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Bringing our medieval manuscripts to life

Introduction

What do Magna Carta, Beowulf and the world's oldest Bibles have in common? They are all cared for by the British Library's Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts Section. This blog publicises our digitisation projects and other activities. Follow us on Twitter: @blmedieval. Read more

29 January 2015

Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project: Another thirty manuscripts go online!

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In our penultimate Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project update, we are very glad to announce that another thirty manuscripts have been digitised. There are great riches to be found in this month’s update, particularly for those with interests in theological treatises. Pride of place this month must go to a very fine 11th-century copy of the Orationes of Gregory of Nazianzus, which also incorporates some of the scholia on Gregory attributed to Nonnus. Byzantine learning is well represented by a 15th-century copy of Manuel Moschopoulos’ grammatical treatise, the Erotemata, written by the prolific scribe George Baiophoros in Constantinople, which is preserved in a contemporary binding. More of the many classical manuscripts collected by Charles Burney are also included in this month’s group of uploads, with Burney 75 being a particularly important collection of classical and Byzantine epistolography. Additionally, another group of Biblical manuscripts are to be found in the list below. Finally, perhaps the most curious item of the month is Harley MS 952. Titled Ilias in nuce, (“The Iliad in a nutshell”) or Homeri φληάς  (“The Flead”), it is a late 17th-century mock epic poem written in Homeric Greek on the subject of fleas in Glamorgan.

This project has been generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and many others, including the A. G. Leventis Foundation, Sam Fogg, the Sylvia Ioannou Foundation, the Thriplow Charitable Trust, and the Friends of the British Library.

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Miniature of Gregory of Nazianzus and Christ, Add MS 39606, f 1v

Add MS 27359, John Zonaras, Commentary on the Canons from the Octoechos (in its longer version), imperfect at the beginning and at the end. Completed in 1252, this is one of the earliest dated Greek manuscripts written on Western paper.

Add MS 27865, Sticherarion, imperfect and badly mutilated. 2nd half of the 13th century, Ioannina.

Add MS 32011, Euchologion. 13th century.

Add MS 36589, Lives of Saints for the month of February, and patristic texts. 12th century.

Add MS 39588, Canticles and other Services, imperfect (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs, this manuscript and Add MS 39587 (Parham MS V) were originally a single manuscript. ff 41-49 are fragments not part of the original manuscript. Initials and decorated headpieces in red. Two rough drawings on f 40v. 12th century.

Add MS 39605, Sermons on the Gospels of John and Matthew, possibly by Metrophanes of Smyrna. Early 10th century.

Add MS 39606, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orationes, followed by extracts from Pseudo-Nonnus, Scholia mythologica. Illuminated head-pieces and initials, paragraph initials in gold. On f 1v is a full-page miniature, much-rubbed, of Gregory seated on Christ's right, each with a book. 11th century.

Add MS 39611, Heirmologion, with musical notation, arranged according to ἤχοι or modes. Four quires, containing the first ἤχος and the first ἤχος πλάγιος, are lost.

Add MS 39618, Theological and religious works, including [Athanasius], Quaestiones ad Antiochum ducem (a longer version of Quaestio 1 than that printed in the Patrologia Graeca), John Climacus Scala Paradisi, and other texts. 16th century. Also digitised is the former (19th-century) binding.

Add MS 40726, Manual of Byzantine ecclesiastical painting, similar to that written by Dionysius of Fourna, Ἑρμηνεία τῆς ζωγραφικῆς τέχνης (edited by Papadopoulos-Kerameus 1909). Two distinct manuscripts (the division is at f 68), in different hands and with different original pagination, are bound together to form the present volume. 18th century.

Add MS 41180, Stichera and Canons on the weekdays, followed by two consecutive leaves from an earlier Gospel book (Gregory-Aland 2485). 12th-13th century.

Add MS 43790 A, Fragment of a Menaion for 13-29 November, imperfect. 13th century.

Add MS 43790 B, Fragments of Greek liturgical manuscripts, including Gregory-Aland l 2373, 2374, and 2375. 11th-14th centuries.

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Inner front board of Add MS 64797 (Constantinople, 1st half of the 15th century)

Add MS 64797, Manuel  Moschopoulos, Erotemata. Palimpsest, the undertext dating from 11th-12th cent. and presrving fragments of lives of the saints. f 63r contains fragments from the life of Stephen the Younger by Stephen the Deacon (PG 100:1069-1186), specifically 1108C. 1st half of the 15th century, copied at the Monastery of Prodromos Petra in Constantinople by Georgios Baiophoros. In a contemporary binding of blind-stamped leather over wooden boards with raised spine.

Add MS 82954, Nikolaos Malaxos, Services in Honour of St Luke the Evangelist. Illuminated headpieces and rubricated initials. 16th century.

Arundel MS 527, John Koukouzeles and others, Anagrammatismoi for the principal feasts, and hymns, tropes, and other theological miscellanea. Musical notation (with neumes). 3rd quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 21, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 484; Scrivener evan. 571; von Soden ε 322), adapted for liturgical use. Illuminated headpieces and initials (ff 9r, 76r, 121r, 197r). Written in 1291-92 by the scribe Θεόδωρος ῾Αγιοπετρίτης for the monk Gerasimos, grand sceuophylax of the monastery τοῦ Φιλοκάλου in Thessalonica.

Burney MS 22, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 184; Scrivener evst. 259). Written on Cyprus in 1319.

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Headpiece at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, Burney MS 23, f 22r

Burney MS 23, Four Gospels adapted for liturgical use (Gregory-Aland 485; Scrivener evan. 572; von Soden ε 247), imperfect. Coloured headpieces and initials (ff 22r, 99r, 149r, 207r). 12th century.

Burney MS 45, Homilies on the Gospels for each Sunday of the ecclesiastical year collected by Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople. Italy, N. E. (Venice) or Eastern Mediterranean (Crete), 3rd quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 55, Manuel Malaxos, Nomocanon, and other texts. 2nd half of the 16th century.

Burney MS 60, Apparatus Bellicus. 4th quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 72, Manuel Chrysoloras, Erotemata, with Latin interlinear and marginal glosses, followed by a Latin commentary on the work, and other short works. 4th quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 75, Letters by or attributed to classical and Byzantine figures, including Libanius, Nicholas Cabasilas, Brutus, Demetrius Cydones, Gregory of Nazianzus, and others. Written in part by the scribe Δημήτριος Ραοὺλ Καβάκης (ff 138r-144v, 177r-178v); formerly erroneously ascribed to Ἰωάσαφ. Greece (Mistra) or Italy, Central (Rome), mid-15th century.

Burney MS 78, Aphthonius and Hermogenes, with prologues and scholia by Maximus Planudes. Italy, N. E. (Venice) or Eastern Mediterranean, 4th quarter of the 14th century-1st quarter of the 15th century.

Burney MS 84, Proclus of Athens, In Platonis Alcibiadem I (TLG 4036.007), imperfect. Italy, N.? 4th quarter of the 16th century.

Burney MS 93, Manuel Moschopoulos, Erotemata, imperfect. Italy, Central or N., 4th quarter of the 15th century.

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Miniature of Christ and the four Evangelists, Egerton MS 2163, f 1v

Egerton MS 2163, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic notation (Gregory-Aland l 339; Scrivener evst. 59). 1 full-page miniature of Christ and the four Evangelists in colours on a gold ground (f 1v). 5 headpieces in colours and gold (ff 2r, 32r, 82r, 147r, 200v). Large initials in gold, or in gold and colours. Simple endpieces in gold. Chrysography. Accents in red. 2nd half of the 12th century, possibly produced at Constantinople.

Egerton MS 3046, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 238; Scrivener evst. 254), with extensive notes dated 1875 by John Ruskin mostly relating to the script, imperfect and misbound. Small headpieces in gold. Large initials in colours and gold in decorated forms. Initials in gold over red. Accents in red. Writing in gold. Excised headpiece (f 2r, the offset on f 155v). Late 11th-early 12th century.

Harley MS 952, Ilias in Nuce sive Homeri φληάς vel skipsodia, a parodic epic poem in Homeric Greek about fleas in Glamorgan. Wales (Glamorgan?), c. 1670.

 

If you would like to support our Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, please click here to learn how you can make a donation and help to make our manuscripts accessible online.

 

- Cillian O’Hogan

26 January 2015

David Starkey on Magna Carta

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If you've been watching and listening closely, you may have realised by now that the year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the granting of Magna Carta. The British Library is heavily involved in these global commemorations — two of the four surviving manuscripts of King John's 1215 Magna Carta are held at the Library — and tonight you can see one of them in a special television documentary presented by David Starkey.

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Tonight's documentary will explore the origins and later uses of this internationally-renowned document, and it will examine Magna Carta's rôle in establishing that everybody, including the king, was subject to the law.

David Starkey's Magna Carta is broadcast on BBC2 at 21:00 (Monday, 26 January). We're really looking forward to seeing our precious manuscripts on television, and we hope that you enjoy seeing them too!

Tickets for our Magna Carta exhibition are now on sale. Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy opens to the public on 13 March and closes on 1 September. Among the items on show will be the United States Declaration of Independence and the US Bill of Rights, and the unique medieval writ from Hereford Cathedral, ordering the publication of Magna Carta in 1215 ... there's a very good chance that Magna Carta will also be on display, so don't delay, book today!

23 January 2015

Hereford Writ To Be Displayed At The British Library

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The British Library's major Magna Carta exhibition opens in less than two months. We're delighted to announce that Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy will feature a very important medieval document, on loan from Hereford Cathedral. On 20 June 1215, just a few days after Magna Carta had been granted, King John of England wrote to all of his sheriffs, commanding them to have the Great Charter read out in public. Only one of those documents — known as a royal writ — still survives, the letter sent to the sheriff of Gloucestershire and today kept at Hereford. The British Library is extremely grateful to the Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral for so kindly agreeing to lend us this precious document for the duration of our exhibition, where it will be on display alongside other books and artefacts relating to the history and legacy of Magna Carta.

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The Hereford writ, a unique survival of the letter commanding that Magna Carta be read out in public in 1215

Magna Carta was granted by King John (1199–1216) at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Its most controversial feature was the condition that twenty-five barons be elected to oversee the implementation of the charter, or to seek immediate redress from the king if its terms were being ignored. The Hereford writ is hugely significant: it demonstrates that the sheriffs were commanded to restore the peace, and that they were ordered to swear obedience to the twenty-five barons. This particular writ is addressed to the sheriff of Gloucestershire — similar documents would have been sent to the other sheriffs, but this is the only one to have survived — and asks that 'you inviolably observe and cause to be observed, by everyone, everything contained in the charter, lest the peace of our kingdom should happen to be troubled again'.

There is a certain irony here, however. The sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1215 was none other than Engelard de Cigogné (d. 1244), and he was named specifically in Magna Carta as one of the king's evil advisers, who the barons demanded be dismissed from office. The writ's stipulation that Engelard investigate his own malpractices must surely have been difficult to enforce! Engelard also held the post of sheriff of Herefordshire, which may explain how this writ came to be preserved at Hereford Cathedral. It's also interesting to note that the only bishop who joined the baronial rebellion in 1215 was Giles de Briouze, Bishop of Hereford (1200–1215): he was excommunicated by the papal commisioners in September of that year.

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Hereford Cathedral, where the writ has been kept since the Middle Ages

You can read a translation of the Hereford writ below. It will be on display in Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy at the British Library from 13 March to 1 September 2015, and tickets are already on sale. Once again, we are indebted to Hereford Cathedral for its generosity in kindly agreeing to lend us this item, so that it can be shown with other items relating to the granting of Magna Carta in 1215. You can read more here about Hereford's participation in the celebration of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

'John by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine and Count of Anjou to the sheriff of Gloucestershire, foresters, wareners, custodians of rivers and all his other officials in the same county, Greeting.

Know that to restore by the grace of God firm peace between us and the barons and free men of our kingdom, just as you will be able to hear and see by our charter, which we accordingly caused to be made, which likewise we order to be read publically throughout the whole of your bailiwick and to be held firmly; willing and strictly enjoining that you, the sheriff, cause all men of your bailiwick or the majority of them according to the model of the aforementioned charter to swear obedience to the twenty-five barons of whom mention is made in the aforementioned charter to the same command, in their presence or the presence of those assigned to this by their letters patent, and at the day and place which for this purpose the aforementioned or assigned barons established from them for this.

We also wish and order that the twelve knights of your county, who shall be elected by the county in its first session that will be held after receipt of these letters in your parts, swear an inquiry into the corrupt customs of as much the sheriffs as of their agents, of forests, foresters, warrens, warreners, riverbanks and their wardens, and the destruction of the same, as is contained in the charter itself.

Therefore you all, as you love us and our honour, and the peace of our kingdom, inviolably observe and cause to be observed, by everyone, everything contained in the charter, lest for want of you or by your digression, the peace of our kingdom should happen to be troubled again, God forbid. And you, sheriff, cause our peace to be proclaimed through the whole of your bailiwick and order it to be firmly held.

And these our letters patent we send to you thence in testimony of this. Witness myself at Runnymede, the twentieth day of June, in the seventeenth year of our reign.'