Category Archives: Rare books

Codicology: Part 3

In the Spring of 2015 Union Theological Seminary students from CH108: The History of Christianity Part 2: Introduction to Western European Church History (c.1000-c.2000) viewed manuscripts and early printed books from the rare books collections at Burke Library. Over the course of the semester they chose manuscripts or early printed books to study and wrote codicological descriptions. Excerpts from their work are recorded below – along with the opportunity to read their research in full.

Dr. Jane Huber and Russ Gasdia, Teaching Fellow

**Please note: For footnote citations and bibliography, see paper in full at the above author link.  

Chanda Rule Bernroider – Processional
Processional: Manuscript, Flanders, 1351, Plimpton MS 34, Rare Books and Manuscripts Library.

Click here for PDF of complete paper

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This manuscript, considered a “lesser genre” of books for Mass was created to contain music for processions that came before Masses of feasts (McGatch 20). Its size, 175 x 135 mm and 36 pages, was perfect, frugal and portable for the Urbanist Poor Clares community it was intended for. This community of nuns, also known as “Rich Clares” because they followed a Rule by Pope Urban IV that allowed the sisters joint possessions unlike the Poor Clares, danced in the sacred footsteps of St. Clare of Assisi who was the first woman to denounce the wealth of her family and embrace a monastic life in the Franciscan tradition. Although the Rich Clares accepted possessions, mainly to avoid any type of economic dependence on outside communities (specifically of monks who did not appreciate the responsibility of supporting these groups of women), both communities adhered to a strict vow of poverty. Commitment to a life behind convent walls meant a life of seclusion and religious contemplation – they were not allowed to leave, and on the rare event that visitors were allowed, they could only speak to the sisters through an iron gate covered by a cloth panel. Visitors could not look upon the nuns and the nuns could not look into the eyes of their visitors. Saint Clare revered this life of absolute seclusion and almost complete silence. Urbanist Poor Clares of the 14th century continued to uphold these vows, adhering to absolute silence in the church, refectory, and dormitory and speaking as little as possible in other spaces within the convent (De Paermentier 53-63).

Els De Paermentier in a paper entitled, “Experiencing Space Through Women’s Convent Rules: The Rich Clares in Medieval Ghent (Thirteenth to Fourteenth centuries) stated that upon joining a convent, a nun denies her previous, secular individuality in order to assimilate into a collective identity. Space for private experiences dwindle as they “depersonalize” their identity. In a contemplative community such as this, liturgical songbooks and singing together becomes elevated in importance. In a recent study, the American Psychological Association touts the benefits of group singing calling it a “tool for social living” due to the hormone oxytocin that is released while singing. Perhaps this Processional became a symbol for these things – the therapeutic effects of singing together, the joy of a lovingly bonded community embedding its long term effects within the pages. Perhaps it also became a symbol for the hidden part of a sister’s heart that still relished her individuality. Upon opening the pages, her heart, her lips — her unique expression escaped unbounded. Her notes left to fly and dance with the distinctive voices of her sisters. Such is held between two aged pasteboard covers intended for a community of “depersonalized” women who denounced all things of the world: a small key to living together in harmony, pleasure, and individuality.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Theodore Kerry – Horae
[Horae]: [manuscript], ca. 1425, Burke Manuscripts, UTS Ms.50.

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Click here for PDF of complete paper

Within the Burke Library collection is a Book of Hours that belonged to the the Clyfford / Culpepper family of Wakehurt, Preston Hall and Kent England. Cataloged as MS 50, the book survives as a collection of more than 10 gatherings, unbound, in a plain orange box. It is a manuscript printed on parchment, measuring 190 x 150 mm, containing 80 pages. The script is formal gothic book hand, and the manuscript is in the style of Claes Brouwer, most likely produced in the Netherlands, intended for export to England. Many of the miniatures (illustrations) are cut away, with only two remaining, one of which is overpainted: there is an image of the Empty Tomb painted over to include “the holy spirit as a dove descending along rays of the tomb” (Digital Scriptorium).

We know the book belonged to the Clyfford / Culpepper family due to marginalia within the book that reads, “By me Edwarde Culpeper”, i.e.: Edward Culpeper of Preston Hall in Aylesforrd Kent (before 1471-1533) as listed on the Culpepper Family tree (Culpepper Connections). The provenance of the book can confirmed by further marginalia that reads, “This is Jhon Culpepers booke, who soo ever stealeth this booke shal be hnaged upon an hundred fute high.” John (born most likely around 1494) was Edward’s son. Father and son were part of the Kent branch of the family. Additionally, names hand written on the Calendar page of MS 50 list deceased family members providing a window into the book’s possible owner / whereabouts before Edward and John. While we know the book was created between 1425 and 1450, the Digital Scriptorium notation, “s. XV2/4” suggests that the marginalia is from a later time. Listed on the May page of the Calendar is an obituary note that mentions Edward’s relatives: “walteri culpeper” who may be the father and father-in-law respectively of those listed on the July calendar page “Ricardi Wakeherst” and “margarete Culpepyr” (see image: July) Looking at the family tree, it is possible the pair are Richard Culpeper of Wakehurst (say 1435 – circa Oct 1516) and Margaret (Culpepper) Wakehurst (1448 – 1504). Given these names are listed and not others it is possible to consider the book had been the dominion of the Wakhurst side of the family before it was received by those living in Kent. How the book would have travelled from branch to branch is unknown, although Richard’s Will does survive and in it he mentions a house he had in Kent. Is it possible, given that people carried their Book of Hours with them, that Richard gave the book to Edward sometime between Edward’s birth (1471) and Richard’s death (1516) and that in turn Edward gave the book to his son John.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Jamie Myers – Biblia Sacra Hebraica
[Biblia Sacra Hebraica]: [manuscript], ca. 1300, Burke Manuscripts, UTS Ms.74

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Manuscript 74 is a Hebrew Bible, hand-written on vellum in Hebrew script. It was produced in Spain in the 14th century and was rebound on April 29, 1949 by Ronald MacDonald Specialists, which can be seen from an insert found at the back of the manuscript. It has 291 leaves, with text on both sides, and its dimensions are 12-1/2 x 9-5/8 inches.

The manuscript is missing the Pentateuch, as well as 2 Kings 10:12b-Isaiah 19:19a, and only contains up to 3:13 of Esther. The books in the Nevi’im (Prophets) portion of the manuscript adhere to the standard order. The ordering of the books in the Ketuvim (Writings) portion is as follows: Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ruth, Job, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Song of

Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther.

Manuscript 74 emerged out of the Jewish community in Catholic Spain at a time of rising anti-Semitism from both the general populace and the crown. During the massacres of Jews in 1366 and 1391, many Jewish texts and Torah scrolls were also destroyed. Though it is unverifiable, the missing pieces of this manuscript may be attributed to violence against the

Jewish communities in the region and time period of its creation. A other particularly fascinating feature that remains in this manuscript is the triangular text which concludes 2 Chronicles. The verses read:

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by the word of mouth and in writing as follows:

Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all His people – may his God be with him, and let him go up.

By dedicating an entire page and unique design to these two verses, the scribe who wrote this manuscript seems to have wanted to highlight the Babylonian exile and the eventual return of the

Jews to Israel at the decree of Cyrus of Persia – but why? As noted before, vellum was expensive, and one can tell by how close-together the words are written throughout the manuscript, that space limitations were indeed a concern. As such, dedicating an entire page to two verses of script would not have been done haphazardly.

The reason may have been related to the original owner’s family background. The inscription in the front page of the manuscript mentions Rabbi Samuel Nehardea, from whom the owner Rabbi Abraham appears to have descended. Samuel of Nehardea (165-257 CE) was a famous Jewish Talmudist from the town Nehardea in Babylonia. The special reference to

Babylon in the manuscript may be related to the family’s personal history. Another more moving possibility is that the creators of this manuscript equated their experience of Jewish persecution, which led to mass Jewish emigration from Spain well before the official expulsion in the fifteenth century, with the Babylonian exile, recalling Cyrus’s words as a beacon of hope that perhaps they too, might one day be able to return home.

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Nancy Rakoczy – Book of Miracles
Liber in quo habentur varia miracula patrata de patrocinio SS. Cornelii et Cypriani, item et varia testimonia, ca. 1100, Burke Manuscripts, UTS Ms.11

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Click for PDF of complete paper

Click for PDF of complete paper (supplement)

The Liber un quo haben turvaria miracula patrata de patrocino SS Corenlii et Cypriani, item et varia testimonia is a compilation of history and miracle stories. It relates the history of the founding of the Premonstartensian monastery dedicated to Saints Cornelius and Cyprian at Ninove at Ghent (Gatch 150). It also lists the miracles and healings attributed to the monastery. The Liber is composed of thirty-one pages of parchment written in Latin, with Flemish marginalia (ArchiveGrid). It measures 9.25” x 6.25” and its present brown leather cover is reported to have been rebound in the sixteenth century, with no stiffener or backing. The brown leather cover is still supple, though discolored in places, and when laid open, the inside cover reveals a hem of the same leather glued top and bottom. The parchment pages are written in Latin in the littera minisculat protogothica textualis hand (Gatch 150).

Simplicity not complexity is in evidence in the binding: thick threads protrude through the spine used to sew the quires together, with no additional leather used to hide these threads. The casual construction of the Liber’s binding and decorations suggest it was used only within the monastery, and not prepared as a gift for nobility. “The higher the status of a manuscript and the richer the patron for whom it was made, the more complex would be the process of its production and the large number of techniques and pigments involved” (Clements and Graham 29). When the book is opened, more threads poke between the pages. The spine has the number eleven on it, suggesting it was one of a series. At least four different calligraphic hands created the Liber. Page twenty-three had a different calligrapher finish the page; the difference in hand is noticeable. There are smaller pages sewn between pages twenty-three and twenty-four: more evidence that the Liber was for the monks’ use and perhaps in service as a notebook.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Caelyn Randall – Diadema Monachorum
[Diadema monachorum] : [manuscript], ca. 1080, Burke Manuscripts, UTS Ms.6.


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Click for PDF of complete paper

This codex was most likely produced in Germany in the 11th-12th century, but contains copies of texts from as early as the 6th century (Digital scriptorium). The following texts are included: De varietate liborum by Haymo of Halberstadt, Doctrina by Severinus, Historia ecclesiastica by Bede, Vita S. Fursei, Epistola XX by Boniface of Mainz, Expositio veteris ac novi testamenti by Paterius notaries Gregorii I, and Vita S. Bonifatii Moguntini by Willibaldus (Digital Scriptporium). Among these texts are various theological and exegetical pieces, as well as letters and hagiographies of British and Irish Saints. The presence of the latter suggests that while this codex was likely produced in Germany, it may have been used in a monastery in the region that would become England and/or reflects changing political allegiances in the region. The diversity of texts included in this codex may reflect diverse, everyday-needs expressed in a monastic community. This supposition is supported by the physical properties of the book, most notably the leather straps running from the back cover to the front cover as well as vastly different sized vellum pages and text size and font, among other properties.

The inclusion of the Diadema Monachorum points to a communal, monastic use of this codex. Smaragdus penned the Diadmema Monachorum at the Monastery of St. Mihiel in the early 9th century and was a popular monastic reformer in the Carolingian period. One of the hallmarks of educational reform in the Carolingian period was Latin literacy, which marked a distinction between sacred and everyday language (Poneese 62-63). Thus the Diadema, written entirely in Latin, is a testament to the monastic reform of the Carolingian period indicative of Charlemagne’s push to bring the land/people under his control into an “Ideal Christian Society” (Ponesse 64). Used as a community text within the monastery at St. Mihiel, the diadema was a compendium of “patristic spirituality and biblical exegesis intended to be read as a companion text to Rule of St. Benedict” (Ponesse 72) The inclusion of the Diadema in this codex suggests that this book was also used in a monastery concerned with the rules that governed monastic life.

Link to catalog record in CLIO






Codicology: Part 2

In the Spring of 2015 Union Theological Seminary students from CH108: The History of Christianity Part 2: Introduction to Western European Church History (c.1000-c.2000) viewed manuscripts and early printed books from the rare books collections at Burke Library. Over the course of the semester they chose manuscripts or early printed books to study and wrote codicological descriptions. Excerpts from their work are recorded below – along with the opportunity to read their research in full.

Dr. Jane Huber and Russ Gasdia, Teaching Fellow

**Please note: For footnote citations and bibliography, see paper in full at the above author link.  


Derrick Jordans – Multaqā al-abhur
Multaqā al-abhur, Burke Manuscripts, Arabic MS13

Click here for PDF of the complete paper

This 16th century book is 21cm in height, 10 cm wide and 2.5 cm deep. The cover of the book is made of wood covered in purple leather. On the front and back covers of the book, there are impressions in the upper and bottom corners which are characteristic of tooled and stamped letter binding. The impressions in the corners of the book were made by a method of stamping the books with irons, a technique prominent in early Islamic bookmaking.   Another characteristic of tool and stamped letter binding would be the “flap” design of the cover of the book, where the flap must be lifted up so that the contents of the book can be accessed. The flap which is a part of the cover, is 4.5 cm in width from the longest point of the flap to the edge of the cover, and 3.5 cm at its shortest point to the edge of the cover. This traditional Arab style binding had Persian influence and dominated leather binding from the 16th century onward and was a method of binding similar to yet different from Ottoman style binding which used intricate European influenced floral patterns and art in the book .

Link to collection level catalog record in CLIO


Stephanie Gannon – Bible 1478
Biblia (Low German/Niederdeutsch) : with glosses according to Nicolaus de Lyra’s postils, Heinrich Quentell, Cologne, ca. 1478, Rare Books collection/Union Rare Folio, CB80 1480
CB80 1480.

 Click here for PDF of the complete paper


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This bible was printed in Cologne, where Germany’s second oldest university was founded in 1388. Cologne was also the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese until 1525.[1] Nicole Howard writes in her work The Book: The Life Story of a Technology that there was a “diaspora”[2] of printers from Mainz, where printing was invented by Gutenberg. She notes that the archbishop of Mainz and his troops had sacked the city in 1462, which contributed to an unstable business climate. Printers fled the city looking for business opportunities and a stable political environment.[3] According to Howard, Cologne was their first destination. The university provided them with a clear market for their books.

Although this bible lacks a colophon, or a label at the back of the earliest books identifying the printer and place of publication, the Burke Library record designates Heinrich Quentell as the publisher. However, different sources I consulted contend that Bartholomaeus von Unckel was the publisher of the two large Cologne bibles, one of which was in the Lower Saxon dialect, the other in the West Low German dialect. While von Unckel was in fact the publisher, the financing and the printing were likely in the hands of a consortium, whose main financial backer was Johann Helman, the master of the mint for the Kaiser and a Cologne-based notary.[4] Ferdinand Geldner argues that since it’s unlikely that Unckel owned his own printing press, he probably worked with Heinrich Quentell, who was just starting out in the business at the time, to bring out these editions. [5] Indeed, editor Christoph Reske verifies this fact in his excellent reference guide on early German publishing. Quentell was active as a publisher from 1478-1501 and founded one of the most important publishing dynasties of Cologne, printing, among other things, theological and liturgical texts as well as works for university lectures.[6] It is fascinating to think that one of Quentell’s very first projects was such an ambitious undertaking. For various reasons, these two editions of the Bible must have been expensive and technically challenging.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Emily Hamilton – 1523 Luther New Testament
Ihesus, Das New Testament teütsch, Johann Schott Strassburg, 1523; Rare Books collection/Union Rare Folio.

Click here for a PDF of the complete paper

This copy is missing the title page but includes interesting printing elements that begin after that first page. As early as the third page we can see where the ink from the first woodcut has stained the page facing it, a detail found near other heavily inked texts, as well. We know demand for Luther’s New Testament was high enough to warrant multiple printings in this second year alone; perhaps it was high enough to warrant gathering the pages for sale or binding before they had completely dried! In the listing of the books of the New Testament, as Edwards points out, Luther changes the format for those books which fall outside of his “canon within the canon” – that is, books he finds objectionable and less important than the others – separately from the others, and fails to assign the names in their titles the prefix of “Sanct” given to the others. So, where we read “Sanct Matthes” in the beginning, we only read “Jacobus” in the latter section. Some of Luther’s other opinions about the text that can be seen in his printed translation of the New Testament are found in the commentary. As previously noted, this copy kept Luther’s commentary in the margins where it was originally placed. Even a non-German speaker can see where Luther engaged the text the most by his rate of glossing, found most frequently in Romans at a rate of 2.5 glosses per page, most of which were on Luther’s essential themes of law and gospel (Edwards 117)! Given Romans’ status as one of the greatest influences on Luther as well as the location of much of Luther’s arguments for his own theological work, it is no surprise to see a long preface here as well.

This section is where readers have left the strongest record of their engagement with the text. At least two if not three different sets of handwriting and ink are found in this section and there is marginalia in the form of hands pointing to texts (manipula), illustrations, written notes, and possibly other notations. There is more marginalia scattered throughout the volume, but no one book with as high a proportion as this one. It is clear that whatever other reasons the owners and readers may have had for purchasing and making use of this book, their engagement with this particular book was as heavily emphasized as Luther’s own. It is likely that this engagement is precisely because of the references that Luther made along the margins to guide reading, though certainly it is also possible that the reader had previously read the text in Latin or even in Greek and was agreeing or arguing with changes that Luther made in his translation. Their personalities even shine through: one particularly fastidious writer has drawn many hands pointing their index finger at the text to pay attention to and has carefully each their own individualized cuff, while another writer has more sloppily drawn illustrations like faces in letters that are accompanied by large ink stains.

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Hunter Beezely – Gospel Book
[Gospels] : [manuscript], ca. 1340; Manuscripts collection, UTS Ms. 69

Click here for PDF of the complete paper

This book is believed to have originated at the Iveron monastery in Mount Athos, Greece. On January 15, 1942, Union Theological Seminary (henceforth referred to as UTS) purchased this manuscript from Vassilios Iatropoulos of Denver, Colorado, and New York City.   This document is believed to have been originally purchased by Iatropoulos within Moscow, however this is largely uncertain. This manuscript is dated approximately to the 14th Century.

At some point this text found its way from Constantinople to the Iveron monastery in Greece. Established some time in between 980-983, the monastery became an influential site for the Greek Eastern Orthodox tradition. This monastery prides itself on its large library of more than 2,000 manuscripts, 15 liturgical scrolls, and 20,000 books in Gregorian, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin as well as its extensive collection of religious relics.

The manuscript is a bound collection of texts, written in Greek, with few Greek annotations likely written by a scribe or later reader. The texts included are as follows: (1) Preface to the Gospels, (2) Preface to the Lectionary of the Gospels, (3) The Gospel of Matthew, (4) The Chapter Titles to the Gospel of Mark, (5) Preface to the Gospel of Mark, (6) The Gospel of Mark, (7) The Gospel of Luke, (8) Chapter Titles to The Gospel of John, and (9) The Gospel of John. The scribe to these texts is Hieromonk Gennadios of the Hodegon Monastery and the script used is Vertical calligraphic minuscule. The ornamental decorations within the heading to each section of texts is believed to have been done by Gennadios (though this is largely uncertain).

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Kaitlyn Butler and Stuart Kay– Qur’an commentaries
Majmū at al-tafāsīr, Burke Manuscripts, Arabic MS 7

Click here for PDF of the complete paper

Though it was cataloged as a Qur’an manuscript in the original 1980’s Byrnes catalog of the Burke Library, Arabic MS7 is actually a Qur’an commentary. This is readily evident when the Arabic MS7 manuscript is compared to other Qur’ans produced in similar eras like the Burke’ Library’s MS 4. Like the Arabic MS7 commentary, this Qur’an is also believed to have been produced during the Ottoman era. The book is distinct in its consistency of format. The handwriting is consistent throughout the entirety of the text and likely written by the same scribe. The text is further evenly situated within the margins of the pages indicating the care and craftsmanship that went into its drafting. The size of the font in the Qu’ran is also slightly larger making it easier to read for various purposes.

Given the presence of the term “waqf” on the inside cover, the original owner dedicated the manuscript to an Islamic endowment following his/her death. “Waqf” refers to a compulsory donation of a portion of an individual’s wealth to a religious institution.   Written in English on the inside cover, the text is labeled, “Qur’an Commandments for Islam,” which is theoretically the title of the commentary. Further, the manuscript is likely of Ottoman origin given the style of binding and the cover art. The outside cover is made of wood though it is wrapped in a decorative paper. The marbled design on the decorative paper is likely characteristic of its Ottoman origins. The text, however, is also unique in that, unlike manuscripts of a similar era, the binding and pages are cropped to be of even dimensions (7.8” and 5.5”).

Speculation that the text is of Ottoman origin is further supported given the presence of the word “teke.” The manuscript was likely given by the original owner to a Sufi monastery to which the term refers. The term itself, as compared to other terms for similar Islamic monastic institutions, was first used in the Ottomon Turkish context and may be idiosyncratic to it. Teke derives from the term taqiyya, an important concept in Twelver Shiism. The term “teke” therefore may indicates that it was donated to a Sufi dervish monastery. The term began to take precedence over the more common term “zawiya” in Turkey around the 10th/16th centuries when it began to refer more specifically to an Ottomon network of brotherhoods, more stable and permanent institutions, that was responsible for the needs of mystic communities and controlled by the state.   Though, it is worth noting that there is currently no certainty regarding the distinction between “tekke” and other terms for Sufi monastic communities beyond this geographical and historical knowledge. The text further has an original “call number” written on the underside of book such that it could be identified if it was stacked with others when it was laid flat. This tells the modern observer how the Sufi community in which it was originally kept stored and organized their texts.

Link to collection level catalog record in CLIO

Codicology: Part 1


In the Spring of 2015 Union Theological Seminary students from CH108: The History of Christianity Part 2: Introduction to Western European Church History (c.1000-c.2000) viewed manuscripts and early printed books from the rare books collections at Burke Library. Over the course of the semester they chose manuscripts or early printed books to study and wrote codicological descriptions. Excerpts from their work are recorded below – along with the opportunity to read their research in full.

Dr. Jane Huber and Russ Gasdia, Teaching Fellow

**Please note: For footnote citations and bibliography, see paper in full at the above author link.  


Maureen Dean – James Wood’s Spanish Inquisition Manuscript
James Washington Wood, Spanish Inquisition manuscript, ca. 1720.
Click here for PDF of complete paper


The Spanish Inquisition Records, 1728-30, records the full trials records of Juan Panis of Zaptero de Viejo accused of heretical blasphemy in Barcelona. The charges are for “Blasphemy Against the Pope, Benedict XIII, on the occasion of the Papal Jubilee of 1725; Against the Sacrament of Mass and Confession; Blasphemey against the Sixth Commandment; and Being a blasphemer and denier of God and the Holy Catholic Faith.”

The Manuscript is a commonplace paper-book that is used for the practical purpose of bureaucratic record keeping. The book is twelve and a half inches high, nine inches wide and two inches deep. There is no cover nor back. It has two hundred and twenty pages and all the pages except one are made from handmade linen paper as indicated by its deckle fore-edges. The pages are stitched together as different testimonies are inserted as the case progressed. Consequently the spine is frayed, and at parts of the book where sections have been inserted it also appears as if pages are missing.


Kathryn Berg – Book of Hours
[Horae] : [manuscript], ca.1450; Burke Manuscripts, UTS MS49.

Click here for PDF of complete paper

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It was not unusual for the “Books of Hours,” like other medieval manuscripts, to contain illustrations of animals, often in the decorative borders. Though at first glance, these appear to be random and whimsical drawings (of, for example, a unicorn, or a monkey), they, in fact, had theological meaning. In antiquity and on into the Middle Ages, animal species signified particular meaning in the cosmos and were often used to illustrate spiritual lessons. Monasteries used bestiaries (which tended to be didactic) as teaching texts. So too, Books of Hours, including the Book, used animals for symbolic purposes, with the animals acting (like the illuminations themselves) as comprehension or memory tools, and to appeal to the reader. The animals in the Book, like those in medieval bestiaries, are vividly animated and compelling, in essence acting as medieval carriers of subliminal messages by reaching the “oculum imaginationis.”

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Leigh Britton – Aurora, Peter Riga
[Aurora, sive Biblia versificata] : [manuscript], ca.1300; Burke Manuscripts, UTS MS53.

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The title of this manuscript is “The Aurora” written by Peter Riga. Born in, France in 1140, Peter Riga grew up in a middle-class household. He studied the arts, philosophy, and theology in the schools of Paris, and later became known as a renowned poet. Influenced by John Gower, he was considered a master theologian and became a regular canon at Reims Cathedral. Aware of his poetic and theologically critical mind, his colleagues encouraged him to draw allegorical parallels of the Pentateuch. Upon completion of this work, “he called his book Aurora, for just as aurora dissipates darkness of night, so too his book, dissipating the darkness and obscurities of the Old Testament, glows with lightning flashes of truth and shining sparks of allegories. And just as the angel, after nocturnal wrestling with Jacob, said to him “Let me go; it is Aurora,” so too, after wrestling with his book, he can say these same words, “Dimitte me; aurora est.” “The Aurora illustrates the medieval concept of Scripture as a ‘fount of living water’ flowing into new channels in answer to new needs. An anonymous preface offers the poem to its readers as more valuable than the Pentateuch: Peter Riga wrote in verse, not prose, and his allegories added Christ’s pearls to Moses’ diamond, a conceit derived from Peter’s own preface.”   This description of Riga’s work shows the profound impact that “The Aurora” made during the middle ages and suggests its success in shifting interpretations of Scripture so that it may be useful and practical giving the current climate and conditions of the time. Due to his poetic genius and critical mind, he also brought new life and appreciation to Scripture. Beryl Smalley posits “Peter forestalls boredom by rhetorical amplification.”

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Casey Donahue – Aurora, Peter Riga
[Aurora, sive Biblia versificata] : [manuscript], ca.1300; Burke Manuscripts, UTS MS53.
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This manuscript of the Aurora sive Biblia Versificata by Peter Riga was copied in Florence between the years 1300 and 1399. It contains 157 leaves of vellum; were the manuscript numbered like a modern text, it would contain 314 pages. Pencil markings added by modern scholars appear in the upper left hand corner of each leaf, creating the only system of reference visible to the modern observer. Though the leaves appear to vary slightly in size – due, perhaps, to the binding process or to the actual dimensions of the vellum – each leaf is approximately 240 x 40 mm. The texture of the vellum ranges from thick and stiff, like a piece of construction paper soaked and dried, to a membrane-like quality so delicate and thin that it is slightly transparent. The color of the vellum also varies. Some leaves are the off white of a modern textbook page (f.18v); others have yellowed the way one might expect in an ancient text, with darkened edges and curling corners (f.63). Some appear to be stained: the color is uneven and splotchy, ranging from off white to light brown (f.29). Perhaps most striking to the modern eye are those leaves that were not scraped thoroughly enough to remove the hair follicles of the animal skin, so that the leaves are speckled with black spots, no larger than pinpricks, so numerous and close together that the vellum appears to be solid gray from a few feet away (f.19v). On some leaves the spots are larger – around 2 mm – and therefore remain visible at a distance (f. 27v).

Link to catalog record in CLIO


Miles Goff – Trees of Consanguinity, Affinity and Spiritual Cognition
Arbores consanguinitatis et affinitatis : [manuscript], 1483; Burke Manuscripts, UTS MS8

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Johannes Andreae did not invent the ideas of the Trees of Consanguinity, Affinity and Spiritual Cognition, but he did create these glosses to reflect the canon law understandings of Pope Boniface VIII’s decretals. We can see in the pictures that all three drawings have to do with the authority of the Catholic Church, as evidenced by the Pope’s tiara on the Tree of Consanguinity, the Bishop’s miter on the Tree of Affinity, and the Cardinal’s hat on the Tree of Spiritual Cognition. The idea of writing down canon law was not new, even laws of consanguinity. As early as 615 CE Isadore of Seville produced an analysis of the blood-lines in families as part of his Etymologies. But the arrangement of this knowledge in “trees” was something that gained more popularity in the 12th and 13th centuries.   What we can know about the work Johannes Andreae did was that his glosses for Liber Sextus Decretalium were published in 45 different editions between 1473 and 1500.   It is understandable then, that they would have had a rather wide circulation, and been an interesting challenge for anyone hoping to practice their scribal work.

Johannes Andreae lived during a time of the rising influence on canon law within the church, and his professional credentials as a canon law expert who taught in Padua and in Pisa well-prepared him for employment as one of Pope Boniface VIII’s most well-known canon lawyers.   Boniface VIII himself was an expert in canon law, and used his legal knowledge to help administer and extend his power as pope. “Outside of the pages of poets and historians, his [Boniface’s] activities were detailed minutely by an army of lawyers. He spoke for himself through his resounding bulls, for loving the law above all other intellectual activities, it was through it that he best expressed himself”   The increasing importance of canon law created a whole class of lawyers, “portrayed here on the fourteenth-century tomb of a professor in the legal faculty of the University of Bologna.” Johannes Andreae was one of those foot soldiers, adding a gloss of the trees in this manuscript to Boniface’s collection Liber Sextus Decretalium—to “the five books of the official collection made by Gregory IX he added in 1298 a sixth, the Sext, which brought the Church’s law up to date. The new book included no less than 251 of Boniface’s own decretals.”   Pope Boniface VIII’s legal advances also won him “innumerable enemies” including reproach from Dante in his Divine Comedy.   Pope Boniface VIII was well-known for his conflict with King Philip IV which led to Boniface’s termination. But this conflict can also be seen as a conflict between canon law and civil law. “Canon law was papal law, and the growing dominance of law within the Church was a key factor in the establishing of the papacy at the heart of the Church.”   The rising development of civil law would take Pope Boniface VIII and his canon lawyers like Johannes Andreae by surprise.

Link to catalog record in CLIO

Codicology: Introduction

Codicology: The study or science of manuscripts and their interrelationships.

For the next four Thursdays we are pleased to offer a series of blog posts featuring excerpts of Union Theological Seminary student work.

From Dr. Jane Huber and Russ Gasdia, Teaching Fellow: 

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In the Spring of 2015 Union Theological Seminary students from CH108: The History of Christianity Part 2: Introduction to Western European Church History (c.1000-c.2000) viewed manuscripts and early printed books from the rare books collections at Burke Library. Over the course of the semester they chose manuscripts or early printed books to study and wrote codicological descriptions. Excerpts from their work are recorded below – along with the opportunity to read their research in full.

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With thanks to Elizabeth Call and Matthew Baker of the Burke Library for collaborating with us and for assisting the students in their research.  The Burke Library provides an extraordinary opportunity for students to engage with material history in the present moment.


“One small step” for the study of religions

The Burke Library’s special collections include hundreds of thousands of rare books, pamphlets, and manuscripts. Many of these works pertain to the Bible (its many versions and editions, their languages and interpretation), church history (especially the Reformation period and following), and theological scholarship and controversy (including incunabula, sixteenth-century English and continental pamphlets, and 19th century American tracts and sermons). The Burke’s collections also include a number of important works of natural history, philosophy, travel, and comparative religion. Included among this last group is an edition of the renowned Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (Religious Ceremonies and Customs of All the Peoples of the World) by Bernard Picart and Jean Frederic Bernard.

Matthew blog_7Cérémonies was pioneering in its attempt to portray the rituals and practices of the world’s religions and peoples in comparative perspective. By the standards of its day, the work was remarkably broad and even-handed in its attempt to describe religions both within and outside Europe, including Islam and religions of the “new world.” Picart engraved the hundreds of illustrations found throughout its pages and which were in large part responsible for its popularity and relative commercial success. These attempted to portray not only religious rites, but the physical structures, geographical settings, attire, equipment, and other accoutrements characteristic of the various groups included. For its contributions to a broader, more nuanced approach to world cultures, one recent work has dubbed it “The Book That Changed Europe,” while another has credited it with fostering “The First Global Vision of Religion.”

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The illustrations included in volume 6 of Cérémonies are noteworthy as a moment of imperfect (e.g., the bowler-like hats and other Western garb in the images of the marriage ceremony, as well as the unfortunate ubiquity of sauvages throughout the text) but nevertheless genuine attempt to document and understand to the rich and diverse societies of the American continents’ indigenous peoples.


While at times painfully inaccurate or speculative, partly Matthew blog_3because their understanding was based largely on the reports of others, for its time the work does constitute a real attempt to understand and portray a range of cultures and religious practices, and is often characterized by a descriptive approach that would in the twentieth century develop into the study of the history of religions and inter-religious dialogue.

Burke’s French edition of Cérémonies (1723-1743) is comprised of 9 folio volumes that together make a striking impression as evidence of the eighteenth-century Europe’s encyclopedic labors.

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In particular, Picart’s engravings remain bold and clear; despite the corrections and updates that can be made in terms of their accuracy, they are the work of a gifted and imaginative craftsman. The physical volumes can be consulted in the Burke Library’s Special Collections Reading Room, and UCLA’s library (in collaboration with the Huntington Library, the Getty Institute, and Utrecht University) has provided electronic access to the work’s several editions.

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If you would like to consult the volumes at the Burke, you can request a visit here.

Please note that all images in this post are from the Burke’s copy of Volume 6 of Ceremonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde / représentées par des figures dessinées de la main de Bernard Picard; avec une explication historique, & quelques dissertations curieuses. Amsterdam: Chez J. F. Bernard, 1723-1743.