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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Gospel book

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This manuscript, probably produced in either 1120/1 or 1130/1, is a richly ornamented Gospel book, equipped for the study of the text with canon tables, chapter lists, and a brief <i>catena</i> of prefatory hypotheses and excerpts from commentaries preceding each Gospel except that of Matthew, which as usual appears first in the manuscript. It has been identified on stylistic grounds as a product of the scriptorium of the then recently founded Monastery of the Patir at Rossano in Calabria, whose abbot St Bartolomeo da Simeri (c. 1050-1130) initiated a major manuscript copying programme, active between 1100 and 1130, and as the work of a scribe responsible for two other identified manuscripts produced there. It displays close stylistic similarities to these manuscripts in ornament as well as script, and this decorative style has been linked both to another group of Rossano manuscripts and to the famous illustrated Madrid Skylitzes (<a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional d'España, Vitr. 26-2</a>) (Marchetti, pp. 175-181).</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The supplementary materials are evidently part of the original production process, as indicated by their script, decoration and integration into the physical structure of the manuscript, but it appears that their inclusion was not part of the initial plan. The manuscript retains its original quire signatures, and these begin with the start of the text of Matthew (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(27);return false;'>f. 10r</a>), indicating that the chapter list to this book and the preceding canon tables with their explanatory text were added at a later stage of the production process. The fact that Matthew, unlike the subsequent books, is not preceded by any <i>catena</i> items suggests that these too were an afterthought. A passage belonging to the <i>catena</i> for Matthew has in fact been included, but the position of this text and the heading it has been given indicates that it has been mistakenly identified as pertaining to Luke.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The Gospel of John, last in the sequence, has also been provided with ruling lines for the addition of a full <i>catena</i> in the margins, but this text has never been added. The quire signatures of John are written in a different colour from the rest, perhaps reflecting some sort of change or discontinuity in the production process. A single quire in the middle of the Gospel of Mark has also been ruled for marginal <i>catena</i>, in this instance possibly reflecting the incidental use of a quire originally intended for the text of John and already ruled for the purpose, but deemed surplus to requirements.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>A peculiar structural feature of the manuscript is that, whereas most of its quires accord with normal Byzantine practice in being assembled with the paler and more even flesh side of the parchment leaves outermost, this is not true of the first quire of each Gospel, arranged instead with the hair side outermost. This inversion seems especially odd in that the pages beginning each Gospel are the opulently ornamented showpieces of the book, but this arrangement means that they appear on the less atractive hair side of the parchment. The opening folio of the manuscript, a single leaf appended to the beginning of the first quire, is also positioned with the hair side first. Another oddity is that the last folio, another single leaf, was assigned its own quire signature in the original sequence.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Some of the supplementary texts are anonymous, while others are excerpted from patristic authors or attributed to them. Others are taken from Byzantine authors, one of whom, Niketas Seides, worked in the early 12th century, providing a chronological limit for the manuscript's production. The period of greatest activity at the Rossano scriptorium, and that of the scribe believed to be responsible, suggest that its copying must have closely followed the composition of the work excerpted, perhaps within only a few years.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>An exact date could have been gained from its colophon. The anonymous scribe named the patron who paid for the manuscript as a monk named Methodios, and apparently also supplied the date of completion. However, the date has been deliberately erased. The reason for this can only be a matter of speculation, but it could be that this information was removed in order for an owner selling the manuscript to exaggerate its antiquity and thus inflate the price. It was acquired for the 18th-century book collector Anthony Askew from one of the monasteries of Mount Athos and then auctioned with the rest of his collection after his death, transactions which might have occasioned such an intervention. Nonetheless, traces of the last numeral survive, which in combination with the other available evidence enables the manuscript to be dated with reasonable precision.</p>

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