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Latin Manuscripts

Date range: 7th-19th centuries

Medium: Manuscript

Number of items: 510 items

The Latin Manuscripts collection contains 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.

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

  • the Ravenna papyrus of the early 7th century (Latin MS 1);
  • an Exultet Roll of the early 11th century and now attributed to the Bari region (Latin MS 2);
  • an illuminated 13th-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 15th-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 Apocalypse by Beatus of Liébana, Beatus super Apocalypsim, from the last third of the 12th century (Latin MS 8).

There are also three Visigothic manuscripts:

  • Gregory the Great’s Commentaryon 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-10th century (Latin MS 89);
  • Smaragdus’s Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict, probably produced at Cardeña in the first decade of the 10th 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 8th 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 9th century (Latin MS 9);
  • the remarkable 9th-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, 9th or 10th 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 11th-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 11th-century library of the Abbey of Essen and possibly illuminated in Essen itself (Latin MS 110);
  • the 11th-century Prüm Lectionary with its unique style of illumination (Latin MS 7);
  • 12th-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 12th century (Latin MSS 4–5);
  • a vellum roll of the Arbor Caritatis et Misericordiae, or Tree of Salvation, from the late 14th century (Latin MS 18).

English manuscripts include:

  • a copy of the Epistles of Paul with Lanfranc's Commentary produced at Rochester in the 11th/12th 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); this and British Library Add. MS 14,252 form a single manuscript, ‘which was divided at some unknown but probably relatively late date’ (Taylor);
  • a Bible from the first half of the 13th 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 13th-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);
  • a book of devotions compiled by John Islip, Abbot of Westminster, late 15th century (Latin MS 165).

In addition, there are numerous secular works including chronicles, cartularies, armorials, legal texts, household accounts and rentals (13th to 16th centuries), and manuscripts of Scipio Le Squyer (1579–1659), Deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer under James I and Charles I.

The Low Countries are represented by, amongst others:

  • the 9th- or 10th-century Liège Gospels, probably from the Abbey of Stavelot, written in a very fine Caroline minuscule, and the 12th-century Dinant Gospels, decorated with beautiful full-page evangelist portraits (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);
  • a mortuary roll commemorating Elisabeth 'sConincs, 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, 15th century (Latin MS 20);
  • a beautiful Horae with a dedication scene to St Barbara, now assigned to Utrecht, second half of the 15th century (Latin MS 39);
  • a diminutive and finely-executed late 15th-century Flemish Horae, once owned by Mary Queens of Scots (Latin MS 21).

Significant French manuscripts include:

  • a 9th-century Homiliary from the Abbey of Luxeuil (Latin MS 12);
  • a 9th-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 13th 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 13th-century Psalter and Horae, richly decorated with grotesques, tableaux and heraldic devices (Latin MS 117);
  • a 14th-century Apocalypse which bears some affinities to early block-books (Latin MS 19);
  • an early 15th-century breviary containing sixty-nine miniatures by the master illuminator Pierre Remiet (Latin MS 136);
  • a late 15th-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, by the Dunois Master;
  • the early 16th-century Horae of Galiot de Genouillac (Latin MS 38).

Further information:

  • Published catalogue of Latin MSS 1-183: 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). PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • Published outline catalogue of Latin MSS 184-395: 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. PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • Published outline catalogue of Latin MSS 396-447: F. Taylor, Supplementary Handlist of Western Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library (Manchester, 1937), pp. 7-21. PDF version available online via Manchester Digital Collections.
  • Latin MSS 448, 452-454, 458-459, 466-467. 469-472, 474-486 are catalogued in N. R. Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, III, Lampeter - Oxford (Oxford, 1983), pp. 464-8. Copy available via Special Collections reading rooms.


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