A Fine, Large 13th c. "Proto" Paris Bible

BIBLE MANUSCRIPT, with prologues and the Interpretations of Hebrew Names

Decorated manuscript on vellum, in Latin


Folio: 288 x 195 mm., i + 175 leaves, complete, with original gathering signatures and catchwords, medieval ink foliation in the lower margin, 1-166 (the 9 leaves of the Hebrew Names unnumbered), 2 columns of 58–60 lines written above top line in minute script with wide margins, ruled space: 195 x 125mm, the Hebrew Names in 4 columns of 90 lines, ruled space: 270 x 280mm, decorated with flourished initials in red and blue, marginal notes added by 13th- and 14th-century hands, running-titles added by 14th- or 15th-century hands. A small medieval bookmark was found tucked inside the book (see image.)

A ‘proto-Paris’ Bible: an early example of the edition that would dominate the Middle Ages and beyond, retaining some Romanesque features, bound in an unrestored, near-contemporary binding sewn on four slit alum-tawed thongs, laced into thick oak boards with gently chamfered edges flush with the text-block, the polished calf covers decorated with four blind-stamps: a human figure sitting next to a tree, in a square; a rampant lion, in a lozenge; a rose, in a circle; and a smaller four-petal flower; all arranged in rectangular panels, traces of clasps at the fore-edge.

Provenance: ‘Myneri [i.e. Mynheer] Ruytgeri Weyst Leyne’ (?) — Apparently in Germany by the late 15th century (see f.175v), and apparently owned by a German friar by 1509: ‘Ad usum incertum fratris Guilhelmi Rani(?), Anno 1509’ (front pastedown), with another similar inscription on the final verso, including ‘data est prs(?) biblia’ and continuing ‘A venerabili patre fratre Arnoldo de brize(??) cum licentia sl[...]is ac [...]erore(?) superiore’ (note the German spelling of Guilhelmi with an ‘h’, and the typically Franciscan phrase ‘ad usum’, because they were forbidden from owning books). — ‘Titulo emptionis hanc Bibliam possidet Joh. Pet. Marij Wipperfurthi Anno Domini 1820’ (Wipperfürth is north-east of Cologne) — ‘W[illiam] W[ilberforce] Morrell [1834–1904]. York 1885’.

Contents: The books of the Bible and prologues are very close to the standard Paris sequence (f.1), omitting Psalms, and with a capitula list for Genesis; the Interpretations of Hebrew Names in the version from Aaz to Zuzim (f.167), alphabetised to the first two letters; preceded by added notes on the four types of biblical exposition (historical, tropological, anagogical, typological) and the seven rules of theology (f.ir–v), and on the order of the biblical books, and the number of chapters in them (f.i verso); and followed (f.175v) by an alphabetical German-Latin glossary in a 15th-century hand.

This seems to be an early example of the incipient 'Paris' edition of the Bible, which assumed its final form c.1230. The order of books is that of the Paris edition, as is the selection of the prologues, with few exceptions (the Paris prologues for II Chronicles and Wisdom are omitted, and there are variant prologues for II Maccabees and Romans; 'Quoniam quidem' is treated as the only prologue to Luke). Some of these prologues are added in the margin, apparently by the main scribe, suggesting that they were not in his exemplar. Other features, such as the inclusion of a capitula list and the absence of the chapter divisions established probably by Stephen Langton c.1207, suggest an even earlier date, or at least reliance on an older exemplar. Genesis has the start of a capitula list by the original scribe (f.2v), completed by a slightly later scribe, who also used margins to add capitula lists for Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, using pre-Langton chapter divisions. The first page of Genesis has marginal glosses attributed to Gregory and Jerome; sporadic glosses elsewhere cite various authors including B(ede), R(abanus), and ‘De Arato poeta’ (f.159v) and the Glossa ordinaria.

The original decoration seems to have consisted only of flourished red and blue initials, but the first two (ff.1, 2v), were overpainted with gold and colours in the early 13th century. This may have have coincided with the addition, in the margins, of the modern chapter divisions.

The style of the binding suggests that it could be contemporary with the main text, but a marginal annotation is cropped (f.30r), suggesting that it is not the first.