Glossed Decretum f.205r
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
The law of the church (canon law) was a confusing, unorganised mass of decrees until the mid-12th century when Gratian, at the University of Bologna, dealt with it by inserting the laws and the principles behind them into the framework of his treatise. The resulting methodical system became known as the 'Decretals of Gratian'. Later explanatory notes, written by law professors at Bologna and other medieval universities, were attached to it, creating the standard textbook of canon law, until the more complete 'Decretals of Gregory IX' came along in 1234. Monks, especially those of the Benedictine order, studied canon law. This copy of Gratian's decretals, with its set of revised explanatory notes (gloss) added in the 14th century, belonged to the Benedictine abbey at Reading. Its Decretal portion is thought to have been made in England, in the early 13th century.
The pages of the manuscript display two different handwritings. The text in the centre of the page is the 'Decretals of Gratian', copied in the early 13th century, while the writing around it is the gloss, added in the 14th century. This specialised format was developed for theological and legal manuscripts which had standardised glosses. The central text would be copied with wide margins around it to accomodate the gloss. Margins often had stretches of blank space for revisions to be added.