Not all materials held by a library are necessarily cataloged. Recently, a single leaf of vellum was found in a frame with nothing more than a note on the back reading ‘1240 France Bible’. Although we have no more information about its origin (or about the credentials of the note-maker) we are not entirely in the dark.
Paleography helps scholars not only read old writing but suggest a time and place of composition based on the script. This manuscript is an excerpt from 1st Chronicles 7:9-9:3 (verso) and 9:4-10:13 (recto), as given at the head of the leaf in the ornate abbreviations PA (recto) LI I (verso) – the Vulgate Bible used the Septuagint’s Greek book title, Paralipomenon (‘the remaining things’).
Despite the cramped style, the work was not done carelessly and the ruling lines of lead are still visible. Distinct is the red ink used for large capitals to mark the beginning of chapters and used to highlight capitals to mark the beginning of verses; otherwise, not even names are capitalized. The margins are used for two functions: the red numerals mark the beginning of chapters, and the words are spelling corrections accompanying the red underlines in the text. It is interesting to note that the handwriting and abbreviations of the corrections do not match those in the text – an editor or a vigilant reader? Finally, there is the 12L in the top right of the verso to consider, most likely a mark to ensure proper ordering of the once-complete manuscript.
The writing is a form of Gothic Textualis (bookhand), the dominant style of the late Middle Ages (c. 13th – 15th centuries), though this example is somewhat removed from the distinguished Quadratus of the most elegant and ornate manuscripts. This scribe was clearly concerned with function over form, as the most notable aspects of the manuscript are the size of the characters and the immense number of abbreviations used – each side is roughly 850 words if written in full!
The handwriting appears to be an example of ‘pearl script’, a careful yet condensed style that developed in 13th century France to copy the ‘pocket Bibles’. At 7 ½” x 5”, the leaf is larger than many other extant examples, but it is possible that this leaf was originally part of one of the increasingly popular portable Bibles.
This is just one of the many fascinating items still being found and cataloged in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections.
Special Collections Librarian