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.