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Medieval Manuscript Leaves: Bible, France, circa 1250 AD

This guide provides information about the eight Medieval Manuscript Leaves held by NIU Libraries Rare Book Room.

Catalogue Description


126. LEAVES FROM A PORTABLE FRENCH BIBLE IN LATIN. (France, ca. 1250) 5 3/4 x 3 3/4". Double column, 49 lines, written in a tiny gothic hand. Each leaf featuring capitals struck with red, headlines and verse numbers in blue and red, and one-line versal initials in red or blue. many leaves with larger (typically four-line) initials in blue or red with elaborate penwork infilling and marginal extension in the same and contrasting colors. SOME LEAVE WITH LARGER INITIALS (typically seven- and nine-lines high) IN DIVIDED RED AND BLUE, OFTEN WITH VERY LONG MARGINAL EXTENSION, sometimes the entire length of the leaf. Most leaves with at least some (and a few leaves with many) MARGINAL ANNOTATIONS IN AN INCREDIBLY TINY HAND.

Leaves variably dampstained diagonally across upper portion (sometimes as little as a tenth of the leaf affected, sometimes as much as a third, the discoloration never really absent, but never really dark), vellum a bit cockled, but pleasing leaves nevertheless, the text still quite distinct, the vellum generally clean, and the margins especially ample. 

Available are a number of leaves from a sizable fragment of a so-called pocket Bible, a 13th century innovation that is discussed in item #12, above. Of special interest here are the annotations: while the script of our leaves is quite tiny (though no smaller than many other 13th century portable Bibles), the annotations here are half(!) the size of the text, a fact that is almost as astonishing as the fact that these marginal notes are beautifully written and perfectly legible (though requiring for most eyes the assistance of magnification). Provided with each leaf offered here is an English  translation of the text present on both sides of the leaf. While no English printed version is equivalent to the Latin Vulgate text used here, we have chosen one that comes close, using the 1582 Rheims New Testament and a 1635 printing of the Douay Old Testament.

-- Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts. “126. LEAVES from a PORTABLE FRENCH BIBLE in LATIN.” Phillip J. Pirages Catalogue 47, 1992.

Bible, France, circa 1250


This small Latin Bible, which was produced in France in about 1250 A.D., measures approximately 4 inches across. Click the image on the left to see an enlarged view next to a ruler in order to better see its actual size. This leaf is from the book of Acts, Chapter XXVII- Chapter XXVIII and a preface to the Pauline Epistles. This particular item features some basic decorative initials, which show the reader the major divisions of the text. Typically, there was a hierarchy for the initials--the more important the text break, the fancier the initial. We see then, the most elaborate initial opening the Epistles. While in the early years of book production, the initials were added by the book's scribe, beginning in the thirteenth century, specialists would fill in the initials in the spaces left blank by the scribe. Red and blue were common colors -- these initials are often called "rubrication". In the fifteenth century, a preference for purple ink emerged. ( 3) Because of its size, and the level of decoration, this was most likely a relatively inexpensive Bible when it was produced. This particular leaf has some staining, possibly from water damage.