Copied and illuminated in the middle of the 10th century, this manuscript is a remarkable example of book production in Constantinople after the 843 defeat of Iconoclasm, the religious movement that denied the holiness of icons and rejected their veneration.
It originally contained the entire New Testament, the Four Gospels, the Pauline and Catholic Epistles and Revelation, but at some point, the book was split into two volumes: one with the Gospels and some Epistles and the other with the rest of the New Testament. The first part was used as a liturgical Gospel-book and given a richly decorated metal binding with scenes from the life of St Demetrius (d. 306), while the other received a new binding of stamped brown leather over beech boards, which was probably adapted to it from another manuscript.
After their separation, the volumes came into the possession of private collectors: the first (now Add MS 28815) was part of the library of Sir Ivor Bertie Guest (d. 1914), 1st Baron Wimborne, while the second (now Egerton MS 3145) was acquired by Angela Georgina (d. 1906), 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts for Highgate School. When both volumes were acquired by the British Library, the manuscript was renamed after its two former owners.
Together they represent one of the most beautiful Byzantine manuscripts of the New Testament in the Library’s collections. It contains exceptionally high-quality portraits of the Evangelists St Luke and St John before their Gospels and another image of St Luke at the beginning of Acts. As a mark of its former dignity, it preserves two stubs of purple parchment leaves before the beginning of the Gospel of St Luke retaining traces of chapter lists, written in gold letters. These leaves were removed at some stage in the manuscript’s earlier history, together with portraits of St Matthew and St Mark, which were probably part of the manuscript as well.
The book, even in its truncated form, bears vivid witness to the extremely high standard of book production that prevailed at the capital of eastern Christendom during the so-called Macedonian Renaissance (867–1056).
- Article by:
- Christianity, Sacred texts
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:
- Ann Tomalak
Ann Tomalak provides an overview of the distinctive features of Byzantine bookbinding.
- Article by:
- Kathleen Maxwell
- Art, Religion, The makers of Greek manuscripts
Kathleen Maxwell describes some of the remarkable illuminated copies of the Gospels to be found in the British Library’s collections.