Although we have highlighted the loan of four of the eleven manuscripts that have been on loan to the British Library as part of their spectacular Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibition, and although we will be focusing on a few more items individually as they make their way back to the Cambridge, we thought that it appropriate to mark today, the last day of the exhibition, by dedicating our post to the collaboration between the Parker Library and the British Library. Today, we’re both writing about the same book. After you’ve finished here, please go have a look at the BL’s blog entry https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2019/02/reconstructing-the-otho-corpus-gospels.html for curator Julian Harrison’s reflections about our two manuscripts.
The Parker Library was honoured to play such a big role in the exhibition, and it was a joy to see the treasures of our collection stand shoulder to shoulder with remarkable manuscripts loaned from institutions across the world, but nowhere was the connection more evident than in the re-uniting of British Library, Cotton MS Otho C V and Corpus Christi College MS 197b, collectively known as the the Otho-Corpus Gospels. Made in Northumbria in the 8th century, the Gospel book was split into at least two pieces by the sixteenth century as the first half (predominantly the gospels of Matthew and Mark) ended up in the collection of Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), while fragments of Luke and John found their way to Archbishop Matthew Parker’s (d. 1575) library. Unfortunately, the first sections of the book were badly burned in the fire at Ashburnham House in 1731 that destroyed large swaths of the Cotton Collection; however, the latter half of the manuscript can give the reader some idea of what this magnificent manuscript may have looked like.
In the exhibition, Mark’s Lion and John’s Eagle have stood side by side once again, proudly sharing a single case. Though nothing can replace the ability to see the actually manuscripts together, the experience can at least be replicated digitally as the British Library has recently digitised Cotton MS Otho C V and made it available via IIIF (the International Image Interoperability Framework). This means that although the codices will no longer share a case, the lion and the eagle can easily share a viewing window.
Yet the question must be asked: If we can bring the lion and the eagle back together, might it be possible to reconstruct the codex entirely? In short, almost. As of now, digital methods cannot bring back the text that was lost to the fire in 1731, nor those folios that have gone missing in the subsequent years, but it can bring back what we have left. Thanks to the IIIF Manifest Editor built by the Bodleian Library, I have reassembled the codex, bringing Cotton MS Otho C V and Parker MS 197b back together digitally. Turn the pages here: https://bit.ly/Otho-Corpus-Gospels, or use the index to navigate to what remains of each Gospel.
Despite Parker’s love of re-ordering the pages of his manuscripts (for the case of MS 197b, see here), the order in which each manuscript has been bound has been maintained in the combined digital version, along with their modern page or folio numbers, a mere nod to the Renaissance owners, travels, and travails of the codex in the 1300 years since its creation.
Sub-Librarian, The Parker Library
Twitter: @anmcl001 / @ParkerLibCCCC