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.

Image: Rossdhu book of hours, page 45, 1475-1500. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med.Ms G.146.

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.

Image: Besançon Missal, c1471. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med. Ms G.138.

Note the difference in Crucifixion illustrations between the volumes.

Image: Besançon Missal, c1471. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med. Ms G.138.

Image: Besançon Missal, v.2 page 124, c1471. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med. Ms G.139.

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

Image: Breviary, page 164, 1470-1490.Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med. Ms G.134.

Image: Breviary, page 164 detail, 1470-1490. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, Med. Ms. G.134.

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.

Image: Biblia: Vestus Testamentum, last page, 1477. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1477 BIBL. 

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:

Image: Psalterium cum canticis, first page of parallel text, 20 September 1481. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1481 BIBL. 

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:

Image: Biblia latina, first page of Prologus, 1483. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1483 BIBL.

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:

Image: Biblia latina: cum postillis Nicolai de Lyra, v.1 spine, 7 May 1485. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 485 BIBL.

This is a page from the Prologus in volume 3:

Image: Biblia latina: cum postillus Nicolai de Lyra, v.3 page in Prologus, 7 May 1485. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1485 BIBL.

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:
  • Amassing treasures for all times: Sir George Grey, colonial bookman and collector. Donald Kerr. (2006)
  • A guide to the principal manuscripts, early printed books, autograph letters etc. contained in the Auckland Free Public Library. Henry Shaw. (1908)
  • Real gold: treasures of Auckland City Libraries. Iain Sharp. (2007)
  • The governor’s gift: the Auckland Public Library, 1880-1980. Wynne Colgan. (1980)

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