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Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts
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An introduction to illuminated manuscripts

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

1: Before 800

Like most surviving books from the early Middle Ages, the manuscripts featured in this section are biblical texts, or works written by churchmen. Copies of the Bible in this period usually included only a portion of the text—most commonly, the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, or copies of the Psalms. The first manuscript is one of the earliest copies of Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin, made in the sixth century in Italy. Two other copies of the Four Gospels made further north in Europe are also included. An eighth-century ‘pocket’ copy made in Ireland is featured, which may have been carried in a satchel hung around the neck for easy portability or perhaps to protect the wearer. The second is the famous Linsdifarne Gospels, with its intricate abstract designs. Another English manuscript in this section is the Vespasian Psalter, or book of the Psalms, which features the earliest extant English example of narrative initials, and an added English translation added above the Latin that is the earliest English translation of any biblical text. For more on illuminated biblical manuscripts in the British Library see the Bible manuscripts tour.

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

Harley 1775, f.193
A sixth-century Four Gospels, written in Italy in a beautiful rounded script called ‘uncial’.
Harley 1775, f.193


Cotton Nero D IV, f.139
The Lindisfarne Gospels, an eighth-century manuscript in which calligraphy is combined with intricate decoration.
Cotton Nero D IV, f.139


Cotton Vespasian A I, ff.30v–31
The Vespasian Psalter, made in eighth-century Kent, with pictures of King David, by tradition the author of the Psalms, and the oldest surviving translation of part of the Bible into English.
Cotton Vespasian A I, ff.30v–31


Additional 40618, f.21v
An eighth-century copy of the Four Gospels, made in Ireland and re-illuminated in tenth-century Canterbury or Winchester.
Additional 40618, f.21v


Cotton Tiberius A XIV, f.26v
An eighth-century copy of the Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, probably made within a generation of his death.
Cotton Tiberius A XIV, f.26v


Harley 3063, f.126
A humble but clearly-written copy of a commentary on Paul’s New Testament letters, with decorated initials articulating textual divisions.
Harley 3063, f.126


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

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