With pages measuring over half a metre (two feet) tall, this volume is the largest manuscript Bible within the British Library’s collections and was thought to have been owned by Henry IV.
It is one of very few English biblical manuscripts that are extensively illustrated to survive from the late Middle Ages. The volume contains a large illustration for every book of the Old and New Testaments, painted within an initial letter. Fifty-eight other decorated initials depict the early Church Father and translator of the Bible, St Jerome (d. 420). Each of these images marks the opening of one of St Jerome’s prologues to a biblical book.
One of the manuscript’s most arresting features is the inclusion of the Gospel of Nicodemus, positioned between St John’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Widely disseminated and read throughout the Middle Ages, this apocryphal account of the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus drew on and supplemented the Gospels with additional episodes. In this Bible, the text appears to have been given similar status to the twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament.
Although there has been continuing debate about the identity and number of illuminators responsible for its decoration, there is now wide consensus that the Great Bible was produced early in the second decade of the 15th century by artists working in London who were trained in, and probably originated from, the Low Countries. Now known as the Great Bible, the grand book was once housed at the Old Royal library of the kings and queens of England. It seems very likely that it was owned by successive monarchs, beginning with Henry IV (r. 1399–1413).
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Full title:
- Bible (the 'Big Bible' or the 'Great Bible'), with the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Interpretation of Hebrew names
- 1st quarter of the 15th century, London
- Manuscript / Illuminated manuscript
- Usage terms
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
- Held by
- British Library
- Royal MS 1 E IX
- Article by:
- Scot McKendrick
- Sacred texts, Christianity
Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.
- Article by:
- Annie Sutherland
- Christianity, Living Texts
The Latin Vulgate Bible was the most commonly used Bible in the Christian West for centuries. Dr Annie Sutherland looks at the history of biblical translations in Anglo-Saxon and later medieval England.