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.
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.
Sub-Librarian, The Parker Library
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.