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A heavy oak chest in the Parker Library (Corpus Christi College) was used to store objects left as collateral for loans of money. Its ironwork features the outline of a plant – but no-one knew why. Now a visitor to the Library may have unravelled the meaning of this decorative motif.

A visitor to the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College may have solved the puzzle of a curious decorative detail on a chest dating from the early 15th century. The massive oak chest is known as the Billingford Hutch and takes its name from Richard de Billingford, the fifth Master of Corpus Christi (1398-1432).

Jeremy Purseglove, environmentalist and Cambridge resident, visited the Library during Open Cambridge in September 2017. “It was a wonderful chance to get a glimpse of some of the Library’s medieval manuscripts,” he said.“We were given a fascinating talk by Alexander Devine, one of the librarians. He showed us a massive chest that had recently been moved to the Library from elsewhere in the College. My eye was drawn to the leaf shapes in the metal work.”The chest is made from oak planks and measures approximately 1.8m x 0.5m x 0.4m. It is reinforced by numerous iron bands and five iron hasps, secured in three locks, all operated by different keys. Each of the lock plates (the metal plates containing the locks, hasps and keyholes) is decorated with the outline of a plant punched into the metal.

No-one knew the significance of this decorative detail. Purseglove, who is passionate about plants, suspected the distinctive shape was likely to be that of moonwort, a fern much mentioned by 16th- century herbalists. He said: “I rushed home and looked it up. I found that it had been associated with the opening of locks and guarding of silver.”

According to the renowned herbalist Nicholas Culpepper, writing in the 17th century: “Moonwort is an herb which (they say) will open locks, and unshoe such horses as tread upon it. This some laugh to scorn, and those no small fools neither; but country people, that I know, call it Unshoe the Horse.” Moonwort is also mentioned by dramatist Ben Jonson as an ingredient of witches’ broth.In both design and structure, the Billingford Hutch is similar to many surviving chests made for the storage of valuables in late medieval Europe, from strongboxes and trunks to coffers and caskets. However, what makes the Billingford Hutch remarkable is that it’s a loan chest, a rare example of late medieval ‘financial furniture’.

University loan chests operated a bit like pawn shops and afforded temporary financial assistance to struggling scholars. “Richard de Billingford gave the College a sum of £20 which was placed in the chest under the guardianship of three custodians,” said Devine.

“Masters and Fellows of Corpus Christi were able to obtain loans up to a value of 40 shillings, around £2, by pledging objects of greater value, most often manuscripts, which would be held in the chest. After a specified time, the pledge – if unredeemed – would be sold and the original loan repaid to the chest with any profit going to the borrower.”

Billingford created the loan fund in 1420 but the chest itself may be even older. Other Cambridge colleges also had loan chests during the late Middle Ages but precious few survive. Corpus has retained not only the chest itself but also its register, containing its administrative records for more than 300 years.

The register offers great insight into the role of the chest in late medieval academic life at Corpus. Every one of the College’s Fellows and its Masters is named in the register, and many were repeat borrowers, demonstrating that the chest fulfilled a genuine need. The most frequent objects pledged to the Hutch were books. Other valuables included sacred vessels and chalices, silver spoons and salt cellars.

Devine said: “The Billingford Hutch is probably the best surviving example of its kind in Europe. To have a possible answer to the puzzle of its decorative motif is fantastic. We’re immensely grateful to Jeremy for enriching our understanding of its history. His wonderful discovery is further proof that sharing your collections with the public is the key to unlocking their secrets.”

Alex Buxton
Communications Officer (Research)
Office of External Affairs and Communications
University of Cambridge

Inset images: decorative motif on the lock plate of the Billingford Hutch; the Hutch in its present position in the Parker Library; illustrations of ‘the lunaria plant’ from a 15th-century Catalan compilation of alchemical tracts (CCCC MS 395, fol. 50v).

This article was originally published on The University of Cambridge’s website on 10th December 2017 (here) and is reproduced here with all thanks to both author and publisher.

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MS 161, f. 1r (JPEG)

Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 161, f. 1r.

The Parker Library is pleased to invite contributions to a symposium celebrating the launch of its newly redesigned online platform. It will be an occasion to reflect on the impact of the digital humanities on manuscript studies, bringing together graduate students, researchers, and library professionals who work with or on manuscript books.

 

Thanks to a collaboration with Stanford University, Parker Library on the Web 2.0 will be live in January 2018, presenting new features such as IIIF compatibility, user-based transcription bubbles, a Mirador interface allowing comparison with other digitised resources, and an updated Zotero-linked bibliography accompanying each manuscript. The website will also be released under a Creative-Commons Non-Commercial Licence, meaning that all of the images provided on Parker Library on the Web 2.0 will be free for download and personal study.

 

MS 20, f. 16v (detail, JPEG)

Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 20, f. 16v.

To weigh the potential and the implications of such a platform, the symposium will address questions about the methodologies used in the study of medieval manuscripts,how digitised surrogates and online tools influence our understanding of material objects, book circulation, and textual transmission, and how digital initiatives assist in the curation and preservation of physical collections. Whilst we encourage papers focusing on Parker manuscripts, we warmly welcome proposals discussing material hosted on similar platforms, such as (but not limited to) the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Biblissima, and the Digital Bodleian.

The symposium will take place in the Parker Library itself on 16th March 2018, and will feature an exhibition on some of its most famous treasures. Proposals of a maximum of 500 words for 20-minute papers should be submitted to Carlotta Barranu (cb841@cam.ac.uk) by 15th January 2018.

 

 

Every great hero of English history needs a zealous and over-enthusiastic biographer, and Matthew Parker is no exception. His champion was the English clergyman and historian John Strype (1643-1737), whose biography, The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker, published in 1711, represents the first proper, full length biographical study of Parker. [1] The work is not without its faults: Strype’s prose is, to say the least, colourful, his style is effusive, and his tone reverential, and yet there is something irresistible about the passion and sincerity that fills Strype’s near-hagiographical study of Matthew Parker (the Man, the Myth, the Legend).

Strype 1711_Title Page & Parker Portrait.jpg

Strype also offers invaluable insight into how Parker’s accomplishments and legacy had come to be viewed within the 150 years following his death:

“His Learning, though it were universal, yet it ran chiefly upon Antiquity, In so much that he was one of the greatest Antiquarians of the Age, And the World is for ever beholden to him for two things: Viz., for retrieving many antient Authors, Saxon and British, as well as Norman, and for restoring and enlightening a great deal of the antient History of this noble Island. … Indeed he was the chief Retriever of that our ancient Native Language, the Saxon I mean, and encouraged heartily the study of it.”                                                (Strype 1711: 528, 535).

Thus we find Parker’s many noteworthy accomplishments, as a conserver of History and a preserver of Learning, and as a retriever of ancient Language and an advocate for its study, celebrated as emanating from his merit and abilities as a historian and an antiquarian, the significance of whose legacy is neatly summarised in Strype’s memorably-phrased celebration of Parker as “A mighty Collector of Books, [who] preserved as much as could be, the antient Monuments of the learned, Men of our Nation from perishing.” (Strype 1711: 535).

In his quest for documentary evidence of the unbroken continuity of the English Church from the earliest times, Parker particularly sought out chronicles and histories, especially those concerned with the early Church in England. These were texts greatly valued by the Elizabethan antiquarians, alarmed that recorded knowledge of Britain’s past risked being swept away with the closure of the monasteries and the dispersal of their libraries. Parker gathered together a remarkably rich range of works by a number of the best-known historians and chroniclers of England from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries.

Parker collected together many of the standard primary sources of early English history, including Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica, in Latin (MS 264) and in Old English (MS 41), the earliest copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 173), Nennius’ Historia Brittonum (MS 139) and copies of the works of Eadmer (MSS 371, 452 and 457). His library included copies of the historical writings of Matthew Paris (his Chronica Maiora, in MSS 26 & 16, and a 16th-century transcript of his Historia Minor, MS 56), together with works by Henry of Huntingdon (MS 280), William of Malmesbury (MS 43), Geoffrey of Monmouth (MSS 281, 292 and 414), Simeon of Durham (MS 139), John of Tynemouth (MSS 56), Nicholas Trivet (MS 152), and Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, both in Latin (MSS 21, 164 and 259), and in Trevisa’s English translation (MS 354). Parker also assembled a remarkably rich range of works by minor premodern chroniclers and local antiquaries of England, including Florence of Worcester (MS 92), William of Newburgh (MS 262), Richard of Devizes (MS 129), Gervase of Tilbury (MS 414), Gervase of Canterbury (MS 438), Radulfus Niger (MS 343) and Roger of Wendover (MS 264).

Furthermore, Parker gathered books which emphasized the role of the English kings in promoting or protecting the Church. For this reason the library contains manuscripts owned by or associated with an impressive variety of English monarchs, including Alfred (MS 12), Aethelstan (MS 183), Edward II (MS 20), Richard I (MS 339), Richard II (MS 61), Henry V (MS 213), Henry VIII (MS 432) and Elizabeth I (MS 114A), not to mention Parker’s manuscript showing the wedding feast in 1114 of Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, and the German Emperor Henry V featuring one of, if not the earliest, known illustrations of a pretzel in Western art (MS 373).

Alexander Devine

Sub-Librarian

ad523@corpus.cam.ac.uk

 

Scala Mundi (MS 194)

early fourteenth century, England

The Scala Mundi, or Ladder of the World, is a diagrammatical chronicle of universal history from the Creation to the early fourteenth century, when this manuscript was made. It includes the earliest known depiction of Stonehenge, shown here, which is described as having been built by Merlin the magician who brought the huge stones magically from Ireland. This copy is part of an anthology of historical texts which belonged to the Hospital of St. Mary without Bishopsgate in London.

The Venerable Bede, Vita Cuthberti (MS 183)

c.934, England

This is one of the oldest English royal manuscripts, made for King Æthelstan (927-39), grandson of Alfred the Great. It is a copy of the life of Saint Cuthbert, bishop of the island community of Lindisfarne written by Bede. When the monastery was sacked by the Vikings in 875, the monks dug up the saint’s body and carried it with other sacred relics in a journey lasting several centuries to Chester-le-Street, Ripon, and eventually to Durham (1104), when Cuthbert was finally interred. Æthelstan probably presented the monks from Lindisfarne with this magnificent copy of the life of their patron saint in or soon after 934, when he stayed with the exiled community, then at Chester-le-Street between Durham and Newcastle, on his journey northwards to fight the Scots. Here, the dedicatory frontispiece shows Æthelstan standing in the presence of Saint Cuthbert.

The Parker Chronicle (MS 173)

ninth – twelfth centuries, Winchester & Christ Church, Canterbury

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is one of the most famous historical texts from Anglo-Saxon England. This copy, known as the ‘Parker’ Chronicle, is the oldest version of the text and one of the earliest manuscripts in the Old English language. It was probably mostly written at the court of King Alfred in Wessex, perhaps in Winchester, in the late ninth century. It describes historical events by the years in which they took place. The opening here shows the entry for 1066, recording the burning of Christ Church, a comet in the sky (as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry) and the Battle of Hastings: ‘In this year King Edward passed away, and Earl Harold came to the throne and ruled for 40 weeks and a day; in this year came William and conquered England; and in this year Christ Church was burned, and a comet appeared on 18 April’.

MATTHEW PARIS, CHRONICA MAIORA (MS 16.I) [fols. i v-ii r]

mid-thirteenth century (c.1250s, before 1259), England, St. Albans

The Chronica Maiora, or ‘Greater History’ is the two-volume history of the world compiled by Matthew Paris (c.1189-1259), artist monk of St. Albans. This is the author’s own copy, with corrections and beautiful illustrations throughout in his own hand. It is one of the major sources for the history of the Crusades. The opening here shows the earliest depiction of the first elephant in England, which was sent to King Henry III as a diplomatic present from King Louis IX of France in 1255. The illustration is remarkably accurate, and for good reason, for it was drawn from life. Upon learning of its arrival in London, the ever-curious Matthew Paris promptly dashed off to London to see and study this strange new animal at the Tower of London. Paris records detailed descriptions of particularly noteworthy features of its appearance and behaviour. He notes that the elephant was ten feet high, was grey-black in colour and had small eyes in the upper part of its head. He also notes that its hide was not furry but rather very hard and rough, and that it used its trunk to obtain food and drink. Paris also illustrated the elephant’s keeper, named “Henry de Flor’”, who is described as “magister bestie”, or ‘the master of the beast’, and whose figure offers the viewer a useful comparison of scale in illustrating the elephant’s size. Unfortunately this spectacular beast’s life on English shores was short and likely unhappy, since, unsurprisingly, its captors had neither the knowledge nor the skills to properly care for it. They fed it on meat and wine and thus the poor creature died in 1257 and was buried at the Tower.

 

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[1] John Strype, THE LIFE AND ACTS OF MATTHEW PARKER, The First Archbishop of CANTERBURY in the Reign of Queen ELIZABETH. Under whose Primacy and Influence the Reformation of Religion was happily Effected; And the Church of England Restored, and Established upon the PRINCIPLES whereon it stands to this Day (London: John Wyat, 1711).

The Parker Library is celebrated as one of the finest libraries of its kind in the world. Its holdings of medieval manuscripts and early printed books constitute a resource of unparalleled international importance for the study of Britain’s premodern past, and a repository of historical materials of exceptional importance to our nation’s culture and heritage.

Of special significance for scholars of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic is the library’s treasure-trove of extremely early manuscripts. The Parker Library is home to significant portion of all surviving manuscripts older than the year 800 in British collections, including the world-famous Gospels of St. Augustine (MS 286) and our 8th-century Northumbrian Gospel Book (MS 197b). Furthermore, we also hold about a quarter of all extant manuscripts in Old English; our holding is surpassed only by The British Library and The Bodleian. Our shelves hold many of the most celebrated volumes in the entire canon of all surviving Old English manuscripts, such as the earliest text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, today known as The Parker Chronicle (MS 173), the Aethelstan copy of Bede’s Life of St. Cuthbert (MS 183), and The Corpus Glossary (MS 144). The collection contains several of the translations from Latin made at the instance of King Alfred, including St. Gregory’s Dialogues (MS 322) and his Pastoral Care (MS 12) and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (MS 41), while the biblical translation of Abbot Ælfric is represented by The Bath Old English Gospels (MS 140) and MS 449, which contain his Grammar and Glossary. The Parker is one of the principle sources of the Homilies of both Ælfric and of Wulfstan (MSS 198 and 190). Our collections also include rare examples of pre-Conquest laws (in the second half of MS 173 and in MS 383) and of early English monastic rules (in MSS 178, 191 and 201). We also hold the earliest surviving example of polyphonic music in the eleventh-century Winchester Troper (MS 473).

The Parker Library acquired this magnificent collection through the benefaction of our namesake, Matthew Parker (1504-75), Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I and the greatest of the 16th-century English antiquarians, who bequeathed some 600 medieval books bequeathed to the College in 1575. This collection forms the heart of the Parker Library today; it represents the oldest intact private library in the world and enduring monument to Parker’s extraordinary achievements as a book collector, and a testament to his extraordinary generosity as an institutional benefactor and a sponsor of learning.

The explanation for the presence of so rich a collection of early English medieval manuscripts, and particularly such an extraordinary number of manuscripts in the Old English language, in Parker’s collection is foundational to Parker’s reasons for assembling his whole library. When Queen Elizabeth appointed Parker her first Archbishop of Canterbury, he was charged with a mandate to establish an English Church which would be utterly secure, legal and completely irrevocable. To this end, Parker’s sought to justify the ‘new’ English Church by referring to historical precedent; looking far back into early English history he argued that the original missionaries to Anglo-Saxon England had always intended to set up an independent English Church, speaking the English language and under the authority of the king, not the pope. That is why the Parker Library was formed; to support Parker’s interpretation of history and to justify the ‘new’ English Church.

Matthew Parker was a man of many talents, as witnessed in the many academic positions and ecclesiastical offices that he held at local and national levels over the course of his lifetime, not only as a theologian and later a prelate, as a scholar and an antiquarian, but also a translator and a publisher. However above all else, he was lifelong bibliophile, a passionate book collector, and he used his prodigious talent for book collecting to gather a magnificent library that would furnish tangible proof of incontrovertible precedent for each the clauses of the recreated Anglican Church. In 1568 Parker obtained a license from the Privy Council to gather into his own possession any “auncient recordes and monuments” from the old scattered monastic libraries which would provide evidence of the history of the original English religion. This of course meant especially those which were from or were concerned with the Anglo-Saxon period, and of particular importance for Parker were manuscripts in the English language, particularly those that showed or suggested that the vernacular was used rather than Latin in the religious life of the Anglo-Saxons. Nearly every one of Parker’s books was gathered for that reason, and it is for this reason that the library includes so large a section of early English medieval manuscripts.

Alexander Devine

Sub-Librarian

ad523@corpus.cam.ac.uk

 

Photo of CASE 4 (2).jpg

 

SAINT WULFSTAN’S PORTIFORIUM (MS 391)

c.1064-69, Western England, probably Worcester

This stout little book comprises a portable one-volume compendium of a Psalter and a Breviary for daily use by an eleventh-century bishop travelling around his diocese. Both historical tradition and internal evidence suggest that the manuscript was made in Worcester for Saint Wulfstan (c.1008-1095), bishop of Worcester 1062-95. Wulfstan was canonised by Innocent III in 1203. He is patron saint of vegetarians. The frontispiece displayed here shows King David as a harpist, playing music on a seven-stringed Anglo-Saxon harp, facing the opening of the Psalter, whose text (Psalm 1) begins: ‘Beatus / vir / qui / non / abiit / in consilio impiorum …’ “Blessed is the man who does not abide in the company of the ungodly…”.

THE CORPUS GLOSSARY (MS 144)

c.800, probably Canterbury

The Corpus Glossary is a list of words with synonyms in Latin, Greek, and Old English, arranged in more-or-less alphabetical order by the words’ first two letters. The manuscript’s importance lies in its inclusion of Old English, of which this volume is an early witness. Although this manuscript itself is quite short, in addition to the famous ‘Glossary’, the volume includes two supplementary texts, both grammatical in subject: a copy of the ‘Interpretations of Hebrew and Greek Names’ and an excerpt from the second book of Priscian’s Institutiones grammaticae, copied at a later date. Entries on the left-hand page of the opening shown here offer definitions for a number of book-related words, among them, in the left hand column, “Bibliotheca” or ‘Library’, here defined as a “librorum reposio” or ‘a repository of books’; while other words, such as “bitricius”, are given with their Old English equivalents, in this case, “stoepfaeder” or ‘step-father’.

 

A TESTIMONIE OF ANTIQUITIE: SHEWING THE AUNCIENT FAYTH IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND TOUCHING THE SACRAMENT OF THE BODY AND BLOUDE OF THE LORD HERE PUBLIKELY PREACHED, AND ALSO RECEAUED IN THE SAXONS TYME, ABOUE 600. YEARES AGOE. (S.P. 281 [1])

1566, London (John Day)

This is the first book printed with Anglo-Saxon types. It is an edition of Ælfrician homilies and related materials printed as part of Parker’s programme to use Anglo-Saxon scholarship to solidify the doctrinal and institutional position of the Church of England. The Testimonie, along with the other Old English imprints that Parker were intended to show that the Church of England shared the beliefs of the ancient Saxon church, and thus had a pedigree that was both long and insular. The first Anglo-Saxon type designed for Parker – that which was used to print the Testimonie – had twenty-six sorts, and was based on Old English manuscript models, probably of the eleventh century. The book is here open to the beginning of the homily “In die Sancto Pascae”, with the Old English appearing on the left and a facing-page modern English translation. The layout is clear enough to allow a reader to compare the two versions and presumably, therefore, to learn something of the language.

 

ÆLFRIC, ANGLO-SAXON HOMILIES (MS 198)

tenth – eleventh centuries, perhaps Worcester

Annotations of a text can narrate histories of their own, as witnessed in this collection of Old English Homilies. While many later readers have left notes in the margins which attest to their understanding of Old English at a time when it was no longer spoken, the opening displayed here shows annotations which indicate the manuscript’s role in the history of the early printing of Old English. On the right hand page we see the opening of the same homily as that printed in A testimonie of antiquitie, also displayed here – whose text begins ‘Men ða leofostan gelome eoƿ is gesæd’. The number ‘19’ can be seen next to the opening line which corresponds to the page with the same homily in the printed edition.

 

Moving on from vernacular texts, the next case sets to explore the differing readership practices of classical works in Latin and Greek. It displays books from the early twelfth to the late fifteenth centuries and seeks to show different layers of knowledge in these languages after late Antiquity. As this array of material was especially aimed at catching the attention of our undergraduates, I tried to gather as many familiar authors as possible, though their acquisition was often unrelated to an appreciation of the literary quality of these works. For instance, Parker collected our copies of Homer and Euripides because he thought they belonged to Theodore of Tarsus, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the late seventh century, who had taught Latin and Greek to Anglo-Saxon students. In fact, Parker did not demonstrate a particular interest in classics as much as he did in history or theology, though he would have been taught Greek as an undergraduate. Some evidence of this training comes from the volume of Homer, which shows a Greek annotation on the title page. Written in Parker’s characteristic red, this note is also the first line of a sixth-century poem ascribed to Stephanus of Byzantium, in which each book of the Iliad is described in a single verse. [1]

 

Indeed, knowledge of Greek had been scarce in England up until Parker’s time, and our thirteenth-century bilingual psalter from Ramsey Abbey is an example of this lacuna. Whilst the psalms appears on two facing columns in both Latin and Greek, the latter is transliterated in Roman script, and the etymological annotations found on the flyleaves show that the scribe was copying them from another book, rather than spontaneously reflecting on the roots of the Greek language. Both these aspects strongly suggest that the scribe did not actually have any alphabetical or grammatical knowledge of Greek. An analogous problem can also be found in our Euripides, where Orestes is erroneously entitled Elektra, again suggesting the popular unfamiliarity with Greek texts. In contrast, the current opening of our copy of Terence shows some fifteenth-century marginal annotations, and the hand of a later twelfth-century scribe that has traced over faded portions of text, which offers an opportunity for comparison between readerships of Latin classical texts and their Greek counterparts in the same case.

 

Finally, I picked one of our fifteenth-century copies of Virgil to show how the format that was once used for biblical study – the appearance of the main text in a larger font, and a standard commentary surrounding it laid out on the page – was implemented in the scholarly study of other texts such as, in this case, the Aeneid. Despite lacking the glow of the illuminated initial of the Iliad, this opening also contains an etching portraying the Trojans as they carry the horse inside the city walls, a visually stunning addition to this section, and one of the many etchings in this volume.

 

[1] I would like to thank Professor Richard Hunter for his assistance in identifying the source of this annotation.

 

Carlotta Barranu

Library Assistant

cb841@corpus.cam.ac.uk

 

Classics case


HOMER, THE ILIAD (MS 81)

fifteenth century, England, possibly Canterbury (more likely Christ Church than St. Augustine’s)

Just above the beginning of the column of text, we see where Parker added his own signature (‘Matthaeus Cantuar:’), followed by a note in Greek in his characteristic red pencil. The book’s contents were recorded and made identifiable through the addition of the text ‘Homerus grece’ on the fore-edge of the book itself, offering a pleasing insight into the ways and methods in which books were stored on shelved during this period. The cartouche at the bottom reads, in Greek characters, ‘Theodoros’, which led Parker to believe the book once belonged to Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury (602-690), originally from the Greek-speaking Cilicia, now south of Turkey. For this reason, this book was thought to be 900 years older than it actually is.

 

EURIPIDES, HECUBA, ORESTES, PHOENISSAE (MS 403)

fifteenth century, possibly Canterbury

Despite the new interest in Greek literature brought about during the Renaissance, it would have been unlikely for an English scribe to be familiar with Greek script. Yet this copy of three of Euripides’ plays seems to have come from Canterbury, which could bespeak of existing links with the East. Displayed here is Orestes, wrongly entitled ‘Elektra’, pointing perhaps at the failure of reading Greek or negligence on the part of the rubricator, i.e. the scribe who would have been in charge of inscribing titles in red in medieval manuscripts. On the other hand, the fact that the text is heavily annotated is indicative of an intended scholarly readership, which would have made sense among the circles of Canterbury. Like for the case of the volume of Homer, Parker believed this belonged to Theodore of Tarsus. This would have of course been impossible, as he died in 690 AD whilst the book dates to six centuries later.

 

TERENCE, COMEDIES (MS 231)

early twelfth century, the continent (possibly Germany)

Copies of what we now call ‘classical’ literature were not widely transmitted during the Middle Ages due to their ties with paganism. There were some exceptions, however. Terence’s Comedies, for instance, were used as an aid to teach Latin grammar and style, which made them uninterruptedly popular from late antiquity to the Renaissance. This scenario is confirmed in the copy now housed at Corpus:  four scribes worked on this manuscript, and at least another three recognisable hands can be identified annotating the text. As the annotators can be dated between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries, it is clear that there was a consistent interest in reading Terence, and maintaining this copy functional and legible. Here you can see where a later twelfth-century scribe traced over portions of faded text.

 

VIRGIL, OPERA VIRGILIANA (G.3.21)

1529, unknown publisher

Described by T.S. Eliot as ‘the classic of all Europe’, Virgil is among the most famous authors of Latinity. Since his death in 19 BC, Virgil’s literary works gained popularity as schoolbooks to learn Latin grammar and metre. After the consolidation of Christianism as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Aeneid in particular was reinterpreted as a proto-Christian text, with Aeneas taking resemblance of a Christ-like figure leading his people towards the foundation of Rome – like Christ did with the Church. It is indeed for this reason that Dante imagines to be guided by him through Hell and Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. The Renaissance period then witnessed an important revival of the study of classical literature, prompting new scholarship on these texts. This edition is a good example of this context: it includes significant portions of commentary surrounding Virgil’s verses, indicating this would have been a copy intended for scholarly use. Here is displayed a section of Book 2, where Aeneas recollects the events leading up to the siege of Troy. In this beautiful etching, the Trojan horse hosting the hidden Greeks is brought into the city.

 

BILINGUAL PSALTER (MS 468)

late thirteenth century, Ramsey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

Before the Renaissance, knowledge of Greek in the West was sporadic and mainly associated with individual scholars or institutions, despite being one of the three sacred languages alongside Hebrew and Latin. In particular, England witnessed a period of hiatus in the study of Greek during the thirteenth century. This little volume, however, may seem an exception. Owned by Gregory of Huntingdon (fl.1300), prior of Ramsey Abbey, it is a bilingual psalter with facing pages in Latin, and Greek transliterated in Roman script. Instinctively, one would assume this indicates he had some knowledge of Greek, but clues in the book suggest the opposite. For instance, the nature of these notes is purely etymological – there is no evidence he understood Greek’s morphology or syntax. There are also clear signs in the notes themselves that demonstrate he was copying from another book rather than writing out of his own initiative. Therefore, he may not have had the skills to read the Greek portion of the psalter after all. What the volume depicts, however, is the beginning of a revived interest in Greek, as later expressed at the Council of Vienne where it was declared that Greek (and Hebrew) should be taught alongside Latin at university.

Our second exhibition case is currently dedicated to the study of English literature, which, unlike Theology, was not part of the university curriculum during Parker’s time (and it would have had to wait for another 350 years at least). I focused specifically on post-Conquest material, since we decided to keep our Anglo-Saxon books in a separate case. The four volumes I chose conveniently run in chronological order, from a thirteenth-century Apocalypse in Anglo-Norman to our copy of Chaucer’s Troilus and Cryseide from the second quarter of the fifteenth century.

 

I chose the Corpus Apocalypse as the first item because of its beautiful illuminations, and, more importantly, its language. Whilst medievalists are very familiar with the trilingual nature of English society during the Middle Ages, not all our visitors are aware that Anglo-Norman was one of the spoken vernaculars of England during this period. This is usually an excuse to talk about the polarised relationship between the French of the conquerors and the English of the conquered, as Ian Short suggested, in contrast with the omnipresent Latin, symbol of the authority of God and, most importantly, of the Church. The opening I have chosen strategically illustrates some basic scribal practices, such as the ruling of books, the erasure of text, and the use of the cloister as a possible setting for writing, thus allowing the viewer to visualise how our manuscripts were made.

 

The Apocalypse is then followed by the earliest surviving copy of Ancrene Wisse, a favourite of current university reading lists on medieval English texts. It is what we amicably refer to as a ‘brown manuscript’ – i.e. somewhat underwhelming to the untrained eye – and I have used this item to show how medieval reading practices sometimes resonate with modern habits, such as the underlining that you can see on the recto of the opening, and some ‘maniculae’ (literally meaning ‘little hands’) highlighting important passages – in short, the precursors of asterisks, exclamation marks, and the like in the margin of our own textbooks!

 

I then felt I should flaunt some of our classics – a copy of Piers Ploughman, and Chaucer’s Troilus. Piers shows some water damage over the edges, which is an excellent occasion to raise conservation concerns with our visitors, and explain why, as special collection librarians, we work under certain conditions to ensure our rare material is kept safe. Moving on to Chaucer, well, it speaks for itself. Yet I like to remind our visitors that this manuscript was not acquired by Parker because of his appreciation of Chaucer’s poetry per se – quite the opposite: he believed it to be a copy made for the king, and collected it as a ‘royal manuscript’ – little did it matter that it contained Chaucer rather than any other text!

 

Carlotta Barranu

Library Assistant

cb841@corpus.cam.ac.uk

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THE CORPUS APOCALYPSE (MS 20)

c.1330, St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury

 

With no less than 106 pictures, this is one of the finest fourteenth-century illustrated copies of the Apocalypse, written in Anglo-Norman. Although England is often referred to as a medieval trilingual society, only a minority of the population could speak this variant of continental French. Moreover, throughout the Middle Ages it never came to displace English, and by the fourteenth century it was considered as an accomplishment that was in reality fast disappearing. By the end of the century, shifting attitudes to the two vernaculars of England also coincided with the increasing richness of Middle English literary composition, as witnessed in Chaucer and Gower’s works.

 

ANCRENE WISSE (MS 402)

second quarter of the thirteenth century, Wigmore(?), Hertfordshire

 

The Ancrene Wisse or Ancrene Riwle is a treatise on the religious life intended for anchoresses or nuns. To this day, uncertainty surrounds its origins and authorship, although it was possibly written by a Dominican friar in the West Midlands during the 1230s. Alternatively, authorship has been assigned to an Augustinian canon, also writing in the same area in the first third of the century. This copy is one of the earliest that have survived, which is especially valuable considering that the text represents one of the first examples of Middle English prose after the Norman Conquest, and, as Cate Gunn has put it, ‘anticipat[es] the vernacular spirituality that developed in the fourteenth century’.

 

WILLIAM LANGLAND, PIERS PLOUGHMAN (MS 293)

c.1425, England

 

Piers Ploughman is a Middle English alliterative allegory meant to inspire religiosity, and educate its medieval audience to key theological principles through the journey of its Christ-like homonymous character. Popular throughout the Middle Ages, it attracted special attention at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which similarly denounced the clergy’s corruption and inadequate pastoral care. Although it is no deluxe copy, it was collected by Parker himself, possibly as an example of popular vernacular religious literature. Here you can also see his hand paginating the book’s leaves, written in a characteristic red crayon.

 

GEOFFREY CHAUCER, TROILUS AND CRISEYDE (MS 61)

c.1415-1425, England

 

Although the Parker Library is yet to acquire a copy of the Canterbury Tales, this copy of Troilus is usually referred to as the most beautiful surviving copy of the poem. It was planned as a luxury edition intended to have over ninety illustrations; however only the full-page frontispiece was painted, with blank spaces left at the positions intended for the other pictures. It is thought that the man reading from the pulpit represents Chaucer himself, and that the prominent male figure dressed in a gold-embroidered costume was the likely patron of the book. Although this figure remains unidentified, Parker believed this manuscript to be a royal commission, which would make Richard II a candidate for patronage. This was also the likely reason why Parker collected the book in the first place, rather than for the quality of the text itself (now the main source of modern editions).

 

The last six months have borne witness to a period of considerable change here at the Parker Library. Not only has Christopher de Hamel, our former Donnelley Fellow Librarian, retired, but our two Sub-Librarians, Steven Archer and Beth Dumas, have departed in pursuit of new opportunities at Christ Church, Oxford and St. Andrews respectively. Leaving two vacancies in their stead, I arrived in January and was closely followed in March by the other new Sub-Librarian, Alex Devine, to take over what, I believe, is one of the most amazing collections of medieval manuscripts and rare books in England. We also now have twitter (@ParkerLibCCCC).

In light of that last development, we thought it might be interesting to start off by providing a digital snapshot of our current exhibition. Curated by myself, Alex Devine, and Charlie Barranu, the exhibition, entitled ‘Learning in Cambridge’, was installed in celebration of graduation here at the college and seeks to examine how our rare books and manuscripts can support each of the major academic disciplines studied here at Corpus. Over the coming weeks, each one of us will be providing a brief insight into our aims and though processes in putting together each of the eight cases in the current exhibition. Images of each manuscript currently on display will be published daily on our twitter feed, and the captions which we wrote to accompany the items in the physical exhibition will be found at the bottom of each blog post. Thus, without further ado, let’s address the first case on the left as you enter the exhibition space, one which is currently devoted to the study of Theology.

Case 1

Figure 1: The first case, dedicated to the study of Theology 

Seeing as the largest single donation to the Parker library was given by an Archbishop of Canterbury, I was spoiled for choice when it came to picking items to represent the study of Theology in the first case. Given the breadth of items available, I chose to focus on the way in which the Bible was read and studied throughout the medieval period. The canon tables of the massive Dover Bible provided a clear direction as the concordances so beautifully displayed within them have been carried through the rest of the gospel text, being carefully added into the margin of the relevant episodes. The second item in the case, the Biblia Pauperum, illustrates the way in which connections were forged not only within the New Testament, but between the Old Testament and the New, while the final item, a 15th-century Psalter, was chosen to show how the practice of visualising the implements of the crucifixion during prayer, a central tenant of those who followed devotino moderna movement, came to be reflected in the pages of the Psalters they would have prayed from.

Anne McLaughlin

Sub-Librarian, The Parker Library

am2539@corpus.cam.ac.uk


THE DOVER BIBLE, VOL. II (MS 4)

Twelfth century, Christ Church Canterbury

Dover Priory was a dependency of Christ Church Canterbury during the twelfth century, and it is probable that this bible was produced at the larger foundation but intended for use in Dover. Though the Bible has been beautifully illuminated with large decorated initials throughout, the canon tables displayed here have been framed by Romanesque arches with thin and highly decorated columns – reminiscent of Norman architecture. Designed in the third century AD, canon tables are used to allow the reader to identify where in each of the four gospels a single episode occurs; for instance, the first line in the canon tables dictates that the fulfilment of one of Isiah’s prophecies by John the Baptist is found in section VIII in the Gospel of Matthew, II in Marc, VII in Luke, and X in John.

 

BIBLIA PAUPERUM (EP.H.7a)

c.1460, possibly from the Netherlands

Notoriously difficult to date, copies of the Biblia Pauperum were produced from woodcut blocks beginning in the 1430s and continually throughout the fifteenth century. Unlike printing with moveable type, in which letters and numbers can be freely rearranged, block books like the Biblia Pauperum were produced by carving the negative image of an entire page, both the text and the images, into a single wood-block, which was then inked and pressed against the paper. Though called the ‘Bible of the Poor’, and considerably cheaper to produce than a manuscript or even printed book, these ‘Bibles’ were intended for an educated and pious readership, such as a poor clergyman, or as a focus for personal meditation. Each of the central scenes is taken from the New Testament (on this opening the ‘Kiss of Judas’ and ‘Pilate washes his hands’) while the flaking images depict the typological precedents for the central image pulled from the Old Testament (on the left: ‘Abner treacherously killed by Joab’ and ‘Tryphon treacherously takes Jonathan captive’; and on the right: ‘Jezebel seeks to kill Elijah’ and ‘Daniel accused by the Babylonians’).

 

PSALTER (formerly Ferrell MS 3)

Fifteenth century, Syon Abbey, Middlesex

Likely made for a female member of the Brigantine community at Syon Abbey, this small psalter would likely have been used as a personal devotional text. The illuminations found at the beginning of each of the major psalms depict scenes from the life of Christ and are intended to be used as a focus for meditation while reading. The illumination in the initial D of Psalm 110 seen here shows a priest and two altar boys kneeling before an altar while the images of the instruments of the Passion and Christ himself seem to float in the air in front of them. Such an image suggests that the psalter’s illuminator was a follower of the devotio moderna, a religious movement within the Catholic faith popular from the fourteenth – sixteenth centuries which placed a high value on meditation and personal prayer, rather than on ritual and good works.