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529 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

13 May 2014

Comic Mania

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We received some lovely feedback about our recent post, Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore ... so here are three more medieval comic strips. Some people suggested, incidentally, that the famous Bayeux Tapestry qualifies as one of the earliest "comic strips", but here are some British Library examples from the 12th century.

Silos Apocalypse - Daniel the Superhero

A vision of the life of Daniel is illustrated in graphic detail in this Spanish version of Revelations made in the monastery of Silos in Northern Spain. King Darius orders Daniel to be thrown into the lions' den. Daniel appears in the den, on the right, where he is given food and the lions lick his feet. In the lower half of the image, Darius lies awake, worrying about the punishment he has inflicted on Daniel.

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Scenes from the Life of Daniel, Spain, 4th quarter of the 10th century: London, British Library, Ms Additional 11695, ff. 238v-239r

The Guthlac Roll -  the life of a ‘cult’ hero

Saints’ lives were usually action-packed and gory, lending themselves easily to the comic-strip format. The Guthlac roll tells the story of the life of St Guthlac using a series of images in roundels with labels (see our recent blogpost On A Roll).

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St Guthlac receiving the tonsure at Repton Abbey, with the inscription 'Guthl[acus] tonsura[m] suscipit apud rependune', and inscriptions 'Epi[s]c[opus]', 'Guthlac[us]', and 'Ebba abbatissa' labelling the figures, England (possibly Crowland), c. 1175-1225: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 3 

 

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Drawing of Guthlac exorcising a demon from Ecgga: London, British Library, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 10

 

Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert - miraculous events 

St Cuthbert’s life is told in 46 pictures in this beautiful picture book from the 12th century:

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Miniature of Cuthbert accepting the bishopric at a synod of fellow monks; miniature of a man ministering to his ailing servant with holy water blessed by Cuthbert, from Chapter 24 & 25 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert, Durham, 4th quarter of the 12th century: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, ff. 53v-54r

Here is an action-packed image of a man falling from a tree (degree of difficulty 1.7):

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Cuthbert's vision of the soul of a man, who was killed by falling from a tree, being carried to heaven, from Chapter 34 of Bede's prose Life of St Cuthbert: London, British Library, MS Yates Thompson 26, f. 63v

Don't forget that our exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is on at the British Library until 19 August 2014.

Chantry Westwell

10 May 2014

Our Favourite Map

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What's your favourite map? This is our's (at least, today it is, next week we'll doubtless have a different one).

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Look closely, and you can just about discern the shape. Can you guess what it is yet? It's a medieval view of Britain, one of four surviving maps by Matthew Paris, historian and cartographer at St Albans Abbey. Scotland is shown at the top, joined to the rest of the British mainland by a bridge at Stirling ('Estriuelin pons'). Moving southwards are depicted two walls, one dividing the Scots from the Picts (the Antonine Wall) and the other the Scots from the English (Hadrian's Wall). Along the spine of the map is a series of English towns, including Newcastle ('Nouum castrum'), Durham ('Dunelmum'), Pontefract ('Pons fractus') and Newark ('Neuwerc'), culminating with London, Rochester, Canterbury and Dover ('Douera'), a castle located in the centre of the South coast of England. Wales ('WALLIA') is sited in just about the right place, with a sequence of jagged lines representing Mount Snowdon ('Snaudun'); diagonally opposite is Norfolk and Suffolk, and the towns of Norwich (a metropolis, no less), Lynn and Yarmouth.

This particular map is now bound separately (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D VI, f. 12v), but it once belonged to a manuscript of the Abbreviatio Chronicorum of Matthew Paris, dating from the 1250s. There are less complete maps of Britain by Matthew Paris in two other St Albans' manuscripts held at the British Library, Royal MS 14 C VII and Cotton MS Julius D VII, and in another at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS 16). You can read more about these maps in Suzanne Lewis, The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica Majora (Aldershot, 1987), pp. 364-72; but meanwhile here are some more details of the version in Cotton Claudius D VI. It's worth bearing in mind that Matthew Paris did not have satnav, GPS or an A-Z, and that he had never visited the vast majority of the places recorded on his maps.

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Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f012v Studio c02661-02

 

Julian Harrison

08 May 2014

Superheroes, True Romance, Blood and Gore

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The British Library’s amazing new exhibition, Comics Unmasked, was opened last week by TV presenter and comics fan Jonathan Ross. Talking about the oldest item on show, an early printed version of the Bible with graphic images, Jonathan commented that the Bible can be a great source of material for comic books. We in Medieval Manuscripts know this only too well!

Of course, it all began with manuscripts. Here are some early examples.

The Old English Hexateuch – How many modern comic books have dancing camels?

This 11th-century Old English version of six books of the Old Testament is filled with graphic depictions of the well-known stories, like the series below showing Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden:

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Adam and Eve, England, S. E. (Canterbury), 2nd quarter of the 11th century: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 7v

We had to include this picture of the dancing camels!

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Abraham’s Camels in the Book of Genesis: London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r

Holkham Bible Picture Book -  Joseph hears shocking news, ‘SHOCK’, ‘HORROR’!!

Sometimes described as England’s first graphic novel, this book tells stories from the Old and New Testament in a series of pictures with captions in Anglo-Norman French. There is some interesting material that didn’t make it into the authorised version of the Bible. The page below tells about Joseph’s reaction when he hears Mary is having a baby: the banners contain the dialogue, like speech bubbles in modern cartoons. In the second image, Joseph, whose friends have been telling him some home truths about his wife, is touching Mary’s stomach and asking her some awkward questions. Mary protests, ‘No, really don’t worry, I have never committed a bodily sin’. Of course he doesn’t believe her, but fortunately an angel drops in to reveal the divine plan and he has to eat humble pie.

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Joseph finds out about Mary’s pregnancy, England, S.E. (?London), 1327-1335: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 12r

Episodes from the life of Christ are also given the comic-book treatment:

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The healing of the paralysed man; Christ rests by a well; the woman of Samaria; the disciples eat but Jesus will not: London, British Library, MS Add 47682, f. 24v

Egerton Genesis Picture Book – the Prequel, or where it all began

Egerton MS 1894, better known as the Egerton Genesis Picture Book, tells the creation story in a series of images:

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The first days of Creation, England (?Norfolk), 3rd quarter of the 14th century: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1r

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God creates the birds, animals and man, and rests on the final day: London, British Library, MS Egerton 1894, f. 1v

You can read more about this manuscript in our blogpost A Medieval Comic Strip.

Queen Mary Psalter –   Moses, the greatest epic hero

The life of Moses is one of the great stories of all time, providing material for comics and movies such as the Charlton Heston epic and Spielberg’s ‘Prince of Egypt’. The Queen Mary Psalter contains a remarkable series of Old Testament stories told in a series of 223 pictures with captions in French. Included in the series is the Moses story. Here are some of the episodes:

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Miniature in two parts of the king of Egypt demanding that all Jewish infants be killed (above); of the birth of Moses, and Moses placed in a basket and left on the banks of the Nile (below), England (London?), c. 1310-1320: London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 22v

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Miniature of Moses freeing the Israelites from the king of Egypt, (above); miniature of Moses and the king of Egypt's troops facing each other across the Red Sea, (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 24v

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Miniature of God giving the laws to Moses for a second time (above); and of Moses showing the laws to the Israelites (below): London, British Library, MS Royal 2 B VII, f. 26r

We'll feature more medieval "comics" on this blog in the next few weeks. We're having great fun putting this list together, and would welcome more suggestions via @BLMedieval. Meanwhile, you can see our Comics exhibition in London until 19 August 2014, book your tickets online here.

Chantry Westwell

03 May 2014

A Medieval Word Search

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Here is a puzzle for our readers, but be warned – it is not for the faint of heart!  This is not the simple type of word search we are used to, but a very complex puzzle involving the date of Easter.  

Add MS 21114 f. 7r c12404-03
A table with decorated frame for calculating the date of Easter in the years 1140 to 1672 from a Psalter, Liège, 1255-1265, Add MS 21114, f. 7r

Here are your clues:  this puzzle comes from a Psalter in our collection and dates from the 13th century.  The table contains 35 two-letter symbols, which, if put in the correct order, make up a verse of two and a half hexameter lines, revealing the name of a well-known cleric with whom the book was closely associated.  This cleric may have commissioned it or devised this puzzle himself.  And those are the only clues we are giving!

Add MS 21114 f. 11 c12404-04
Historiated initial 'D'(ixit) at the beginning of Psalm 109 with God holding Christ on the cross, from a Psalter, Add MS 21114, f. 11r

Apart from the Psalms, this smallish book contains two verses in a Northern French dialect, prayers and liturgical material added in the latter part of the 14th century and a number of 15th-century additions in Catalan.

This manuscript is not yet in our online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts but will be published at the next upload, later this year, so you will not find any help there.  We know it’s possible to solve the puzzle; a French scholar had it all worked out in the late 19th century.  Let’s see if you can do it!  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.  We'll be revealing the solution on Tuesday, so stay tuned!  

- Chantry Westwell

01 May 2014

A Calendar Page for May 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

The themes of courting and pleasurable outdoor pursuits continue in these calendar pages for the month of May.  On the first folio is the beginning of the listing of saints' days and feasts for May, amongst a backdrop of flowers.  In the roundel below can be found a roundel miniature of an aristocratic young couple on horseback, setting off to go hawking (it is perhaps, but not definitely, the couple found on the opening folio for April).  On the next folio is a small painting of a nude couple for the zodiac sign Gemini.  Beneath is a well-dressed lady sitting in a flowering garden, engaged in a somewhat mysterious activity.  Curators in our department have variously theorised that she is holding a tambourine, an embroidery hoop, or a skein of yarn; please do let us know what you think!

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Calendar page for May, with a roundel miniature of a couple going hawking, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 5v

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Calendar page for May, with a roundel miniature of a lady in a pleasure garden, with the zodiac sign Gemini, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 6r

- Sarah J Biggs

26 April 2014

Medieval Manuscripts at the UK Blog Awards

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Last night we attended the inaugural ceremony of the National UK Blog Awards, held in London. We were very excited to be nominated in the Arts and Culture category, but we faced some stiff competition, from the likes of Global Metal Apocalypse, Me Firi Ghana Blog, and the Tate (no, we haven't heard of them either -- only joking!).

And the winner was ..... you'll have to wait for the end of this post. But here are some of the stories that have made us famous (please note: our obsession with medieval animals is purely coincidental).

Lolcats of the Middle Ages: they're cute, they're cats, they're medieval cats, and one of them is in a submarine. What's not to like?!

Cats

Knight v Snail: you've often wondered, who would win a fight between a knight and a snail, haven't you? Here's the answer you've all been waiting for.

Snail

Unicorn Cookbook Found at the British Library: probably the most astonishing discovery in the history of astonishing discoveries (bettered perhaps only by that old episode of Scooby Doo, in which the gang of pesky kids finds out that the "ghost" is really the dastardly fairground owner). This post, we're reliably informed, is pinned to the kitchen wall of Chocolat author Joanne Harris. Enough said.

Cookbook

And so, without more ado, we can proudly announce that the winner of the National UK Blog Award 2014 for Arts and Culture was ... the MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG!!!

Thank you so much everyone for following us online, and everyone who has supported us -- we promise to do our best to keep up the good work!

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Julian Harrison & Sarah J Biggs

 

23 April 2014

The Anatomy of a Dragon

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Happy St George’s Day, everyone!   For some images of this patron saint of England, Portugal, Russia, and many other nations, please see our post from last year.  Today, though, we thought we would turn our attention to St George’s famous opponent, the dragon.

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Detail of a miniature of St George and the dragon, from the Beaufort/Beauchamp Hours, England (London) and Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1401, Royal MS 2 A XVIII, f. 5v

Dragons are near-ubiquitious in medieval manuscripts.  They take pride of place in bestiaries and herbals, books of history and legend, and Apocalypse texts, to name a few.  They serve as symbols, heraldic devices, and even as ‘just’ decoration, and their physical characteristics can vary widely. Cinematic and literary depictions of dragons today are fairly consistent; they are almost always shown as reptilian, winged, fire-breathing creatures (in a word, Smaug).  But this was by no means constant in the medieval period.

Let’s have a look at a very common medieval trope – of the dragon as the nemesis of a saint or angel.  Below we can see dragons facing off against St George (again), St Margaret, and the Archangel Michael.  All these examples are drawn from late 15th century manuscripts, but their dragons are very different, and range from a lizard-y animal with duck-like feet to a winged leonine creature and a demon.

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Miniature of St George and a lizard-like dragon, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands, c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 139v

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Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the side of a lion-like dragon, from a Book of Hours, Use of Sarum, Netherlands, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 2985, f. 37v

Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r c5473-03a
Detail of a miniature of the Archangel Michael fighting a demon-like dragon, from Francisco de Ximenez’s Livre des anges, France (Tours), c. 1480, Sloane MS 3049, f. 115r

Even within a single manuscript it is possible to find a multiplicity of dragon sub-species.  One notable example is a French copy of the Life of Alexander the Great, in which this famous king is squaring off against three different kinds of dragon (our favourite, of course is the last).

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged dragons with emeralds in their foreheads, from Le livre et la vraye hystoire du bon roy Alixandre, France (Paris), c. 1420 – c. 1425, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 73r

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against winged horned dragons, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

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Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great battling against two-headed, eight-legged, crowned dragons with multiple eyes along their torsos, Royal MS 20 B XX, f. 78v

The idea of the dragon as a fearsome foe for all godly and righteous beings stretches back to the late-antique source material that later developed into the 12th and 13th century text of the bestiary.  The book of beasts tells us that the dragon is a variety of serpent, is ‘larger than all other animals in the world’, lives in caves, and possesses great strength in its tail.  Nothing, ‘not even the elephant’, is safe from the dragon, which lies in wait and then suffocates the captured elephant within its coils.  The ominously-curled tail of the dragon is often shown to great advantage in the miniatures illustrating this passage (see particularly the first image below).

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Detail of a miniature of a dragon attacking and suffocating an elephant, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 62r

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a mother elephant giving birth in water to avoid the dragon circling overhead, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 188v

The bestiary text also makes explicit the connection between the dragon and the devil, aligning the fantastical creature with evil, deception, ‘vainglory and human pleasures’.  We see this connection repeated again and again in medieval manuscripts, particularly those concerned with describing and explaining evil. 

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Detail of a miniature of men worshipping a dragon and the beast of the Apocalypse, from an Apocalypse with commentary in French prose, England (London?), c. 1325 – 1330, Additional MS 38842, f. 5r

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Detail of a miniature of the Woman and the seven-headed, ten-horned dragon-beast of the Apocalypse, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal MS 15 D II, f. 153r

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Detail of a miniature of a human-headed satanic dragon, representing the papacy of Urban VI whose election was contested and resulted in the appointment of the anti-pope Clement VII, from Joachim de Fiore’s Vaticinia de Pontificibus, Italy (Florence), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 1340, f. 8r

It would be too simplistic, though, to claim that dragons were universally objects of horror and loathing.  They were not even always enemies.  Dragons make appearances in discussions of astronomy and natural history, as elements of decoration, and even within the Tudor coat of arms.

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Detail of a miniature of the constellation ‘Draco’, from an astrological compilation with political prophecies, England (London?), 1490, Arundel MS 66, f. 33v

Add MS 16577 f. 44v d40053-81a
Detail of a dragon with its tail circling a caption, from a Hebrew festival prayer book, Italian rite, Italy, 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 16577, f. 44v

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Detail of a historiated initial ‘S’ of the Pentecost, with the body of the initial formed by two intertwining dragons, Italy (Lombardy), 3rd quarter of the 15th century,  Add MS 39636, f. 28r

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Detail of an allegorical miniature about the Tudor rose with a red dragon, lion, and white greyhound, from Magister Sampson’s Motets for Henry VIII, Netherlands (Antwerp), 1516, Royal MS 11 E XI, f. 2r

We’ll be tweeting more fabulous British Library dragons over the next day or so; as always, please let us know your favourites.  And have a wonderful St George’s Day!

- Sarah J Biggs

19 April 2014

Lorsch Manuscripts in the British Library

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Seven manuscripts that were compiled in the 9th-century in the scriptorium of the former monastic library of Abbey Lorsch are today held at the British Library.  These codices have now been digitized – together with five further works connected to the Abbey – and included in the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch, at Bibliotheca Laureshamensis digital.  Amongst the 70 institutions world-wide that today hold Lorsch manuscripts, the British Library has one of the larger collections, together with the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich, the National Austrian Library, the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.

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Miniature of the Evangelist St Mark, at the beginning of a Gospel lectionary (the 'Odalricus Peccator Gospel Lectionary'), Germany (Lorsch), first half of the 11th century, Harley MS 2970, f. 2v

The Abbey of Lorsch –today in a small town in Hesse in Germany – was one of the key centres of knowledge in the medieval period.  During the reign of Charlemagne and his successors it reached the height of its prosperity and created an exceptional library as well as a proficient scriptorium.  Library catalogues from the 9th century testify that the collection comprised nearly 500 manuscripts, an impressive figure.  The medieval library held works on theology, historiography, monasticism and asceticism, grammar as well as school books.  Of the monastic buildings in Lorsch only few have remained, but its heritage and significance are such that it was recognized as a UNESCO-World Heritage site in 1991.

The Abbey and its library were dissolved under the reign of the Elector Palatine Otto-Henry (1556-1559) and integrated into Heidelberg’s Bibliotheca Palatina. From there the largest surviving collection of Lorsch manuscripts was brought to the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. In the later medieval period, several codices were brought to the monastery of Arnstein.  Four of these are now in the British Library.

Lorsch screenshot

Based on the work of two German palaeographers, Bernhard Bischoff (1906-1991) and Hartmut Hoffmann (1930), more than 300 manuscripts from the Abbey can be identified, now in 13 countries.  The online reconstruction of the library collection is a cooperation project by Heidelberg University Library, the Verwaltung der Staatlichen Schlösser und Gärten Hessen and the UNESCO-World Heritage Site Abbey Lorsch. The project Bibliotheca Laureshamensis digital was launched in 2010 and will be completed in 2014, the 1250th anniversary of the foundation of the Abbey (in 764). The aim of the project is to unite virtually all of dispersed manuscripts in one online platform and thereby make this remarkable collection once again accessible and researchable. Alongside the digitization, on the website all of the codices are fully described and can be searched in a separate database.

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Incipit page at the beginning of Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate, De Synodis and Contra arianos, Germany (Lorsch), 1st half of the 9th century, Harley MS 3115, f. 1v

An overview of the manuscripts from the collection of the British Library which have been integrated into the Virtual Monastic Library of Lorsch can be found here.  A PDF file of the manuscript descriptions can also be accessed directly from the corresponding manuscript in the Virtual Library.

All of the British Library’s Lorsch manuscripts are theological texts, including exegetical tractates by Church fathers from late Antiquity, as well as by the Anglo-Saxon Bede, and Theodulf of Orléans. Two other manuscripts were added to the list of Further Manuscripts:  the fragment Arundel MS 501, fol. 13, which was ascribed to Lorsch by Nigel F Palmer, and Cotton MS Vespasian D V, ff. 155r-156r, which contains a poem by Henry of Avranches on Starkenburg castle, which was a property of the abbey in the 13th century.

A full list of the manuscripts recently uploaded is below, along with links to their digital versions on the Bibliotheca Laureshamensis site.  These manuscripts have also been included in the British Library's Digitised Manuscripts portal, and can be found there by searching on the main page.

Add MS 17980:  Bede, In Lucam

Add MS 37328:  Augustine, De opere monachorum, De agone christiano

Arundel MS 37:  Bede, In Ezram et Nehemiam

Arundel MS 386:  Commentary on Psalms 101-150

Arundel MS 501, f. 13:  Hrabanus Maurus, Enarratio super Deuteronomium (ll.xxxvi-xxvii)

Harley MS 2970:  Gospel lectionary

Harley MS 3024:  Theodulf, De spiritu sancto

Harley MS 3032:  Hesychius, In Leviticum

Harley MS 3039:  Augustine, De Genesi contra Manichaeos

Harley MS 3115:  Hilary, De Trinitate; Contra Arianos

Harley MS 5915, ff. 10r-10v:  Justin, Epitoma historiarum Philippicarum

Cotton MS Vespasian D V, ff. 155r-156r:  Poem by Henry of Avranches

 

- Alexandra Büttner, Bibliotheca Laureshamensis - digital Virtuelle Klosterbibliothek Lorsch