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166 posts categorized "Anglo-Saxon"

15 September 2017

Fragmentarium and the burnt Anglo-Saxon fragments

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Have you ever been intrigued by the survival of fragments of medieval manuscripts, used perhaps as waste in later bookbindings, or damaged in catastrophic events such as the Ashburnham House fire? The recent launch of Fragmentarium (the Digital Research Laboratory for Medieval Manuscript Fragments) will enable many of these fragments to be analysed in greater detail, and in some cases to be digitally reunited. The British Library is one partner in this project, alongside institutions and collections from Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the USA, the Vatican and the United Kingdom. As the project states, 'Fragmentarium enables libraries, collectors, researchers and students to publish images of medieval manuscript fragments, allowing them to catalogue, describe, transcribe, assemble and re-use them.'

Some of our readers may have come across the story of the Ashburnham House fire of 23 October 1731. This tragic event left a number of manuscripts in the famous collection of manuscripts assembled by Robert Cotton in an extra-crispy state. After a remarkable conservation effort undertaken in the 18th and 19th centuries, many of these volumes did not look so bad, all things considered, as you can see for yourself with Beowulf. But some of these manuscripts did not fare so well — to the naked eye they often resemble something approaching a burnt biscuit!

Cotton MS Otho A X, f. 1v, as it looks in person.

Cotton MS Otho A X, f. 1v, as it looks in person

The burnt Cotton fragments are among the most evocative artefacts of medieval culture, both for the tragedy of their destruction and the mystery of their contents. Many of the surviving leaves remain critical to scholarship, often containing unique texts or their earliest known copies. Work on other fragments at the British Library has already shown that multispectral photography can make it possible to extract more information from what survives. The burnt leaves remain vulnerable, and so it is critical that digital techniques be used to document and preserve their present state.

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Cotton MS Otho A X, f. 1v: a blend of photographs taken across light spectra

For several decades, technology has been applied to improve the readability of the Cotton fragments. In the early 1950s, ultraviolet photography was applied to Æthelweard’s Chronicle (in Cotton MS Otho A X and Cotton MS Otho A XII) in order to make new sense of a handful of pages. The same process was also used with Cotton MS Otho A I. At the time, however, these photographs did not achieve wide dissemination due to the limitations of publishing in print.

Multispectral imaging setup at the British Library.

Multispectral imaging setup at the British Library

The recent application of multispectral photography has enabled us to recover more details of these fragments, and with reconstructed colour. At the same time, regrettably but inevitably, this technology has revealed that, in the course of half a century, the condition of these fragments has sometimes deteriorated. A few volumes that seemingly could be read without technological assistance only a few decades ago have details that today are difficult to read with the naked eye. In some cases, the volumes are so fragile that they can only be issued in the British Library's Manuscripts Reading Room with special curatorial permission.

We are currently publishing key remnants of some of the burnt Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in the Cotton collection on Fragmentarium. Dr Christina Duffy, the British Library's Imaging Scientist, has photographed over a hundred of these fragments and has skilfully processed them to make their reconstruction as legible as possible. The results will be available under a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication. Fragmentarium has also built the capacity into their site to handle multiple images of a single folio — rare but critical functionality for dealing with multispectral imaging, since the images you will see are a scientific but also very much a human reconstruction.

Andrew Dunning

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23 August 2017

Colin Tite: a tribute

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We were extremely sorry to hear of the recent death of Colin Tite. Colin was, without question, the greatest scholar ever to work on the history of the Cotton collection of manuscripts, housed here at the British Library. Over a number of years, Colin delivered the Library's Panizzi lectures (1993), compiled an invaluable record of the early modern history of the Cotton manuscripts, and wrote a number of insightful studies of individual volumes in the collection. But Colin was perhaps best known, for those fortunate enough to encounter him at work in our Manuscripts Reading Room, as the most generous of all men, generous with his time, generous with his support, and generous with sharing his knowledge.

Colin Tite's research had as its primary focus the formation of the Cotton library in the late 16th and early 17th century. His Panizzi lectures dealt with that subject in three stages: (1) The Development of the Manuscript Collection, 1588–1753; (2) Librarians and Aspiring Librarians; and (3) Cotton House and the Reputation of Sir Robert. His investigations were always meticulous, based on first-hand scrutiny of the early, handwritten catalogues of the Cotton library, on the papers of Sir Robert Cotton and his contemporaries, and on the later plans for housing the manuscripts. He argued persuasively that Robert Cotton, an antiquary and Member of Parliament, was the first 'librarian' of his own collection; and he uncovered little-known nuggets about those who used (and abused) the manuscripts. The story of Humfrey Wanley's interest in the library is recounted in these lectures, including the infamous reaction by Thomas Smith, the then Cotton librarian, to Wanley's request to borrow the Augustus charters (among them, perhaps, one of the original copies of Magna Carta, 1215): 'the mountaine cannot come to Mahomet, Mahomet must condescend to go to the mountaine'. Colin Tite then moved on to completing his seminal survey of the early modern formation, cataloguing and use of the Cotton collection (The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library, 2003), before devoting his attention to locating Cotton's surviving printed books.

In tribute to Colin Tite, we publish here a selection of images from some of the Cotton manuscripts which meant so much to him. Everyone who works on the Cotton collection is deeply indebted to Colin's work, and we remember him with the deepest gratitude.

Cotton

Portrait of Sir Robert Cotton, commissioned in 1626 and attributed to Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen (d. 1661)

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An original Cottonian binding, 17th century: Cotton MS Domitian A VII

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A Cottonian binding instruction: Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 1r

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 A preparatory sketch for a Cottonian title-page: Cotton MS Vespasian F XIII/1, f. 2r

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 A fire-damaged Cottonian title-page, from the Beowulf manuscript, 17th century: Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 2r

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The opening page of Matthew Paris's Liber Additamentorum, with Sir Robert Cotton's signature in the lower margin: Cotton MS Nero D I, f. 2r 

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A letter of Sir Edward Dering, 30 May 1630, sending an original manuscript of Magna Carta to Sir Robert Cotton: Cotton MS Julius C III, f. 143

 

Colin G. C. Tite: A Select Bibliography

‘The early catalogues of the Cottonian library’, The British Library Journal, 6, (1980), 144–157

Thomas Smith, Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecæ Cottonianæ (Oxford, 1696): facsimile edited by C. G. C. Tite, Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Cottonian Library, 1696 (Cambridge: Brewer, 1984)

‘A catalogue of Sir Robert Cotton’s printed books?’, The British Library Journal, 17 (1991), 1–11

‘Sir Robert Cotton and the gold mancus of Pendraed’, The Numismatic Chronicle, 152 (1992), 177–81

[with James P. Carley] ‘Sir Robert Cotton as collector of manuscripts and the question of dismemberment: British Library MSS Royal 13 D. I and Cotton Otho D. VIII’, The Library, 14 (1992), 94–99

The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton, The Panizzi Lectures, 1993 (London: The British Library, 1994)

‘“Lost or stolen or strayed”: a survey of manuscripts formerly in the Cotton library’, in C. J. Wright (ed.), Sir Robert Cotton as Collector: Essays on an Early Stuart Courtier and his Legacy (London: The British Library, 1997), pp. 262–306

[with James P. Carley] Books and Collectors 1200-1700: Essays presented to Andrew Watson (London: The British Library, 1997)

‘Sir Robert Cotton, Sir Thomas Tempest and an Anglo-Saxon Gospel Book: A Cottonian paper in the Harleian library’, in Colin G. Tite & James P. Carley (eds.), Books and Collectors 1200-1700: Essays presented to Andrew Watson (London: The British Library, 1997)

The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton’s Library: Formation, Cataloguing, Use (London: The British Library, 2003)

'The Durham Liber Vitae and Sir Robert Cotton', in David Rollason et al. (eds.), The Durham Liber Vitae and its Context (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2004), pp. 3–15

‘The printed books of the Cotton family and their dispersal’, in Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor (eds.), Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library’s Printed Collections (London: The British Library, 2009), pp. 43–75

'The printed books of the Cotton family and their dispersal: additions', Electronic British Library Journal (2011), article 15

 

 

Julian Harrison

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21 August 2017

Total eclipse of the Sun

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On 21 August 2017, American readers of our Blog have the exciting opportunity to witness a full solar eclipse (some of them may even be able to hear Bonnie Tyler singing 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' at the very same time: what more could you want?). Of course, solar and lunar eclipses have been a source of wonder across the centuries, with or without Bonnie Tyler. Since Antiquity, astronomers and astrologers have had a clear understanding of how and why eclipses occur, and they were able to predict their arrival using diagrams and tables. Eclipses were also described by medieval chroniclers, who often interpreted them as an omen.

Our first historical example of an eclipse is found in this 15th-century French manuscript of the History of Alexander the Great. The scene it depicts is not a contemporary one, rather it shows the lunar eclipse which occurred during the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, when Alexander the Great’s army met the Persian army of Darius III. Alexander is shown consulting his astrologers about the eclipse's meaning: the soldiers perhaps interpreted it as a bad omen.

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Miniature of Alexander the Great consulting his astrologers about an eclipse of the sun after the battle of Arbela: British Library Burney MS 169, f. 69r

Early medieval scholars knew that a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and Earth. One of our favourite medieval writers, the Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede (d. 735), explained this phenomenon in his scientific texts entitled De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things), composed around 703. In the chapter headed 'On the eclipse of the sun and the moon', Bede described how a solar eclipse occurs when the Sun is hidden by the intervention of the Moon, and a lunar eclipse when the Sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the centre.

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Extract from an 11th-century copy of Bede’s De natura rerum: British Library Royal MS 13 A XI, f. 18r

In some medieval manuscripts, astrological texts are accompanied by diagrams illustrating an eclipse. For example, this diagram, found in  a 14th-century compilation of mathematical and astronomical texts, illustrates the Sun's position in relation to the Earth and Moon.

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Diagram of a solar eclipse: British Library Royal MS 12 C XVII, f. 32r

Elsewhere, we sometimes find diagrams showing the different stages of the Sun's visibility during an eclipse.

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Series of diagrams of solar eclipses: British Library Additional MS 10628, f. 28r

Diagrams of lunar and solar eclipses could also be included in almanacs, alongside calendars and other astrological material. Almanacs were used to predict the movement of the stars and the tides, often during medical consultations. A special kind of folding almanac, favoured by medical practitioners, could be hung from its owner's belt. This folding almanac, produced in the 15th century, contains a series of diagrams of the solar eclipse, based on the Kalendarium of John Somer.

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Diagrams of solar and lunar eclipses: British Library Harley MS 937, f. 8r

For those with no astronomical knowledge, the darkening of the sky during a solar eclipse may have been particularly ominous. People would have heard or read about such events from the Old Testament story of the Plagues of Egypt, describing a darkness that lasted for three days. According to the Gospel of St Matthew, a period of darkness lasting for three hours, accompanied by earthquakes and the raising of the dead, followed the Crucifixion of Christ. These apocalyptic associations were supported by other medieval accounts. For instance, the Middle English copy of The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday found in British Library Harley MS 913, explained that the first sign of the approaching Apocalypse is that the ‘Sun will give no light and will be cast down to Earth – while you now see it [the Sun] as pleasing and bright, it will become as black as coal.'

Harley 913

The Fifteen Signs before Doomsday: British Library Harley MS 913, f. 20v

You may wish to muse on this as you observe or read about this August's solar eclipse (with or without Bonnie Tyler on your headphones, obviously!). 

Sun and moon

God creating the Sun and the Moon: British Library Additional MS 18856, f. 5v

Becky Lawton and Clarck Drieshen

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18 August 2017

Discovering Literature: Beowulf to Chaucer

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What should you do when your Christmas is rudely interrupted by a Green Man, wielding an axe? How should you respond when a monster nightly terrorises your home? And what is the best way to entertain 29 travellers on the road to Canterbury? 

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Chaucer's pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, from 'The Siege of Thebes', by John Lydgate, England, 1457–60, Royal MS 18 D II, f. 148r


These are just some of the questions we’re going to be exploring in our latest on-site adult learning course, ‘Discovering Literature: Beowulf to Chaucer’, which offers students of any level the opportunity to learn more about the literature of medieval England. It contains Arthurian legends, dream-visions, dragons, chatty pilgrims and talking books. From the first great epic of English poetry, Beowulf, to the captivating tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, over six weeks participants will consider iconic works in Old English, Middle English and Anglo-Norman French, exploring the rich diversity of literary production in medieval England. We’ll be looking at works of comedy as well as of religious devotion, alongside haunting texts that explore the pain of adultery, loss and social exile.

Beowulf

Detail of the opening words of Beowulf, beginning 'Hwæt' ('Listen!), from Beowulf, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century or 1st quarter of the 11th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 132r.

The course uses original texts in translation but, with expert guidance, you’ll also be led through close-readings of selected passages in their original languages. The course runs over six weeks, on Tuesdays, from 24 October 2017, and the final session will feature a rare opportunity to work with original manuscripts from the British Library’s collections.

The course is available to 16 participants only, and places are limited, so book as soon as possible. The full course description and booking form is available here.

Mary Wellesley

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17 August 2017

Snakes or scrolls? 11th-century wall paintings in Norfolk

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Our manuscripts contain so many hidden gems of medieval art, and one of this Blog's aims is to bring them to light. It is worth remembering, though, that many wonderful medieval paintings survive on the walls of country churches in forgotten corners of Britain. The styles and subjects are familiar, and they also have amazing stories to tell.

This image of a series of saints or apostles in roundels, holding scrolls, is from the wall of the tiny church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill, in Norfolk. which contains perhaps the most complete set of early medieval wall paintings in England; they date from the 11th century, shortly after the Norman Conquest of England. The figure on the right may be Jesus and on his left, not shown here, are demons, also holding scrolls (or are they snakes?).

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Nave east wall: detail of the border with the saints (and Christ) holding scrolls, St Mary’s, Houghton-on-the-Hill (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

The shape of the scrolls and the way the figures hold them up recalls this image of King Edgar, with Bishops Dunstan and Æthelwold, in a copy of the Regularis Concordia, made at Christ Church, Canterbury. in the first half of the 11th century.

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King Edgar, with Bishops Dunstan and Æthelwold, Regularis concordia, England (? Christ Church Canterbury), first half of the 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A III, f. 2v

The way the wavy scroll is held up by the three figures above and its undulating shape, shaded in brown, green, mauve and ochre, repeated in the image of the monk holding the scroll below, is reminiscent of the wall painting. It has the same clear ochre outlines, though there is predominant use of yellow, and traces of white, red and green have been found on the plaster. However, the image in the Regularis concordia is clearly one long scroll held by all three people whereas the three in the St Mary’s church border are detached from each other.

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The east wall with the Last Judgement including the ‘Throne of God’ Trinity, St Mary’s Church, Houghton-on-the-Hill

The roundels are part of a scene of the Last Judgement that covered the east wall of the church, over the chancel arch. At the centre in a triple mandorla, now rather damaged, is a representation of the Trinity known as the ‘Throne of Grace’, where God the father, seated, holds the cross with Christ on it and a dove with wings outstretched represents the Holy Spirit. On God’s knee is a quatrefoil (not visible in the photographs), an Anglo-Saxon motif that indicates a very early date of before 1090 for these paintings; it is found in a number of 11th-century manuscripts.

In this image in the 'Eadui Psalter', the seated St Benedict has quatrefoil shapes on each knee, and one above and below. We have published a detailed analysis of those quatrefoils (with astonishing results) here.

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A group of monks presenting a copy of the Rule of Benedict to St Benedict who sits enthroned while another monk prostrates himself at Benedict's feet, the 'Eadui Psalter', England, S.E. (Christ Church, Canterbury), 1st half 11th century, British Library Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

If the dating is correct, this remote church may contain the earliest known example of the ‘Throne of Grace’ Trinity. Two French works of the early 12th century are the earliest manuscript witnesses (Cambrai, Bibliotheque Municipale, ms. 0234 and Perpignan, Bibliotheque Municipale, 1: see Park and Heywood, ‘Romanesque Wall Paintings’). Representing the difficult concept of the Trinity in art was first undertaken in this period; the ‘Throne of Grace’, an early attempt to depict the relationship between the three figures, became the most popular form throughout Europe from the 12th century onwards. Here is a later example from the Egerton Psalter, originating in East Anglia in the late 13th century.

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Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) with a Throne of Grace Trinity, the 'Egerton Psalter’, England (East Anglia), c. 1270–c. 1290: British Library Egerton MS 1066, f. 83r

A manuscript from the early 11th century (before 1029), containing a liturgical and computistical collection known as ‘Ælfwine’s Prayerbook’, has this image of the Trinity, with the Father and Son seated together and the dove on Mary’s head, as she holds the infant Christ.

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The Trinity with Mary and a hell mouth below, Ælfwine’s Prayerbook’, England (New Minster, Winchester), 3rd decade of the 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Titus D XXVII, f. 75v

On the north wall of the church are scenes from the Old Testament, including a well-preserved image of God creating Eve from Adam’s rib, and a trace of what is believed to be Noah’s Ark. On the south wall is a fragment of a Wheel of Fortune (or perhaps a Wheel of Life), once again an early representation of this subject that was popular with later manuscript illuminators. The Friends of St Mary’s are currently raising funds to complete the uncovering of the medieval paintings on this wall.

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Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) of the Wheel of Fortune, at the beginning of book 4. Quadripartitum of Ptolemy, England, 1st quarter of the 14th century: British Library Royal MS 12 F VII, f. 182v  

Although the subjects may be familiar, their innovative iconography and style for the Romanesque period, and the fact that they were created in a small church in a remote corner of Norfolk, makes these paintings exceptional. But even more exceptional is the story of their survival and restoration in the late 20th century.

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Photographs of the tower of St Mary’s church, Houghton-on-the Hill, before and after restoration

St Mary’s church is at the end of a bridleway, west of the village of North Pickenham in Norfolk, close to an old Roman road known as Peddars Way. The original village of Houghton-on-the-Hill was mentioned in Domesday Book, but earlier Saxon artefacts from the 5th to 7th centuries have been found in the fields nearby. Sir Robert Knolles, an infamous commander in the Hundred Years War, who ravaged large parts of Normandy, was Lord of the Manor from 1376 until his death in 1407. The church is believed to have been built in 1090 and was extensively altered in the 14th century, perhaps by Knolles. The congregation gradually dwindled as the village shrank in size and, following damage by a First World War Zeppelin in 1916, it was finally abandoned in 1937.

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The interior of St Mary’s, Houghton-on-the-Hill, before restoration (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

The crumbling, desecrated ruins, covered in ivy were discovered in 1992 by a remarkable local resident, Bob Davey, who, with his wife Gloria, worked tirelessly to restore this beautiful little church. Bob started and even paid for some of the restoration work himself, although once the wall paintings were discovered, experts were called in to continue the renovations.

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Bob Davey MBE, with the wall paintings in the background (courtesy of the Friends of St Marys website)

Bob Davey is usually found at the church in the afternoon, accompanied by one of the Friends of St Mary's, and he talks movingly about the building he loves so much, its history and decoration. He has his own theories on the wall paintings. For him, the figures in the roundels are holding not scrolls but snakes: the ones on the right held by Satan and his companions (not shown), drooping down at the ends, signify the Fall; whereas those on the left held by the saints have upturned ends.   

With thanks to the Trustees of the Friends of St Mary’s for the information in this blogpost, for the use of their images and for their dedication to preserving this gem of medieval art, now a working church. Their website contains further information and opening hours.

 

Bibliography

Clive Rouse, Medieval Wall Paintings (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications, 4th edn., 1991).

David Park and Stephen Heywood, ‘Romanesque Wall Paintings Discovered in Norfolk’, Minerva, 8.2 (March/April 1997), 8–9.

‘Parish history booklet: Church of St Mary, Houghton-on-the Hill’ (Friends of St Marys, 2007), online here.

Nick Mayhew-Smith, Britain's Holiest Places (Bristol: Lifestyle Press Ltd, 2011), pp. 131–33.

Florence Close, ‘Imaginer l’indicible: à propos de la mise en mouvement des images dans les récits de visions de la Trinite des hagiographes et des mystiques médiévaux (vii-xiie siècles)’, MethIS (2016), 49–76 (pp. 50, n. 5), online here.

 

Chantry Westwell

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15 August 2017

Call for papers: Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

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Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England

A postgraduate and early career symposium on the book culture of early medieval England before 1100

On Saturday 15 December 2018 the British Library will be holding a postgraduate and early career symposium on Manuscripts in Anglo-Saxon England. The symposium follows an international conference taking place on 13 and 14 December 2018. Both events are being held during a major exhibition on Anglo-Saxon England which will open at the British Library in October 2018. We expect that there will be a reduced joint registration fee for the conference and symposium for students and unwaged early career researchers.

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The Vespasian Psalter, 8th century: British Library Cotton MS Vespasian A I, f. 31r

Proposals for papers are invited from advanced postgraduate students and early career researchers. We wish to encourage paper proposals from a wide variety of institutions. This symposium is intended to foster discussion about books, documents, the uses of writing, the transmission of ideas, the survival of evidence, and intellectual contact within and beyond Anglo-Saxon England. Manuscripts that were made or used in Anglo-Saxon England should be central to all proposals.

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Liber Wigorniensis, early 11th century: British Library Cotton MS Tiberius A XIII, f. 77v

If you would like to submit a proposal, please complete the attached form (Download 2018 Anglo-Saxon Symposium CFP) and send it to Claire Breay (claire.breay@bl.uk) by 1 December 2017. Decisions will be announced by 2 February 2018.

Claire Breay

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03 August 2017

The beautiful Bosworth Psalter

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Have you ever wondered how medieval manuscripts get their modern names? Did you know, for instance, that the so-called 'Bosworth Psalter' (British Library Add MS 375170) isn't named after the Battle of Bosworth Field (give yourself an extra bonus point if you knew that took place on 22 August 1485) but is instead so known because it may once have been kept in the library at Bosworth Hall in Buckinghamshire?

The beautiful Bosworth Psalter has recently been digitised as part of The Polonsky England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200. We're delighted that you can now explore it in full on the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts site, where you can drool over its sublime decoration and sumptuous script.

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The Beatus-initial (Beatus vir), which begins the book of Psalms. Add MS 37517, f. 4r. Possibly from Canterbury, 4th quarter of the 10th century.

The Bosworth Psalter is written in Latin, in one of the translations traditionally ascribed to St Jerome (d. 420). Over a period of nearly twenty-five years, St Jerome worked on translations of biblical texts from Greek and Hebrew into the Latin vernacular; he completed three versions or revisions of the Psalms. The first was made from the Greek Septuagint version, and is now commonly known as the Roman or Romanum Psalter because it was adopted by the church in Rome. One reason the Bosworth Psalter is so special is the purity of its text of St Jerome’s Roman version of the Psalms.

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Beginning of Psalm 51 (52), Quid gloriaris. Add MS 37517, f. 33r.

The Psalter’s large initials together with multi-coloured script divide the text in three parts at Psalms 1, 51 and 101, in a division of the so-called ‘three fifties’ that is found in English, but not most Continental manuscripts. The scribe used initials with interlace decoration, some zoomorphic elements and capital letters of varying size and colour to enhance the importance of these pages. At the beginning of Psalm 101, the first letter ‘D’'(omine) (Lord) is enhanced by delicate foliate forms.

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The beginning of Psalm 101 (102), Domine exaudi. Add MS 37517, f. 64v.

In addition to this threefold division, the other major divisions of a Psalter are also marked by large decorated initials, as in this initial for the beginning of Psalm 109, which in Benedictine monasteries is the Psalm sung at Vespers on Sundays.

The Bosworth Psalter was designed for use of a community following the Rule of St Benedict. In fact, it's the oldest English manuscript that includes all of the important texts of the Benedictine Office (Psalter, canticles, hymns and monastic canticles). 

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Beginning of Psalm 109 (110), Dixit Dominus. Add MS 37517, f. 74r.

It is the earliest surviving manuscript of the 'New Hymnal' from England. This hymnal was developed on the Continent in the 9th century, and expanded the number of hymns used in monastic services. The greater diversification of hymns meant that monks were able to avoid daily repetition of same hymns. The practice of singing a much expanded variety of hymns spread to England with the English Benedictine Reform movement in the second half of the 10th century. Because of this inclusion, it is generally thought that the Bosworth Psalter was made in and for one of the monastic houses in Canterbury during the archiepiscopate of St Dunstan (r. 959–988), a prominent proponent of monastic reform in Anglo-Saxon England.

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Beginning of the Hymnal. Add MS 37517, f. 105r.

The manuscript acquired different layers of additions: some pages are covered with Latin commentaries spreading from margin to margin.

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Some pages are filled with commentaries in Latin. Add MS 37517, f. 52v

Another remarkable feature is that parts of the Psalter and some of the canticles were glossed with Old English words, written above the Latin text, in the early 11th century.

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Beginning of Psalm 86 (85) Inclina domine aurem tuam ad me, with interlinear Old English gloss: onhyld drihten eare þin to me. Add MS 37517, f. 54v

We're sure you'd agree that the Bosworth Psalter is another superb addition to our Digitised Manuscripts collection. The magnificent artistry in the initials, and the importance of its text and annotations, make this a very special manuscript. Do go and explore this unique historical book online!

Tuija Ainonen

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14 July 2017

The Heliand

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The British Library is currently engaged in a joint project with the Bibliothèque nationale de France to digitise 800 manuscripts made in and around the regions of England and France before 1200. Some people have asked if that means the project will only cover manuscripts in Old English, Old French or Anglo-Norman French. On the contrary! The project covers a variety of different languages, because many different languages were written, spoken and studied in those regions before 1200. The first 100 manuscripts digitised include many texts in Latin, as well as more obscure languages, such as Old Occitan, spoken around the area that is now southern France (Harley MS 2928). Another recently digitised manuscript includes one of the few major works in Old Saxon: the Heliand poem, copied perhaps in England or decorated by someone who was influenced by English styles in the second half of the 10th century.

Cotton_ms_caligula_a_vii_f011r
Opening page of the Heliand, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 11r

Old Saxon was a language spoken in the north of the region which is now Germany. Very few texts or copies of texts written in Old Saxon survive today: at just under 6000 verses, the Heliand is the longest Old Saxon text now known. It is preserved, with some lacunae, in two manuscripts (one at the British Library, one in Munich,  Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 25) and in several other small fragments, such as the folio held in the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin.


Cotton_ms_caligula_a_vii_f013r
Beginning of the second fitt, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, f. 13r

The Heliand is a retelling of the life of Jesus. It was translated both into the Old Saxon language and into the attitudes and social structure found in warrior epics. John the Baptist is characterised as Christ’s ‘warrior companion’ (gesið), while the disciples become ‘earls’ (erlos). This poem may originally have been sung or recited out loud: the text is divided into fitts, or songs. Like modern day TV episodes, these would have provided reasonably sized chunks of a longer saga.

The Heliand may have been composed in the early 9th century, presumably in the eastern regions of the Carolingian empire. A preface from a now lost manuscript that was copied in 1562 claims that a ruler called 'Louis' — perhaps Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious (d. 840) or Louis the German (d. 876) — ordered scriptures to be translated into Germanic languages (Germanic lingua). However, most scholars think the British Library’s copy of the Heliand was made more than a century later, by an English scribe or by someone who was influenced by English manuscripts because the marginal Latin notes and the style of decoration resemble styles found in English manuscripts. Compare the biting beasties in initials in the Heliand with those in the Tollemache Orosius (Add MS 47967) and a copy of the Rule of St Benedict (Harley MS 5431).

Initial Comparisons
Details of zoomorphic initials from the Heliand,
England?, c. 950-1000, Cotton MS Caligula A VII, ff. 132r, 46r; the Tollemache Orosius, England (Winchester?), c. 900-925, Add MS 47967, f. 48v; the Rule of St Benedict, England, c. 975–1000, Harley MS 5431, f. 73v, 74r

Whether or not the manuscript was made by an English scribe or in England, marginal notes in the Anglo-Saxon script known as square minuscule suggest it was owned in England shortly after it was made. It is not known why an Anglo-Saxon, or someone who could produce English styles of script and book production, possessed a copy of the Heliand. However, there were many links between Anglo-Saxons and Old Saxon-speaking regions. As the ‘Saxon’ part of the names Anglo-Saxon, East Saxon (Essex) and West Saxon (Wessex) suggest, some Anglo-Saxons believed they were descended from Saxon or Saxon-speaking immigrants to the British Isles. Anglo-Saxon groups continued to have ties to Saxon-speaking areas through missionary and ecclesiastical activities, marriage alliances and travellers, among others. The Heliand manuscript provides an important reminder of all those ties and of all the languages that were spoken, studied and copied in England over 1000 years ago.

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La British Library s’est associée à la Bibliothèque nationale de France dans le cadre d’un projet de numérisation de 800 manuscrits élaborés en France et en Angleterre avant 1200. La grande variété des oeuvres sélectionnées s’entend également par la diversité des langues représentées. Les 100 premiers manuscrits numérisés comprennent des textes latins, mais également des œuvres écrites dans des langues moins communes, telles que l’ancien occitan, un dialecte parlé dans le sud de la France (Harley MS 2928), ou le vieux saxon, une forme ancienne du bas-allemand.

Un manuscrit récemment numérisé contient l’un des rares écrits composés en vieux saxon : l’Heliand.  Ce volume de la seconde moitié du Xe siècle fut peut-être copié en en Angleterre. Avec ses 6000 vers, l’Heliand constitue l’œuvre en vieux saxon la plus importante qui nous soit parvenue. Elle est transmise avec plus ou moins de lacunes dans deux manuscrits, l’un à la British Library, l’autre à Munich (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 25), ainsi qu’à l’état de fragments.

L’Heliand est une réécriture de la vie du Christ, probablement composée au début du IXe siècle, dans l’Est de l’empire carolingien. Dans ce poème épique, le Christ prend les traits d’un prince germanique, Saint Jean devient un guerrier, tandis que les disciples endossent le rôle de comtes. Cette œuvre était sans doute chantée ou contée oralement.

Les chercheurs s’accordent à dire que l’exemplaire de la British Library fut élaboré plus d’un siècle après la composition du poème, et qu’il fut copié par un scribe anglais, ou du moins, un copiste influencé par des manuscrits insulaires. Les annotations marginales en latin ainsi que le style de la décoration sont similaires à des volumes d’origine anglaise de la même période. Que ce manuscrit ait été copié ou non par un scribe anglais, les annotations en minuscule anglo-saxonne laissent penser que le manuscrit franchit très tôt la Manche. Il faut dire qu’il existait des liens étroits tant entre le vieil anglais et le vieux saxon, qu’entre les populations qui usaient de ces dialectes. Les anglo-saxons considéraient d’ailleurs descendre des saxons. Le manuscrit de l’Heliand constitue un précieux témoignage de ces échanges culturels et linguistiques. Il permet également de rappeler que les manuscrits copiés et lus en Angleterre, ne se limitaient pas aux textes en vieil anglais et en latin, mais englobaient une plus large aire culturelle.

Alison Hudson and Laure Miolo

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