Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A Wycliffite Bible Made for a Nun of Barking

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A Wycliffite Bible Made for a Nun of Barking

Article excerpt

Very little is known about the medieval ownership, let alone original patronage of the manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible. Only in a few cases do we know the owners' names from medieval inscriptions, whereas any information about where or for whom the surviving copies were made is almost entirely missing.1 The place of production and patronage of the manuscripts remains a major puzzle for the scholarship of the Wycliffite Bible, particularly perplexing considering how many copies of this prohibited text survive. Though unlicensed ownership of the Wycliffite Bible was officially illegal after the promulgation in 1409 of Archbishop Arundel's Constitutions that banned the use of any recent scriptural translations without episcopal approval of both version and owner, about 250 manuscripts of the Bible are known to exist. A great majority of these copies are professionally and often expensively made, and date from early in the first half of the fifteenth century. Any information about their patronage and the circumstances of their production can therefore shed light on how censorship operated and why, initially at least, it had so little effect on the copying of the Wycliffite Bible. Research on patronage can also help to understand who were the audience of the Wycliffite translation and the driving force behind what can only be described as its mass production early in the fifteenth century. An almost unanimous assumption of modern scholarship is that the Wycliffite Bible was a book for laity, but there is growing evidence coming particularly from the study of the contents of the manuscripts of the Bible that contradicts this view. Such evidence, including the results of research presented here, shows that many copies were in clerical hands and many were probably made for clerical and religious patrons.2

Considering that very few manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible contain names, research on patronage has to investigate other sources of information, such as liturgical evidence. This evidence has never been previously explored by the scholars of the Bible and is an entirely new source of information about its circulation. The study of regional and institutional characteristics of calendars included in the manuscripts of the Bible cannot provide names, but can uncover information about the type of owner for whom a book was made, a geographical location where it was intended to be used, and therefore indirectly information about its likely place of production. The conclusions based on such evidence can be only hypothetical but the scarcity of other sources of information about patronage makes it worth considering whenever possible. The current article offers a study of the liturgical calendar in London, British Library, Egerton MS 1171 and, from the evidence presented, considers the likely patronage of this book.

Egerton MS 1171 is a Wycliffite part-bible containing a calendar, a table of lections, the New Testament in the Later Version, and an Old Testament lectionary.3 Its distinctively liturgical character is not unique: the practice of combining the biblical text with liturgical materials is well attested in the manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible, though it remains unclear whether these manuscripts were ever used in a public liturgical setting.4 Similarly to Egerton MS 1171, many surviving copies include liturgical aids, such as calendars and tables of lections, have mass readings marked within the biblical text, and contain mass readings instead of or in addition to continuous biblical text.5 Egerton MS 1171 is a small volume, cropped in rebinding, measuring now c.145 × 100 mm. It is professionally written on very thin parchment. Illumination is not exceptional, but rich. The book contains twenty-six partial or three-sided borders in pigment and gold, and five- to seven-line initials in red, blue, white, and gold at the beginning of most books. In addition there are three-line gold initials with floral sprays at the beginning of prologues and two- to three-line blue initials with red penwork at the beginning of chapters. …

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