Tuesday, May 08, 2007

An Excursion to Hereford Cathedral Library

As part of the programme of the Fifth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, on which we have previously reported, there was on April 17 an excursion to Hereford Cathedral to see their manuscript collection in the "chained library," including the Mappa Mundi (read more about the collection here).

The librarian first introduced us briefly to the library and its holdings. Then we had the chance to look specifically on some significant Latin manuscripts on display, picked out by Professor David Parker.

The first manuscript, which David Parker presented to us, is the most significant in the collection; the Gospels codex known as "The Hereford Gospels" (Hereford, Cathedral Library, MS P. I. 2 ). This is an eighth century illuminated Gospel book written in insular minuscle script, with large illuminated initials. Interestingly, it contained also a very old report on a legal decision on some matter not directly related to the manuscript itself, but in which the judge decreed that the decision should be written up "in the copy of the Gospels at Hereford Cathedral" - showing that this was already a famous manuscript then!

On the picture we see Parker (in the middle) and two colleagues examining the manuscript; we could all tell that the librarian (you can see her in the background) was a bit nervous when we stood around this most valuable manuscript and she was constantly standing close watching us and the manuscripts on display very carefully. Not many are allowed to touch this particular gem. An anonymous person has made wonderful replicas of the illuminated pages available here. (Apparently, he or she was only allowed to look and take photographs but not touch the manuscript.)

The next manuscript, a Gospel Harmony of Clement of Llanthony, dated to the 13th century, was presented by the doctoral student Cherish Ahlgren who is writing a dissertation on the subject. On the image to the right Cherish is carefully turning the pages of the codex.

A JBL article on the Gospel Harmony of Clement by Rendel Harris is available in JSTOR (free for SBL members via the SBL-site) here.

A third manuscript was presented by the main organizer of this colloquium, Dr. Hugh Houghton (holding the MS on the picture), who had the specific expertise on this codex, which contains two works relating to Augustine. First his Tractatus in euangelium Iohannis, and then the biography by Possidius, Vita S. Augustini.

A manuscript with the same contents produced in England at roughly the same time is in the Bodleian Library. See description here (Ms. e Mus. 6).

In sum, the excursion was as nice, interesting, and well organized as the whole colloquium, not least thanks to Hugh Houghton. More pictures from the colloquium are available here.

Update: Thanks to Hugh for updating me on the "juridicial note" in the Hereford Gospels! (I have revised the original post accordingly.)


  1. Tommy,

    Wonderful excursion. Pity I missed it.
    BTW, it seems to me that the Hereford Gospels images referred to in your post are contemporary redrawings, not photographs.

  2. The most startling thing to be seen in Hereford Cathedral is the mocked-up illuminated manuscript of the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas. I nearly fainted when I saw it.

    The Mappa Mundi's good, though.


  3. JK:"BTW, it seems to me that the Hereford Gospels images referred to in your post are contemporary redrawings, not photographs"

    Yes, I referred to them as "wonderful replicas", i.e., not the real thing. However, you can see something of the real thing on the website of the Hereford Cathedral Library (see link at the beginning of the message).