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Latin Manuscripts

Frontispiece of Latin MS 32, the Colonna Missal. A description and a larger illustration are available.

Date range: 7th–19th centuries.

Over 500 items, containing a wide range of texts: biblical, liturgical, patristic, theological, historical, legal and philosophical. There are manuscripts of outstanding importance both textually and for their illumination. M.R. James stated that the illuminated codices contain ‘examples, of first-class quality, of the art and calligraphy of all the great schools of Europe’.

Inevitably the earlier manuscripts are overwhelmingly religious in nature: Bibles, Gospel Books, lectionaries, homiliaries, missals, commentaries, patristic texts and apocalyptic literature. Most of the major monastic centres of manuscript production are represented, among them: Bremen, Cardeña, Erfurt, Essen, Fulda, Himmerod, Luxeuil, Murbach, Stavelot, Trier and Weissenau.

There are also numerous examples of the later output of secular workshops in the cities of Italy, France, Flanders and England, which catered for the requirements of the universities, legal systems and wealthy private patrons.

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The collection is rich in manuscripts from Italy, for example:

  • the Ravenna papyrus of the early seventh century (Latin ms 1)
  • an Exultet Roll of the early eleventh century and now attributed to the Bari region (Latin ms 2)
  • an illuminated thirteenth-century Antiphoner (Latin ms 74)
  • a lavishly decorated three-volume manuscript of Nicolaus de Lyra’s Postillae, or Bible commentary, written by Ugolino Marini Gibertuzzi of Sarnano and completed at Pesaro in 1402 (Latin mss 29–31)
  • the monumental illuminated missal of Cardinal Pompeio Colonna, a superlative example of Italian Renaissance art in six volumes (Latin mss 32–37)
  • a decorated fifteenth-century manuscript of the works of Johannes Cassianus, written in a beautiful Italian humanist hand (Latin ms 49)
  • a manuscript of Christiano Proliano’s Astrologia, dating from c.1478, which combines precise astronomical diagrams with exquisite white-vine borders, exemplifying the synthesis of art and science during the Italian Renaissance (Latin ms 53)


From Spain comes the magnificent manuscript of the Commentary on the Apocalpyse by Beatus of Liébana, Beatus super Apocalypsim, from the turn of the twelfth century (Latin ms 8).

There are also three Visigothic manuscripts:

  • Gregory the Great’s Commentary on Job, Moralia in Job, written in Cardeña by the scribe Gomez in 914 (Latin ms 83);
  • a copy of Cassiadorus Super Psalmos, now attributed to the monastery of Valeránica and dated to the mid tenth century (Latin ms 89);
  • Smaragdus’s Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict, probably produced at Cardeña in the first decade of the tenth century (Latin ms 104).

There is also a fine Portuguese armorial containing several hundred coats of arms from throughout Europe, dated 1416 (Latin ms 28).


There are numerous early manuscripts of the first importance from Germany, including:

  • a Merovingian manuscript of St Cyprian’s works, probably written at the Abbey of Murbach in Alsace in the late eighth century (Latin ms 15)
  • the magnificent Lorsch Gospels, written in a beautiful Caroline minuscule, with capitals in gold, red and black, from the beginning of the ninth century (Latin ms 9)
  • the remarkable ninth-century Psalter from St Maximin’s Abbey in Trier, written in a very fine Caroline minuscule and decorated in the Insular style (Latin ms 116)
  • a copy of Jonas’s Vita Columbani, from the Abbey of Fulda and later belonging to the Benedictine Abbey of St Peter at Erfurt, ninth or tenth century (Latin ms 91)
  • the beautiful Gospels of the Emperor Otto iii, now generally assigned to the Trier artist known as the Master of the Registrum Gregorii and dated around 1000 (Latin ms 98)
  • the Bremen Cathedral Gospel Book, apparently the only book to have survived the cathedral fire of 1041 (Latin ms 87)
  • an eleventh-century illuminated Gospel Book from Lower Saxony, the only manuscript to have survived from the early medieval library at Walbeck near Magdeburg (Latin ms 88)
  • the Gospel Book of Abbess Svanhild, one of twenty books surviving from the eleventh-century library of the Abbey of Essen and possibly illuminated in Essen itself (Latin ms 110)
  • the eleventh-century Prüm Lectionary with its unique style of illumination (Latin ms 7)
  • twelfth-century manuscripts of Peter Lombard’s Commentary on the Psalms and of the Glossa Ordinaria on the Gospel of Luke, both from the Cistercian Abbey of Himmerod near Trier (Latin mss 6 and 13), the former in a jewelled binding with champlevé enamel-work
  • the two-volume Altenberg Bible dating from the twelfth century (Latin mss 4–5)
  • a vellum roll of the Arbor Caritatis et Misericordiae, or Tree of Salvation, from the late fourteenth century (Latin ms 18)


English manuscripts include:

  • a copy of the Epistles of Paul with Lanfranc's Commentary produced at Rochester in the eleventh/twelfth century (Latin ms 109)
  • the earliest of six surviving manuscripts of the Leges Henrici Primi, a former London Guildhall manuscript composed before 1216 (Latin ms 155)1
  • a Bible from the first half of the thirteenth century, with illuminations of an unusual style (Latin ms 140)
  • the magnificent Missal of Henry of Chichester, executed in the scriptorium of Salisbury Cathedral c.1240–60 and presented to Exeter Cathedral in or before 1277 (Latin ms 24)
  • a late thirteenth-century compilation of Aristotle and other philosophers, from Whalley Abbey in Lancashire (Latin ms 150)
  • a wardrobe book of Edward II, 1323–4 (Latin ms 132)
  • two wardrobe books of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of Edward III, 1330–2 (Latin ms 234–235)
  • and a book of devotions compiled by John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, late fifteenth century (Latin ms 165)

In addition, there are numerous secular works including chronicles, cartularies, armorials, legal texts, household accounts and rentals (thirteenth to sixteenth centuries), and manuscripts of Scipio Le Squyer (1579–1659), Deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer under James I and Charles I.

The Low Countries

The Low Countries are represented by, amongst others:

  • the ninth- or tenth-century Liège Gospels, probably from the Abbey of Stavelot, written in a very fine Caroline minuscule, and the twelfth-century Dinant Gospels, decorated with beautiful full-page portraits of the evangelists (Latin mss 10 and 11); both books are housed in medieval jewelled bindings
  • a manuscript of Jerome from Stavelot, said to bear the autograph of the famous Abbot Wibald, c.1128 (Latin ms 93)
  • a manuscript of Josephus with decorated initials, now assigned to the Premonstratensian Abbey of Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Espérance at Villereille-les-Brayeux in Hainault and dated to the 1130s (Latin ms 40)
  • a single volume from a monumental Bible executed around 1260–70 in Belgium or North East France (Latin ms 16)1
  • a mortuary roll commemorating Elizabeth's Conincs, Abbess of the Benedictine nunnery of Forest, or Vorst, near Brussels, dated 1458–9 (Latin ms 114)
  • a profusely decorated Horae and Psalter written in the Low Countries for English use, fifteenth century (Latin ms 20)
  • a beautiful Horae with a dedication scene to St Barbara, now assigned to Utrecht, second half of the fifteenth century (Latin ms 39)
  • a diminutive and finely-executed late fifteenth-century Flemish Horae, once owned by Mary Queens of Scots (Latin ms 21)

1Six folios from the missing first quire are now in New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, Glazier MS.64; three other small fragments of later volumes are known.


Significant French manuscripts include:

  • a ninth-century Homiliary from the Abbey of Luxeuil (Latin ms 12)
  • a ninth-century Carolingian manuscript of Origen’s Commentary on Romans, from Beauvais (Latin ms 174)
  • the exquisitely written and decorated Duchesse de Berry Bible, associated with the Celestine house of Villeneuve-lès-Soissons, early thirteenth century (Latin ms 17)
  • the beautiful Psalter of Joan of Navarre, attributed to the Paris atelier of the Vienna Moralized Bibles and dated c.1220–30 (Latin ms 22)
  • a late thirteenth-century Psalter and Horae, richly decorated with grotesques, tableaux and heraldic devices (Latin ms 117)
  • a fourteenth-century Apocalypse which bears some affinities to early block-books (Latin ms 19)
  • an early fifteenth-century breviary containing sixty-nine miniatures by the master illuminator Pierre Remiet (Latin ms 136)
  • a late fifteenth-century chronicle roll of the kings of England, ornamented with medallions possibly executed at Rouen (Latin ms 113)
  • two Horae of the finest quality (Latin mss 162 and 164), the latter containing one of the earliest perspective views of Paris
  • the early sixteenth-century Horae of Galiot de Genouillac (Latin ms 38)

1Rylands Latin ms 155 and British Library Add. ms 14,252 form a single manuscript, ‘which was divided at some unknown but probably relatively late date’ (Taylor).

Finding aids

  • M.R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Latin Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library at Manchester (Manchester, 1921), reprinted with an introduction and additional notes and corrections by F. Taylor (München, 1980).
  • M. Tyson, 'Handlist of Additions to the Collection of Latin Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1908-28', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 12 (1928), pp. 581-609.
  • F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1937), pp. 7-21.
  • N.R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, III, Lampeter - Oxford (Oxford, 1983), pp. 464-8.


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