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A Letter of Alcuin, in a Collection of Writings

A Letter of Alcuin, in a Collection of Writings

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 950

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vespasian D VI

Item number: f.38v

Length: 18.7

Width: 13.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

This collection includes a copy in Latin of the Parables of Solomon (Proverbs) in Latin with explanatory notes in Old English (glosses), a few writings by Alcuin (the late 8th to early 9th century Anglo-Saxon theological and liturgical expert working at Charlemagne's court), poetry in a Kentish dialect of Old English, and a paraphrase in Old English of Psalm 50. Such collections were the usual way in which the Bible would have been available to early medieval theologians. Single-volume copies of the Bible were rare: they would have been expensive and impractical. Copies of parts of the Bible, such as Psalms, the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), Gospels or Epistles would have been available for reading aloud at mass or other church services. Often books such as Proverbs were circulated as this one, bound with relevant theological writings to facilitate study. The manuscript bears the marks of many students in the form of study notes in its margins and extensive Old English glosses. It was used by the monks at St Augustine's, Canterbury, which already in the 10th century had a long tradition of theological learning.

Alcuin produced many writings, among them letters to Charlemagne and other Carolingian nobility on theological questions. One of them, in the handwriting style often used for collections of biblical texts, theological writings and saints' lives, written to count Guido of Brittany concerned the personal quest for knowledge and wisdom. On some pages of Alcuin's writings are extensive glosses in Old English, but this page has notes (upper margin) and glosses (between the lines) in Latin, most of them made long after the 10th century.

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