A “New” Medieval Manuscript

Great news: we were the successful bidders at the November auction of medieval manuscripts at Christie’s, London! The wonderful new addition to our collection, soon to be known officially as Western MS 88, is a canon law compilation, copied in France, ca. 1240. It’s a superb example of the way medieval books usually circulated, with multiple texts of varied origin assembled for the owner’s convenience (it’s in early medieval binding–beat up, but the real McCoy), and that’s something that doesn’t show up too often in American collections, since dealers usually split codices up in order to sell them off text by text.

The first text in this composite volume dates from very close to the author’s lifetime; it’s “secondary literature” for its day. The third and the fourth are closer to “primary source” material, but the fourth is arranged alphabetically, showing an important shift in access-approach to texts.

The second piece, although acephalous and only in four leaves, is the nearest to my heart: it’s a paleography manual! –with handy little bits of instruction, such as “S cum est finalis dictionis que semper debet scribi retorta, sic [s] vel [s], [s]” showing the various ways of shaping the letter S when it’s at the end of a word.

The book is a perfect fit for our collection that looks at the history of education; it will be yet another building block in helping our students to understand the tools of learning, as they themselves learn.

Here’s a quick outline of the texts:
1. ‘Libellus Rotfredi in iure canonico’ [i.e. Roffredus Beneventanus, (c.1170-1244)], ff.1-45
2. Fragment of a handbook for scribes, ff.46-48
3. Decretals on usury, marriage, patronage, rules governing the clergy and other matters, ff.48-59
4. Set of decretals, lettered alphabetically from ‘A’ to ‘Q’, ff.60-103.

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