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An introduction to Bible manuscripts

Overview 800-1000 1000-1200 1200-1400 1400-1600

1: Before 800

In the fifth century, Christian books of scripture developed to include significant decoration, incorporating early Christian symbols and images employed in painting and other modes of artistic expression. Thus, Codex Alexandrinus exhibits some of the earliest examples of significant book decoration marking the end of each of the biblical books. In the Cotton Genesis we encounter one of the most extended campaigns of illustration for a single book of the Bible. In their different ways, both manuscripts were harbingers of the distinctive artistic splendour and pictorial richness of so many later manuscripts of the Bible.

During the fourth and fifth centuries, the language of Bible manuscripts was changing. The earliest Christians had written their scriptures in Greek and adopted a Greek version of Jewish scripture known as the Septuagint. But, as the Christian faith spread to other regions and nations, so its scripture was translated into other languages. One of the most important and influential was made by the early Christian scholar Jerome, who, with full papal authority, initiated a translation of the complete Bible into Latin. His translation, known as the Vulgate (or common version), became the standard version of Christian scripture in western Europe for over one thousand years. A sixth-century copy of the Four Gospels written in Italy illustrated here is one of the earliest surviving copies of Jerome’s new translation. Another early translation illustrated is an English one written above the Latin text in the Lindisfarne Gospels - the earliest known copy of the Gospels in English.

(Click on an image for an enlarged view and detailed description.)

Royal 1 D VIII, f. 41v
End of Luke, in Greek, Codex Alexandrinus, Constantinople or Asia Minor 5th century, 320 x 265 mm.
Royal 1 D VIII, f. 41v


Cotton Otho B VI, f. 26v
Abraham with angels, The Cotton Genesis, Egypt ?, 5th or 6th century, 105 x 85 mm.
Cotton Otho B VI, f. 26v


Harley 1775, f. 144
Mark, in Latin, Four Gospels, Northern Italy, 6th century, 180 x 120 mm.
Harley 1775, f. 144


Add. 5111, f. 11
Canon tables, in Greek, The Golden Canon Tables, Constantinople ?, 6th or 7th century, 200 x 160 mm.
Add. 5111, f. 11


Cotton Nero D IV, f. 3
Jerome’s letter to Pope Damasus, in Latin, The Lindisfarne Gospels, Lindisfarne, England, between 698 and 721, 340 x 240 mm.
Cotton Nero D IV, f. 3


Add. 45025, f. 11
1 Kings (III Kings) 22:24-42, in Latin, Ceolfrid Bible leaves, Northumbria, England, between 689 and 716, 480 x 340 mm.
Add. 45025, f. 11


Overview 800-1000 1000-1200 1200-1400 1400-1600

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