Publications – Bibles and Scotland

Research projects tend to have quite a long afterlife.  Publications take their time, to digest, submit and revise.

And when work was actually great fun, as with looking at the array of Scottish manuscripts during the project, returning to these materials for publication is only natural.  So, without further ado, here are a few publications, which came out of the project, either in research or revision:

– “The earliest evidence for anti-Lollard polemics in medieval Scotland”, The Innes Review 64 (2013), pp. 227-234.  {this short piece will be familiar to readers of the blog – it is based on the note first announced in ‘Gloved Manuscripts‘}

– (ed. with Laura Light) Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible, Library of the Written Word: The Manuscript World, Leiden:Brill, 2013.  This is an in-depth exploration of the type of manuscripts explored in the manuscript workshops during the project.  Most of the book is available freely online at:

– Approaching the Bible in Medieval England, Manchester Medieval Studies, Manchester:Manchester University Press, 2013.  This is an approachable study of how people actually got to know their Bibles in the late Middle Ages.



Smells English, Sounds Dutch

There is a problem in having some of the best scholars of the medieval Bible sitting around a table.   The nine participants at the workshop on the Late Medieval Bible, which took place this week in Edinburgh, have seen many hundreds of manuscripts between them.  And trying to transmit this lifelong experience was at times frustratingly fascinating.

Having looked at so many manuscripts, analyses often become a second nature.  An instinct.  This has led to comments such as ‘this Bible smells English’, or ‘its parchment sounds Dutch’.  And the rest of us dully smelled and listened, and learned much about medieval Bibles and lifetime passion for manuscripts.

Laura Light, Christopher de Hamel and Paul Saenger examining a biblical manuscript.

The generous support of the Centre for Research Collections, the University of Edinburgh, and the National Library of Scotland has provided biblical manuscripts to put any hypothesis to test.  There were Bibles from Italy, France, England and Germany, including a rare example of a Bible made for a named patron.  The variety of disciplines at the workshop assisted in addressing questions of iconography and use, variations in text and layout, vernacular parallels, paleography and codicology.

In dialogue with all participants we set the goal of the workshop: to create a preliminary set of criteria that would enable the analysis and classification of a Latin Bible, written between 1200 and 1350.

Kate Rudy examines translucency of stains

This constitutes a major step towards a definitive study of this highly uniform class of manuscripts, one of the most popular of the Middle Ages.  We thought of using our joined experience to identify elements of major variation, creating a select set of criteria.  (in a way, a revision of Neil Ker’s standard description.)  We limited the amount of variants, so that a single person would be able to provide an analysis within one day.  Given the uniformity of the Late Medieval Bible, we dug deep into the Bible, and came up with variants in text, in chapter division, patters of ruling, application of  colour, etc.  Some elements follow the standard analysis of manuscripts, while others are unique to the Bible, its texts and complexity.  We hope to be able to share this preliminary list soon.  The work will then be refining and consolidating it, creating an ever increasing repository of information on Late Medieval Bibles, preferably in the form of a controlled-wiki database.

Head’s Up

If you’re interested in seeing the Glasgow Bible for yourself, or hear more about the Bible in Medieval Scotland, you may want to join one (or both) of the coming events next week:

– Thursday, 19 April, 18:00 at Abbot House, Dunfermline (, I’ll be giving a paper on the medieval Bible in Scotland.
– Friday, 20 April, 14:00 at Glasgow University Library, Special Collections (12th Floor), I’ll be running a workshop on the Late Medieval Bible, based on items from GUL’s collection. Highlights to include a Bible from Cambuskenneth Abbey and a Wycliffite New Testament.

When Bibles Go Naughty

With a romanic plot and erotic imagery, the Song of Songs is not your ordinary biblical book.  Why it is in the biblical canon, is not completely clear.  It may be due to the strong allegorical interpretation of its love statements as the connection between God and his people; it may also be (at least for the Jewish side of things) the love felt by a certain rabbi Akiva for his wife, a love that reverberated in one of the most beautiful stories of the Babylonian Talmud.

One way or another, the Song of Songs became an integral part of the medieval Bible, and one of the most fond books among monastic audiences.  Numerous allegorical interpretations expanded upon this Book, seeing the love story as a map of salvation history, the romance between Christ and his church.  In the early Middle Ages these allegorical interpretations were made into short rubrics – known as voices – which were integrated into the biblical page.  Thus, readers of the book were presented not with ‘the naked text’ of the lovers (if you forgive the pun), but with a layout that mediated a specific understanding of the biblical text.

The opening line of the Book ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love [the Latin has ‘breasts’ and not without reason] is better than wine’ was often introduced by a historiated initial.  The letter ‘O’ (for the Latin ‘Osculetur’, let him kiss) provided illuminators with a good opportunity to present a specific understanding of this verse, most commonly in the form of Christ and Mary.  Numerous images depict Mary with Christ the child on her lap, transforming the book into the innocent of a mother and child.

Glasgow University Euing MS 1 is a Latin Bible from thirteenth-century Italy.  One of its early readers took the pains of carefully erasing one (and only) one image – that of the Osculetur.

It is evident that the reader found the picture offensive.  It is also evident that he was careful to remove only the image, not damaging any of the surrounding letter (noticed by the keen eye of Marie-Pierre Gelin).  This was probably not the work of a Reformer.  Other images, of Christ and of the Creation, were left unscathed.  The image is well-sraped, and it is difficult to learn what it was originally (I hope a UV examination next week will shed some light).  However, other parallels might have the answer.  In British Library, Egerton MS 2867, fol. 282v (a Bible 1230-1240 , probably from Canterbury), the proximity between Christ and Mary is stronger than in other images, a closeness that might have seemed slightly inappropriate given the nature of the biblical book.

The understanding of the Song of Songs as a love story between Christ and his church was beyond doubt, especially as a purely literal understanding was unaccepted.  Could it be that a devote Catholic reader found this image too close to the biblical text?

Virtual Exhibition

I recently had a meeting with Richard Bogle, a web designer, for the creation of a digital exhibition for the project.  Circumnavigating the problems of transport, display, security and insurance, we aim at creating a virtual display of biblical manuscripts linked with medieval Scotland. It will probably be biased towards the later Middle Ages.  At its crux will be interactive images, which will be superimposed with layers of information.  Users will be able to examine (zoom, tilt, etc.) the

manuscript and then identify and retrieve comments for specific elements, hyperlinks, images of locations where these Bibles were created or used (just had an excursion to Cambuskenneth Abbeyto take pictures, recommended for picnics in the summer) etc.


The entry page will be a map of Scotland (hopefully this, if we’ll get permission) with a time line.  Sliding on the timeline will reveal manuscript locations on the map according to their dates.  This will enable users to quickly grasp the timeline of Bible use in Scotland (i.e. two surges in the early and later Middle Ages), as well as the uneven distribution of manuscripts in Scotland.

Here is an opportunity for the blog’s readers to leave their mark.   The virtual exhibition is still very much in the planning stage.  I’ll upload a test page once things are more advanced.  But if there are any comments or suggestions, now is the right time.  Richard and I are playing with possibilities and layouts, and we’ll be happy to have more ideas.  The reply box awaits!

Book Archaeology, or The Number of the Beast in Aberdeen

This week I set out to Aberdeen for the project’s first manuscript examination and workshop.  It was a delight.  A surprising sunshine over the Granite City was matched by the kindness of the library staff.  Of the several Bibles of note in the library one stood out in its compilation and reception.

MS 217 exemplifies the wealth of information encoded in the pages of a Late Medieval Bible: a variety of uses and reading strategies, generations of readers who engaged with the biblical text and with one another.  A sample excavation reveals:

The foundational layer of the Bible as it left the stationer’s shop demonstrates an early sample, from c. 1230 England.  Its chapter divisions are not yet firmly set, but served as a bone of contention between scribe and rubricator (the latter trying to rectify the former’s division by setting new chapter divisions and where no space for initials was provided).  Such dating is confirmed by  pricking, marginal chapter nos. and a five-colum layout for the Interpretations of Hebrew Names.

Then, in (relatively) quick succession, three layers are discernible.  They show how one

Bible was used across the medieval spectrum of reading strategies:


Exegesis.  Only few notes survive preserving medieval glosses.  Often short in nature, one of the lengthier explains the complexity of Revelation 13:18 (‘This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666’), in the image below.



Preaching.  On the other side of the exegetical coin is its dissemination.  Some marginal annotations would have been extremely useful for medieval preachers.  A note accompanying Proverbs 14, expands upon the word fear (timor, 14:26-7).

Although barely legible without a UV light, the three distinct levels in which its accompanying words are preserved are indicative of the medieval distinctiones and the aesthetics of late medieval sermons.  Such sermons employed major and minor divisions as means of amplifying a biblical nucleus, at times a single word.




Liturgy. The last side of this over-elaborate coin in the use of this Bible in public recitation.  Throughout the biblical text there are indications for such reading strategy – specifically aimed at facilitating refectory readings.

Thus, next to Jeremiah ch. 51 the letters S[ecundus] and T[ertius] appear, dividing reading portions.  They are accompanied by an indication of the liturgical occasion: the fourth day in the octave (feria) of Easter.


The last layer was added at the end of the fifteenth or the beginning of the sixteenth century.  It demonstrates a deep engagement with the biblical text – re-writing incipits or giving titles to key parts.  It also provides arabic numerals to replace the Roman numerals for some numerical descriptions, such as those found at the beginning of the Book of Numbers.  And – my personal suspicion – that reader is also responsible for erasing most of the notes made by previous readers, evident throughout the Bible.  Hard to qualify and substantiate, I suspect such a deep engagement with the biblical text left little space for previous generations of readers and their very medieval understanding of the Bible.

Taking Off the Gloves & the Pacman Ghost

On another chilly morning I found myself in the library of the country house.  This time round the milder weather, a small heater and the running around of Joe (one of the family’s dogs) brought much comfort to the investigation.  But the frozen landscape still made for a scenic walk from Innerleithen.

In-depth investigation of the manuscript turned out most revealing (and a nice support to the project’s rationale of inferring from the manuscript evidence on medieval Scotland).

Following the arrival of the Bible to Culross, notes in several hands were made.  A fifteenth-century hand added the opening words of 1 Sam 25 (‘mortuus est autem Samuel’), which are lacking in the original.  This is a testimony to an active reading of the biblical text at Culross, and to the existence of an additional Bible in the Monastery.  Such a discovery is not a complete surprise, given the known activities at Culross.  However, the lack of any library record makes any discovery of importance.

Several corrections to chapter divisions likewise support this hypothesis.  As I’m growing quite anal about chapter divisions and their fluctuation (with thanks to Paul Saenger, the fons et origo of this obsession), it was good to see the attention given by medieval readers to these divisions, in an image of Exodus 16.  

A keen interest in the hymns and poetry of the Bible is also a mark of this Bible.  This

can be traced to the original scribe, as in the previous image, in which the Song of the Sea (Shirat haYam, Ex 15) was written  in alternating red and blue initials.  This layout is usually reserved for the Psalms, and only rarely applied to other biblical hymns.  The poetry of the Bible, and its role in the liturgy, continued to be a source of interest to subsequent readers of the this Bible.  One such reader added a list of the Gallican Canticles at the end of 2 Paralipomenon.  This list (I thank Laura Light for her assistance in its identification) employs an interesting reference system, one that makes use of book, chapter and page identification.

Lastly, a symbol which I like to call ‘The Pacman Ghost’ appears at the very end of 2 Paralipomenon.  It identifies the place of the apocryphal Prayer of Manasses

(oratio Manasses) which is supplied in full at the very last folio of the manuscripts.  Such feature appears at times in Late Medieval Bibles, as in Huntington Library, HM 51, fol. 376v.  But you must agree that the similarity between the manuscript and the computer game cannot be easily dismissed!