>Part II</b></p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Cambridge University Library MS Ff.1.27 (Part II) is a miscellany of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, containing a selection of historical texts including Gerald of Wales’s Topography of Ireland (pages <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(267);return false;'>253-355</a>), an anonymous life of St. Patrick (pages <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(467);return false;'>453-471</a>), and Rhygyfarch ap Sulien’s Life of St. David (pages <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(632);return false;'>618-636</a>). Probably conceived as a compendium of historical material, the manuscript shows a particular interest in Irish history, saints’ lives and mythology, and also includes a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Life of Merlin (pages <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(624);return false;'>610-618</a>).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Originating at the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, the manuscript is one half of a larger volume, split into two parts by Matthew Parker in the sixteenth century. Now bound with a twelfth-century miscellany of historical texts from Durham (Ff.1.27 Part I), the other half of the Bury manuscript is now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 66A, which contains material by the French chronicler Jacques de Vitry and diverse cosmological and poetic texts. Probably rearranged by its early modern owner to form a more pleasing collection of texts relating to British and Irish history, Ff.1.27 Part II also contains a sixteenth-century copy of Gerald of Wales’s Itinerary, evidently added at the same time as Parker’s restructuring of the codex.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Written, in its medieval portions, in a fine example of the Gothic hand, the manuscript bears some striking, and finely executed illumination. Historiated initials, such as that of Henry II enthroned (page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(276);return false;'>262</a>); St Patrick preaching (page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(467);return false;'>453</a>) and Merlin making a prophecy (page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(624);return false;'>610</a>), make lavish use of gold leaf, and may be compared, in the design and the quality of the figural depictions, to contemporary illuminated Psalters, such as the thirteenth-century Carrow Psalter (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W.34). Numerous border decorations, principally occurring in Gerald of Wales’s Topographia (esp. pages <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(291);return false;'>277-344</a>), show thematically diverse scenes, including religious images (for instance the Crucifixion on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(332);return false;'>318</a>), aspects of the natural world (e.g. a whale on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(313);return false;'>299</a>), and some delightfully vernacular imagery, as in the depiction of a woman embracing a goat and a lion on page <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(322);return false;'>308</a>.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Containing some fine illumination and several important texts pertaining to the history of the British Isles, the manuscript attests to the copying and transmission of historical material at Bury St. Edmunds in the high medieval period. Providing important evidence about the range of historical scholarship at the Abbey, the codex is also notable for its post-medieval history, offering an insight into Matthew Parker’s management of his collection, and how sixteenth-century scholars viewed the relative importance of medieval texts.</p>

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