Tag Archives: Medieval

Alden Library houses hand-crafted Bible from 13th century


Among the modern resources and freshly printed books offered at Alden Library resides a far older work that dates back eight centuries.

Alden Library’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections on the fifth floor has housed a 13th century Latin manuscript Bible since its donation to the collection on April 7, 1979. It is the one millionth book registered in Alden’s collection, and can be viewed at the Mahn Center by signing a research form.

The Carr Liggett Advertising Inc. donated the Bible to Ohio University in memorial of Carr Liggett, an OU alumnus, according to a pamphlet produced shortly after the donation. The Bible formerly belonged to famed English poet William Morris and prior to that, a man named Ricardo Heredia.

Although the origin of the 396 page Bible remains largely unconfirmed, professor Charles Buchanan, the director of interdisciplinary arts and an instructor of a medieval art course, said artisans in France most likely produced the work to satisfy a demand at the time for portable Bibles. Buchanan said the process of Bible-making in the late medieval era moved toward an assembly line as opposed to being made in monasteries by monks.

Miriam Intrator, the special collections librarian at Alden, said at least three different people worked to create the Bible. One or more scribes created light ruling lines on sheepskin, and hand-lettered each page in Latin, the language of the church. Then, a rubricator would color in the incipits, or the letters that start each chapter. In this case, the colors are red and blue.

Lastly, an illuminator painted 72 illustrations of animals, humans and hybrids, according to the pamphlet. As for the third category, the illuminator included winged dragons and gargoyles as representations of the devil. Illumination is the practice of including miniature illustrations and colored initials.

The practice was expensive in the 13th century —  because of the price of paint — and exemplified wealth, and the gold used in the illumination is real, Intrator said.

The Bible is called a “pocket Bible” despite it being much larger than the modern idea of pocket-sized, but could be stored in a frock or robe, Buchanan said.

At one point, the Bible was taken to Spain and received a new binding made from goatskin. That aspect, along with a signature from a 17th century Spaniard, Bartolome De la Puente, prompted researchers to believe the work itself came from Spain. But, upon further inspection, France arose as the piece’s birthplace.

Along with De la Puente’s margin notes, two other scholars have made notes and drawings in the marginalia. According to the pamphlet, the notes date to the 14th and 15th century.

In addition to the hand-lettered Bible, Alden Library’s Archives and Special Collection also hold other works of religious significance such as a page or “leaf” from a Bible used by missionaries in the Americas along with many facsimiles, or copies, of medieval religious secular works including The Book of Kells.

Buchanan has brought classes, a graduate interdisciplinary arts class and an undergraduate medieval art class, to observe the Bible’s makeup, script and artwork.

He said the work represents a period when Bibles had become more commonplace and, for the first time, allowed people to read the holy book in a private setting.

“It’s one of the treasures of the library,” Buchanan said.