Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

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



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.



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.






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MS 66, p. 069Richard Fahey, a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame, just wrote a blog post about the mythological treatment of Woden in Anglo-Saxon genealogies, using CCCC MS 66, p. 69 to illustrate. Click through and compare MS 66’s illustration with that of the British Library’s Cotton Caligula A.viii.

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William StukeleyCopyright National Portrait Gallery

William Stukeley, F.R.S.
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

Almost 400 years after the death of William Stukeley there is a resurgence of interest in his life and work. Stukeley studied medicine at Corpus, and was a contemporary and friend of Stephen Hales, inventor of the ventilator. His room at Corpus was, Stukeley records, “generally hung round with Guts, stomachs, bladders, preparations of parts and drawings… I sometimes surprised the whole college with a sudden explosion; I cur’d a lad once of an ague with it by a fright”. The Parker Library has a dozen or so Stukeley manuscripts, including notebooks and drawings, bought from the Sotheby’s sale of February 1963.

Stukeley was a member of the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians, and the re-formed      Society of Antiquaries, and numbered amongst his friends and acquaintances Hans Sloane,     Edmond Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton. He travelled far and wide, and his best known works,  Abery and Stonehenge, resulted from extensive work on the stone circles there.

Stukeley was a distant cousin of the Stucley family of Hartland Abbey in Devon, where an exhibition, “William Stukeley, Saviour of Stonehenge” opens in May.  Have a look at Lady Stucley’s blog about Hartland Abbey here.

Stukeley medals (1)In the Modern Archive here in College are two medals, one with the head of William Stukeley, on the other, a picture of Stonehenge, together with Stukeley’s death date.  Because the Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die – which is unusual for the time – they may be devices from which a medal, now in the British Museum, was made.  The Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die, which is unusual for that time.

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With the cardinals assembling for the conclave to elect a new pope, commentators speculating and bookmakers laying odds, it’s a good time to take a look at a strange medieval text full of prophecies about popes known as the Vaticinia pontificum or Vaticinia de summis pontificibus. A copy is found in CCCC MS 404, a collection of prophetic texts put together by Henry of Kirkstede, the monk-librarian of Bury St Edmunds in the fourteenth century.

The Vaticinia consists of a set of illustrated prophecies about a succession of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century popes, many of which were written after the actual papacies they claim to predict. Both texts and illustrations are opaque, with images of serpents, unicorns and angels alluding to political intrigues among powerful Roman factions. Here, for instance is the first in the series:

Pope with bears (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

Pope with bears (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

The unhappy looking pope under the title principium malorum (‘source of evils’) accompanied by a bear suckling its young is identified by Henry as Pope Nicholas III (1277-80), a member of the Orsini family (orso, bear). In Dante’s Inferno, Nicholas describes himself as the ‘son of a she-bear, eager to advance the cubs’. He appointed several members of his family as cardinals, including his brother Giordano and his nephew, Latino Malabranca.

The Vaticinia manages to be an apocalyptic warning of the end times, a call for spiritual reform and a political propaganda treatise aiming to influence papal elections. It is closely associated with the Spiritual Franciscans who quarrelled with numerous popes over differences in their approach to evangelical poverty. Indeed the only pope who escapes criticism in the text is the saintly Celestine V who has become well-known recently as the last pope to retire voluntarily in 1294.

Pope Celestine (CCC404, f. 89v)

Pope Celestine with a sickle and an angel (CCC404, f. 89v)

Henry of Kirkstede fails to identify the bearded, barefooted figure in this illustration as Celestine, though other manuscripts of the work make it clear that he is the intended subject of this prophecy and the one who prefigures the coming of the angelic pope, as indicated by the angel in his left hand. The sickle in his right hand is a sign of renewal.

The combination of text and images lent itself to numerous interpretations and adaptations. Versions of the Vaticinia exist in over one hundred manuscript copies and twenty early printed editions. The text was often incorrectly attributed to the mystical writer Joachim of Fiore; Henry of Kirkstede’s title note reads, ‘Incipiunt prophecie Joachini abbatis de papis’.

Henry of Kirkstede's title for the work (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

Henry of Kirkstede’s title (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

CCC MS 404 belongs to the earliest version of the text, which survives in nine manuscripts, including Yale, Beinecke Library, Marston MS 225, ff. 15r-22r (plus images) and Oxford Bodleian Library, MS Douce 88, ff. 140r-146v.

For more on the Vaticinia, see the edition by Martha H. Fleming, The Late Medieval Pope Prophecies: The Genus nequam Group (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS, 1999).

Post inspired by a Beinecke blogpost about their Vaticinia manuscript.

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Perspectives on filming

Professor Mary Beard, our local multimedia star, has an interesting blog post about film crews. When they were coming to film in her space, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, she was irritated by the disruption and by how they always seemed to overrun their allotted time. Now that she’s the presenter out on location, she appreciates how hard the crews work and how tight the timing. Certainly the film crews we’ve had in the library have all been very well-behaved; almost every one of them has overrun their time but they all seem to be working incredibly hard to fit in as many hours of shooting as possible in any given day.

Along the same lines, the curators of manuscripts at the British Library have written on their blog about the vexed question of white gloves. Every library that allows its manuscripts to be filmed being handled receives feedback about the fact that we don’t oblige readers to wear gloves. There are lots of good reasons not to wear gloves while handling manuscripts. On the advice of conservators, we much prefer (and insist on!) clean dry hands.

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