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Beginning of the Gospel of Luke, in an Irish Pocket Gospels

Beginning of the Gospel of Luke, in an Irish Pocket Gospels

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 780

Shelfmark: Additional MS 40618

Item number: f.23r

Length: 13

Width: 9.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

This small copy of the gospels comes from Ireland and is an example of the 'pocket gospels' made there in the early Middle Ages. While their use is not fully known now, markings in them, texts added to them, and the importance of gospelbooks in the lives of saints such as Columba indicate that they had multiple uses in personal devotion as well as in pastoral care. Books of scripture, especially gospels and psalters, were considered to have powers of healing and protection. By the 10th century, this pocket gospels had ended up in southern England, possibly Canterbury, where it was 'updated' with pictures in the latest style and its decorated initial letters scraped off and painted over with ones in a new style.

The two traditions of script appear on the first page of the Gospel of Luke. The large initial Q was written in the mid-10th century over what remained of the 8th-century Irish initial. Its austere classical form would have contrasted sharply with the earlier letter. Earlier interlace decoration is still faintly visible. The two columns of text are still in Irish script, with distinctively intensive use of specialized abbreviations. The letter F in the left margin is another Anglo-Saxon modification: originally a letter in earlier Irish script stood in its place.

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