Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter - illuminated medieval manuscripts and early printed Bibles

This Easter Heritage et AL is featuring a selection of illustrations from our illuminated medieval manuscripts and images of some early (pre 1501) printed bibles. The illuminated manuscripts include a variety of liturgical and devotional books of differing types, some of which are described below.

These definitions are from Medieval & Renaissance manuscripts in New Zealand Collections by Margaret M. Manion, Vera F. Vines & Christopher de Hamel which is a comprehensive text on medieval manuscripts held in New Zealand.
  • Missal "contains the texts used for the celebration of Mass, together with a liturgical calendar."
  • Breviary "contains the texts used for the recitation of the Divine Office, together with a liturgical calendar."
  • Book of Hours "A devotional book, popular with the laity from the late thirteenth century onwards. It contains a selection of short Offices, prayers and devotions, and is prefaced by a liturgical calendar. The Little Office of the Virgin Mary is often included, and from this element comes the name ‘Book of Hours’ or ‘Hours of the Virgin’."

The Rossdhu book of hours is contains large illustrations (miniatures) portraying the Passion of Christ, the saints, Lazarus rising and the ascension of souls to heaven, and is viewable in its entirety on Auckland Libraries website. The image below is from page 45, the Agony of Christ. Christ is pictured praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while the disciples sleep. It is interesting to note, as Iain Sharp points out in Real gold, that throughout the Rossdhu Book of Hours all the figures depicted are wearing fifteenth-century garb.


These next images are from what is known as the Besançon Missal. The two volume Besançon Missal was illuminated for Charles de Neuchatel (1439-1498) who was elected archbishop of Besançon in 1463. The Missal dates from around 1471. The page below would have been for Mass on the Thursday during Holy Week as it shows Christ washing the disciples' feet.


Note the difference in Crucifixion illustrations between the volumes.



This illuminated Breviary was made for Augustinian use in Umbria and was produced in Perugia between 1470 and 1490. It was owned by Father Antonius de Macerata who held important offices in the Augustinian order in Perugia from the 1460s to the end of the 1480s. The following page would have been for Easter Sunday as it shows the Resurrection



All three of these manuscripts were written by hand on vellum.

Early Printed Bibles

The following images are from the first printed Dutch Bible, published by Jacob Jacobszoen van der Meer and Mauricius Yemantszoen in 1477. The image is of the last page of the Bible with the Printer’s stamp in red.


This is Psalterium cum canticis, printed in Milan in 1481. The text is both Greek and Latin printed in parallel columns and at the beginning of each column you can see the space left for the hand illuminated initial:


This is a Latin Bible from 1483 believed to have been printed by Johannes Grüninger in Strassburg. This was donated to the library by Henry Shaw, as you can see from his signature and the year 1901 written on the first page of the Prologus:


These images are from another Latin Bible also donated by Henry Shaw. This Bible consists of four volumes and was printed in Nuremberg in 1485 by Anthon Koberger.

All volumes are bound in their original vellum covers; below is the spine of volume 1:


This is a page from the Prologus in volume 3:


For more on Auckland Libraries’ early printed collections see Zoë’s recent post about Incunabula and for further reading on some of these manuscripts and Bibles see the following publications:

Update (23/7/15): Our colleague, Manuscripts Librarian, Kate de Courcy was interviewed about some of our early Bibles for Radio New Zealand's Spiritual Outlook programme:



Author:  Andrew Henry 

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