THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

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

15 July 2018

It's coming home

Add comment Comments (2)

There are just a few hours to go before one of the greatest tournaments in the world reaches its glorious, nail-biting outcome. We have witnessed Gallic flair, English optimism and German hubris. And now, everyone, the wait is over. Yes, today is the final of the #ManuscriptWorldCup.

Just for fun, we have been asking our followers on Twitter (@BLMedieval) to choose their favourite manuscripts, from a select list chosen by a panel of pundits. We'll shortly find out which two manuscripts have made it through to the final vote. Here are the eight contenders, the manuscript equivalents of Harry Kane, Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo, Johann Cruyff and, um, Manuel Neuer (get back in goal, quick!).

 

BYZANTIUM

Theodore-Psalter-add_ms_19352_f001r

The Theodore Psalter (Constantinople, 1066): Add MS 19352, f. 1r

 

FRANCE

Stowe_ms_955_f017r

Pierre Sala’s Petit Livre d’Amour (France, 16th century): Stowe MS 955, f. 17r

 

ITALY

C11776-02

Carmina Regia (Tuscany, c. 1335): Royal MS 6 E IX, f. 22r

 

PORTUGAL

Add_ms_12531-f003

The Portuguese Genealogy (Lisbon and Bruges, 1530s): Add MS 12531, f. 3

 

ENGLAND

C06172-06

The Luttrell Psalter (England, 14th century): Add MS 42130, f. 202v 

 

GERMANY

E046770

Splendor Solis (Germany, 1582): Harley MS 3469

 

NETHERLANDS

Add_ms_11390_f002v

Der Naturen Bloeme (Netherlands, 14th century): Add MS 11390

 

SPAIN

Add_ms_11695_f021r

The Silos Apocalypse (Silos, 1091–1109): Add MS 11695, f. 23r

 

Tickets to watch the final of the #ManuscriptWorldCup have been exchanging hands for, literally, nothing. You can be there in person by joining us on Twitter and making your vote count. It's coming home, at least until next time!

 

Julian Harrison

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

12 July 2018

Anglo-Saxon charters online

Add comment Comments (1)

In anticipation of the British Library's major Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, which opens on 19 October, we are delighted to have added the vast majority of our Anglo-Saxon single-sheet charters to our Digitised Manuscripts site. A full list of the 203 charters currently available can be downloaded here; we plan to add the remaining 8 charters in due course.

Cotton MS Augustus II 3 Face

King Æthelbald of the Mercians and of the South Angli grants ten hides at Ismere by the river Stour and land at Brochyl in Morfe forest, Worcestershire, to Cyneberht, comes, for the construction of a minster, dated 736: Cotton MS Augustus II 3

The British Library holds the world's largest collection of Anglo-Saxon charters. They are issued in the names of kings, bishops and laypeople, and include a considerable number of writs, wills, records of disputes and decrees of synods. The charters supply significant testimony to the evolution of English handwriting (the scripts deployed include uncial, pointed minuscule, square minuscule and English Caroline minuscule). They are composed primarily in Latin but with a considerable number in Old English (or with Old English bounds). Some of the documents are originals or were issued contemporaneously, while others are later copies or are deemed to be forgeries. Collectively, these charters provide us with substantial evidence for early English political, ecclesiastical, administrative and social history.

Add Ch 19795 face

Archbishop Wulfstan grants a lease, for three lives, of a half hide at Perry Wood in St Martin’s-without-Worcester, to Wulfgifu, with reversion to the church of Worcester, 1003 × 1016: Add Ch 19795

We recently learned the sad news of the death of Peter Sawyer, whose handlist of Anglo-Saxon charters (published in 1968) has proved invaluable to generations of scholars. Many of the charters now available online have also been edited in recent years on behalf of the British Academy/Royal Historical Society Joint Committee on Anglo-Saxon Charters, and we are indebted to scholars such as Susan Kelly, Simon Keynes and the late Nicholas Brooks for their editions and painstaking investigations into these documents.

Stowe Ch 15 face

Record of a dispute between Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury, King Coenwulf of the Mercians, and Abbess Cwoenthryth, concerning the minsters of Reculver and Minster-in-Thanet, and of the dispute’s settlement by the transfer to Wulfred of a hundred hides at Harrow, Herefrethinglond, Wembley, and Yeading, all in Middlesex, and thirty hides at Combe, Kent, 825: Stowe Ch 15

 

Cotton MS Augustus II 31

King Æthelstan of England grants privileges to the bishopric of Crediton in return for 60 pounds of silver, 933: Cotton MS Augustus II 31

 

Cotton MS Augustus II 39 face 

King Edgar of England grants 22 hides at Ringwood, Hampshire, to Abingdon Abbey, 961: Cotton MS Augustus II 39

 

Cotton Ch VIII 18 face

King Edgar of England grants land at Bleadon, Somerset, to the Old Minster, Winchester, 975 (copied in the 15th century): Cotton Ch VIII 18

 

Cotton Roll ii 11 part 1

Bishop Eadnoth of Crediton mortgages a yardland by the river Creedy, Devon, to Beorhtnoth, probably 1018 (copied in the 13th century): Cotton Roll II 11

 

Stowe Ch 39 face

King Cnut of England grants his crown and the port of Sandwich to Christ Church, Canterbury, 1023 (copied in the 12th century): Stowe Ch 39

 

Cotton MS Augustus II 85 face

Will of Bishop Ælfric of Elmham (d. 1038): Cotton MS Augustus II 85

 

 Cotton Ch VIII 9 face

King Edward the Confessor of England grants seven hides at Millbrook, Hampshire, to Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester, 1045: Cotton Ch VIII 9

 

Over the coming months, and throughout the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, we will be blogging about some of the Anglo-Saxon charters in the British Library's collections, starting with this charter made 1,025 years ago (Cotton MS Augustus II 38). While charters may not be as beautiful as some of the magnificently illuminated manuscripts from the period, they are every bit as exciting. Many of the charters we have digitised are presumed to be originals: they may have been seen and touched by some of the historical figures mentioned in the text, at crucial moments in history.

Cotton MS Augustus II 38 face

King Æthelred of England confirms the privileges of Abingdon Abbey, including the right of free election of a new abbot, 993: Cotton MS Augustus II 38

In this charter, King Æthelred (‘the Unready’) confirmed the rights and property of Abingdon Abbey. The text mentions ‘frequent and numerous difficulties to me [Æthelred] and my nation’ in the past decade. This seems to be a reference to the Scandinavian forces that had begun attacking England again in the 980s, culminating with the disastrous defeat of English forces at the Battle of Maldon. Æthelred therefore repented of his youthful indiscretions and issued a series of ‘penitential’ charters, including this one, to try to protect some of the churches he had neglected and to set his kingdom right. 

We know at least some of the people mentioned in this text actually touched this piece of parchment because some of them left marks in the shape of a cross next to their names in the witness list. (Alas, the parchment is damaged next to Æthelred’s name).

In addition to revealing major governmental reshuffles and wars, charters can also reveal more personal details. For instance, one of Æthelred’s ‘youthful indiscretions’ involved kicking his mother out of his court when he was a teenager. In this charter, she appears in the witness list, suggesting that she had become a powerful force in the kingdom and was accepted at court again. She appears in the witness list next to Æthelred’s sons, whom she was helping to bring up. Removing your mother from the palace clearly did not preclude relying on her for childcare.

 

Julian Harrison & Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

11 July 2018

The Winchester Psalter: an illustrated bilingual Psalter

Add comment Comments (0)

After the Norman Conquest, the principal language of the aristocracy in England was French, rather than English or Latin.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the Bible was translated into French at an early date. Given the importance of the Psalms in the medieval Church, several early French translations were made, including three or four versions of St Jerome’s Gallican or Gallicanum text, known as such because it was adopted in Gaul as the principal form of the Vulgate. St Jerome completed this translation between 386 and 391, basing it on Origen’s Greek text of the Psalms from the edition of the Old Testament in Hebrew and Greek, the Hexapla.

Twelve manuscripts of the 12th to 13th centuries are known of the so-called Oxford Psalter, based on the Gallicanum version, a translation compiled in England, and all have an English connection. The Winchester Psalter, with an extensive cycle of images, is the most splendid copy of these English manuscripts.

Cotton_ms_nero_c_iv_f049v

Cotton_ms_nero_c_iv_f050r

The Winchester Psalter: Cotton MS Nero C IV, ff. 49v–50r

In this Psalter, the Psalm text is laid out in parallel columns. The Latin is in the right column on the rectos, and in the left on the versos, so that the French text appears side by side when the book is open. This suggests that the book may have been intended for someone who was more comfortable in French than Latin, and that Latin may have served as a kind of reference or critical apparatus to aid the reader. 

The Winchester Psalter is now on display in the British Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, open to the beginning of the Psalms. The manuscript is also available in full on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. There is a large initial beginning each translation of the biblical text. It is the Latin initial ‘B’(eatus) (blessed) that is more elaborate, with an image of King David writing and playing a viol; while the ‘B’(eonuret) (blessed) on the left is elaborated with foliate decoration only.

Cotton_ms_nero_c_iv_f046r

Psalm 1 in the Winchester Psalter: Cotton MS Nero C IV, f. 46r

The French version of the text is interpretative rather than literal: for example, the ‘blessed man’ (beatus vir) of the first verse becomes a baron (Beonuret Barun) who does not take counsel with felons (des feluns). 

The Psalter is perhaps better known for its very extensive series of thirty-eight surviving prefatory drawings with coloured washes, including the dramatic and evocative vision of the end of time, with an angel locking the door of Hell. 

Cotton_ms_nero_c_iv_f039r

An angel locking the door of Hell: Cotton MS Nero C IV, f. 39r

The book also includes a Calendar, which provides evidence as to its origin. Saints of particular relevance to Winchester are included, among them Bishops Æthelwold (d. 984) and Brinstan (d. 934), and saints buried or with shrines there, such as Eadburh (d. c. 951), a Benedictine nun and daughter of Edward the Elder, and Grimbald (d. 901?), by tradition the co-founder of New Minster (later Hyde Abbey). The Calendar also includes two abbots of Cluny in Burgundy, Sts Hugh (d. 1109) and Mailous (d. 994).

The bishop of Winchester throughout the middle of the 12th century was King Stephen’s younger brother, Henry of Blois (r. 1139–71), who had been educated at Cluny. Henry was one of the richest men in Europe and a known art and relic collector.  When appointed to the see of Winchester, he refused to relinquish the profitable abbacy of Glastonbury, which he held concurrently with Winchester until his death. The Cluniac references, Cathedral-specific prayer and Henry’s great wealth make him a plausible patron for such a lavish book, even if its vernacular components and central focus on the Psalms in French suggests that he may have intended it as a gift for a layperson.

 

Further reading

Francis Wormald, The Winchester Psalter (London, 1973). 

Kristine Haney, The Winchester Psalter: An Iconographic Study (Leicester, 1986). 

Ruth J. Dean & Maureen B. M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, Anglo-Norman Text Society, Occasional Publication Series, 3 (London, 1999), nos. 445–456.

Geoff Rector, ‘An Illustrious Vernacular: The Psalter en romanz in Twelfth-Century England’, in Language and Culture in Medieval Britain: The French of England c. 1110–1500, ed. by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne (York, 2009), pp. 198–206.

Scot McKendrick & Kathleen Doyle, The Art of the Bible: Illuminated Manuscripts from the Medieval World (London: Thames & Hudson, 2016), no. 20.

 

Kathleen Doyle

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

05 July 2018

Three lions

Add comment Comments (2)

Football is an ancient sport. It is not clear when or where it was first played, but we do know that football was banned twice in England during the 14th century. On 13 April 1314, King Edward II forbade 'hustling over large balls' (‘rageries de grosses pelotes’) at the behest of some disgruntled London merchants (who clearly didn't realise the sport's potential for selling flags, alcohol and other merchandise). Then, in 1349, Edward III ordered that archery practice should supersede the playing of football ("Arrows coming home," anyone?). Later that century, the controversial churchman John Wyclif (d. 1384) cited in one of his sermons, suggesting it was a common sight: ‘Christian people have been kicked around, now by popes, now by bishops … as they would kick a football’ (‘Cristene men ben chullid, now wiþ popis, and now wiþ bishopis … as who shulde chulle a foot-balle’).

Medieval imagery continues to permeate ‘the beautiful game'. For example, the kit worn by the England team uses medieval symbolism, which is the subject of this blogpost.

Harley_ms_4205_f003v

Image of Richard the Lionheart from Sir Thomas Holme's Book of Arms, made in England, c. 1445–1524, Harley MS 4205, f. 3v

The nickname of the England football team is the ‘Three Lions’. This refers to the team’s crest, which is in turn based on the royal arms of England. Originally, the kings’ coats of arms had a variable number of lions, usually one or two, in different poses. After Henry II married Eleanor of Acquitaine — whose coat of arms also involved a lion — three lions appeared on some English royal symbols. The three lions are particularly associated with Henry’s and Eleanor’s son, Richard the Lionheart. His Great Seal is the first seal of an English monarch in which the coat of arms, including the three lions, can clearly be seen.

Cotton Ch xvi 1
Detail of Richard the Lionheart’s second Great Seal, 1198, Cotton Ch XVI 1

Richard the Lionheart’s association with the three lions was remembered decades after his death. When Matthew Paris abbreviated his accounts of the reigns of the English kings in the middle of the 13th century, he depicted Richard holding a shield with a three lions as his defining feature.

Cotton_ms_claudius_d_vi_f009v

Image of Richard the Lionheart carrying a shield with three roughly drawn lions, from Matthew Paris's Abbreviated Chronicles of England, made in St Albans c. 1255–1259, Cotton MS Claudius D VI, f. 9v

Today, the three lions are joined by another royal heraldic symbol: ten Tudor roses, symbolising the different divisions of the English Football Association. These roses are red and white, combining symbols of the two opposing sides from the Wars of the Roses.

Cotton MS Titus D IV
The Tudor rose entwined with the pomegranate motif of Katherine of Aragon, from Thomas More's Coronation Suite, Cotton MS Titus D IV, f. 12v

Nor is England the only team in the World Cup with medieval or even older iconography emblazoned on their kits. The Japan side’s symbol is the three-legged crow Yatagarasu. The three-legged bird is a figure in many East Asian mythologies, stretching back perhaps thousands of years BCE. When Sweden play England on Saturday, their players will be wearing blue and yellow: these colours have been associated with Sweden perhaps since the late 13th century, when King Magnus III used them on his coat of arms.

Now, if only we could persuade the England football team to actually play like lions ...

 

Alison Hudson

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

03 July 2018

Dance moves from medieval manuscripts

Add comment Comments (0)

It is quiet in the office this week. The team working on the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project: Manuscripts from the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, 700-1200 will be in Leeds, at the International Medieval Congress. Don’t miss their presentations in sessions 938 (Tuesday at 19.00), 545 (Tuesday at 9.00 AM), 638 (Tuesday at 11.15 AM), and 712 (Tuesday at 14.15). 

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f166r
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a young woman and a man, in the guise of a satyr, dancing together, from the Queen Mary Psalter, made in England (London or Westminster), c. 1310–1320: Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 166r

You might also see them at the conference disco, demonstrating some impressive dance choreography inspired by medieval manuscripts. If you’d like to try some medieval moves yourself, we’ve created this handy guide, divided into ‘easy’, ‘medium’ and ‘difficult’ techniques. Note: these tips also work for balls, weddings, school dances, and any other terpsichorean events you might be attending this summer.

Easy: The Luxuria/Psychomachia

Hold one hand in the air like a highland dancer, while kicking one foot in front of the other. Keep the other arm bent. To make it even easier, you can even keep your hand open.

Cotton_ms_cleopatra_c_viii_f019v
Detail of Luxuria and companions dancing, from a copy of Prudentius's Psychomachia, England, 11th century: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII, f. 19v 

Add_ms_24199_f018r
The same scene from another copy of
Prudentius, Psychomachia, England, c. 980–1010: Add MS 24199, f. 18r

 

Medium: the Saint-Étienne Shimmy

Put one hand on your hips and sway your whole body, including your head, while your other hand is up in the air: think distant ancestor of Beyoncé's 'Single Ladies' music video. This works best if you are wearing a long headdress that can move around as you dance.

Harley_ms_4951_f300v
Detail of a dancing figure from a Gradual of Saint-Etienne of Toulouse, made in Toulouse in the late 11th or early 12th century: Harley MS 4951, f. 300v

Difficult: the Salomé

Salomé’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ is frequently represented in medieval iconography as a form of extreme limbo or a handstand. Remember, however: if you are wearing a long skirt, keep your knees bent!

Arundel_ms_157_f007v
Detail of Salomé’s dance from a Psalter made in Oxford, c. 1200–1210: Arundel MS 157, f. 7r 

Add_ms_47682_f021v
Same scene from the Holkham Bible Picture Book, England, c. 1327–1335: Add MS 47682, f. 21v 

Whether you’ve got twinkle toes or two left feet, medieval manuscripts have some dance tips for you!

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

01 July 2018

A calendar page for July 2018

Add comment Comments (0)

Growing up in Pennsylvania, one of the sights and sounds I associated most strongly with summer was the sound of lawnmowers. Mowing was already a common sight a thousand summers ago, judging from the line drawings in this 11th-century calendar (Cotton MS Julius A VI). However, the sound of scythes depicted here would have been rather different from the noise their motorised descendants make.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r
A calendar page for July, from a calendar made in southern England, mid-11th century: Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

Each page of this calendar contains an image of agricultural or social life, so it is sometimes known as the Julius Work Calendar. (For an introduction to this calendar, please see our posts for previous months.) The people mowing appear at the bottom of the page for July.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r mowers
Detail of mowers, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

This group of six figures has given the artist a chance to show off his virtuosity. Detailed, vivid line-drawings were prized in 11th-century English art, and the artist of this calendar uses this technique at its height to create distinct characters for each of the six men.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r mowers left
Detail of men with scythes and a pitchfork, Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

Starting on the left, the artist has drawn a short-haired, balding man sharpening a scythe, possibly with a stone. Next to him, a dark-haired, bearded man collects material with a pitchfork, while a light-haired man, with his back to the viewer, bends down to make a cut with his scythe.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r right
Detail of mowers, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

On the right side of the image, the artist has created another three characters. A dark-haired man with a short beard has hitched up his tunic to keep it out of the way while he mows, while the balding, clean-shaven man next to him wears his tunic loose. It swings as he steps forward. Fluttering hemlines were a recurring theme in 11th-century English drawings, and this artist made sure to include some frills even when depicting a worker's tunic. My favourite figure in the group, though, is the balding man with a forked beard on the right. He holds a whetstone in his left hand and taps or scratches his head with his right hand. Some days, we all know how he feels!

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

In addition to the mowers, this calendar page also features a depiction of the constellation Cancer, the crab. Cancer was one of those zodiac symbols that was subject to many different artistic interpretations throughout the medieval period, as we have discussed in previous calendar pages on this Blog. In the Julius Work Calendar, Cancer is portrayed as a very round creature with pincers, 8 legs and round eyes. Here's how other medieval artists represented Cancer.

Add_ms_18850_f006r cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430, Add MS 18850, f. 6r

Add_ms_36684_f007r Cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Thérouanne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, f. 7r

Add_ms_24098_f024r Cancer
Detail of the zodiac sign Cancer, from the Golf Book (Book of Hours, Use of Rome), workshop of Simon Bening, Netherlands (Bruges), 
c. 1540, Add MS 24098, f. 24r

The rest of the page for July contains the usual calendrical information: guides for calculating lunar cycles and the days of the week, as well a poem with a verse for every day. Only one feast day is marked out in July: the feast of St James, ‘the brother of the Lord’, on 25 July.

Cotton_ms_julius_a_vi_f006r St James
Detail of the verses for 25 July and following, from the Metrical Calendar of Hampson, Cotton MS Julius A VI, f. 6r

So, this July, if you are mowing your lawn, remember you part of an ancient July tradition. If you don't have a lawn, there’s always the Digitised Manuscripts site to brighten your day, where you can see this manuscript and over 300 other manuscripts digitised by the The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project.

Alison Hudson 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

Part of the Polonsky Digitisation Project

Supported by

  PF Logo

30 June 2018

Things you may have missed

Add comment Comments (0)

Summer is well and truly here: "Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu", as this medieval manuscript so rightly proclaims. As well as enjoying the London sunshine, we have been beavering away on our many projects. Here are some of the announcements you may have missed this month.

Sumer

"Summer has come in, Loudly sing, Cuckoo!": Harley MS 978, f. 11v

Registration for our Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms conference is now open. The conference runs from 13–14 December 2018, followed by a graduate symposium on 15 December. The conference runs alongside our exhibition, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (19 October 2018–19 February 2019).

Conference

Opening page of the Gospel of St Mark, from the Bury Gospels, c. 1020–1030: Harley MS 76, f. 45r

Sir Robert Cotton's collection of manuscripts has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World UK Register. Cotton's library, cared for at the British Library, contains many historical and literary treasures of national and international significance, such as Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the only surviving copies of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knightand the autograph papers of a number of British monarchs.

Gawain

Some of the greatest works of medieval English literature are preserved uniquely in the Cotton library, among them the only surviving copy of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Cotton MS Nero A X/2, f. 94v

600 manuscripts have now been published online by The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project. Together with the Bibliothèque nationale de France, we are also producing a new online viewer, a new interpretative website, and a book about the illuminated manuscripts we have been digitising, among other exciting ventures.

Polonsky1
St Benedict and monks, in the Eadui Psalter: Arundel MS 155, f. 133r 

Our Manuscripts Reading Room is also becoming very busy, If you are travelling from far afield, we always recommend that you check the availability of the manuscripts you wish to see in advance (by emailing mss@bl.uk). Here is some information on how to obtain a reader's pass and on how to access our manuscripts and archives.

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval

 

27 June 2018

Networks of Knowledge: Insular manuscripts and digital potential

Add comment Comments (0)

In the early Middle Ages, ‘Insular’ missionaries, reformers, pilgrims and intellectuals from Ireland and Anglo-Saxon England ventured onto the Continent, leaving their distinctive mark on European culture. They founded monasteries that became centres for learning and formed institutional networks that extended across Europe. They brought manuscripts from the ‘isles’ and established new libraries and scriptoria to transmit and expand knowledge. Their efforts are evident today in the considerable number of manuscripts with distinctive Insular script, decoration, texts and techniques of production that are still found in European libraries. Around 75% of all surviving Insular manuscripts are housed in continental European collections, with most of these in Insular missionary areas. Almost 50% now have a digital presence online, which represents a tipping point for digital scholarship on these books.

Cotton_ms_tiberius_c_ii_f005v

‘Britain, an island of the ocean, which once was called Albion, lies to the north-west, being opposite Germany, France and Spain, which form the greater part of Europe’ — in the first words of his Ecclesiastical History, Bede sets Britain firmly in its European context: Cotton MS Tiberius C II, f. 5v

Members of the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts section recently participated in a workshop in Dublin and Galway (19–22 June 2018), organised by Joanna Story (University of Leicester), as part of the project ‘Insular Manuscripts AD 650-850: Networks of Knowledge’, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. It followed the first workshop in the series, hosted by the British Library in April 2017. The final workshop will take place next year in Vienna.

This most recent event focused on the topic of ‘Networks of knowledge then and now: digital potential’. Its purpose was to bring together curators, digital specialists and academics to discuss the new possibilities offered by digital technology for promoting and researching Insular manuscripts. In particular, we examined how digitised manuscripts provide a large accessible dataset which can be searched, mapped and interrogated to help us trace early medieval cultural networks across Europe. Like the Insular networks of knowledge, our research network was fundamentally international in its scope, and aimed to deepen connections between scholars based in libraries and in universities.

Insular MSS workshop photo 1

Workshop participants examine fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 55). Photo credit Joanna Story.

During the workshop, we heard presentations from those who have curated projects to digitise and promote manuscripts. Rachel Moss (Trinity College Dublin) reflected on ‘The Bank of America Merrill Lynch-TCD Gospel Books Project’, which conserved and digitised four early medieval Irish manuscripts from the collections of Trinity College Dublin. Charlotte Denöel (Bibliothèque nationale de France) gave us an overview of The Polonsky Project â€” the collaborative project between the British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France to digitise 800 early medieval manuscripts and present and interpret them on our shared websites. We learned about the Insular manuscripts digitised by the e-Codices website from Brigitte Roux (e-Codices: Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland, University of Fribourg), as well as the potential for digitally reassembling fragments with the new project Fragmentarium. Karin Zimmerman (University of Heidelberg) told us about her work virtually reconstructing the historical libraries of Lorsch Abbey and the Palatine Library. We were reminded of the scale of the task of digitisation by Claire Breay (The British Library), and of the possibility of losing a sense of the scale and materiality of the manuscripts as objects.

We also learned about the software and techniques being developed to provide new ways of working with digitised manuscripts. Ben Albritton’s (Stanford University) tutorial on the IIIF image viewer Mirador had us comparing, annotating and sharing digitised manuscripts from different libraries and websites using the same interface. Stewart Brookes (University of Cambridge) showed us how to use the software Archetype as a palaeographical or art-historical tool for digital annotation, comparison and searching of manuscripts. We were deeply impressed by Christina Duffy’s (The British Library) examples of how multispectral imaging can recover details of manuscripts otherwise obscured by damage.

Cotton MS Otho A I fol 1r multispectral

A fragment of decrees from the Council of Clofesho (747), damaged in the Cotton Library fire, before and after Christina Duffy processed it through multispectral imaging: Cotton MS Otho A I, f. 1r

Additionally, researchers told us about the ways in which they are employing digital tools in their own projects. We heard from Immo Warntjes (Trinity College Dublin) about his new project, funded by the Irish Research Council, to develop an 'Object Based Catalogue' of medieval scientific texts using the data from digitised manuscripts, to trace the transmission of Irish ideas and reconstruct the continental networks of Irish thought. Máirín MacCarron (National University of Ireland Galway) showed us how she is using social network analysis tools in a new project funded by the Leverhulme Trust to better understand the dynamic social relationships presented in early medieval texts. The use of digital tools to measure Insular influence in continental manuscripts was demonstrated by Ursula Kundert (University of Würzburg), through her analysis of ‘diminuendo’ lettering.

The event has left us feeling inspired by the work that everyone is doing and excited to be working with manuscripts at such a pivotal time. We are grateful to all the participants for sharing their ideas, to Bernard Meehan (Trinity College Dublin) and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (National University of Ireland, Galway) for being our hosts and guides, and to the National University of Ireland, Galway; Trinity College, Dublin; the Royal Irish Academy and the National Museum of Ireland for their hospitality. We would also like to thank the Leverhulme Trust for their funding, and Joanna Story and Jessica Hodgkinson for organising the workshop.

Insular MSS workshop photo 2

Workshop participants examine fragments of Codex Usserianus Primus (Dublin, Trinity College Library, MS 55). Photo credit Joanna Story.

Don’t miss the chance to see many highlights of Insular manuscript production in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition, opening at the British Library on 19 October 2018.

 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval