In one of the first images in the Holkham Bible Picture Book we find an image of The Fall, the series of events (described in Genesis, the first book of the Bible) which led to Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Here we see Eve talking to the snake, which has a human head, but in the same image we also see Adam eating the apple (on the right-hand side) and at the bottom of the page we see the consequences of the eating of the apple: Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden, here imagined as a walled and gated garden. The reason there are several separate events happening on one page is that this is a visual Bible in which the images convey narrative stories. The manuscript was probably intended as a text for people who were illiterate. In total, there are 231 images in the manuscript.
The manuscript was probably made as an aid to preaching or learning. It was created in London between 1325 and 1340 and is full of details which are drawn from the city in which it was made. It contains what appears to be a contemporary image of the London skyline. On f. 19v, which portrays the temptation of Christ, we can see the devil encouraging Christ to jump from a tower. The tower shown here is the 13th century spire of St Paul’s Cathedral, which was taller than the current dome of St Paul’s and – had it not been destroyed by lightning in 1444 – would have been London’s tallest building until 1964. The images are accompanied by summary captions in Anglo-Norman – the language of polite society in medieval England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. There are a number of English words interspersed in between the Anglo-Norman, however. Michelle Brown has noted that the language has ‘a Franglais flavour’. The manuscript depicts scenes from the Book of Genesis, the story of the Gospels and the final book of the Bible, Revelation, but it also contains episodes from the Apocryphal Gospels.
View images of the entire manuscripts via our Digitised Manuscripts website.