A New Medieval Manuscript, or rather, an old one in a new home

Good news here: we have just bought a new manuscript–new
for us, of course. And it has just been delivered today, our new baby.

It’s a copy of Hugh of St. Cher’s Postils on the Apocalypse, dated 24 November 1468, and produced in the lower Rhineland, probably Cologne. It’s a beautiful book of 151 parchment leaves, over a foot tall, in a lovely strong hybrida script with an opening initial in gold. It’s in original binding–somewhat damaged, but even so, quite untouched. Look at its picture; you’ll be impressed.

And you’ll be intrigued by its provenance: we know where this book has been virtually all of its life, from a 15th century donation note by a known person to the Carthusians of St. Barbara’s in Cologne (remember, their library went up in flames in 1451, so they were still actively rebuilding), through 17th and 18th century catalogues of that library, to Leander van Ess at the suppression of monasteries, to Sir Thomas Phillipps, through sale rooms, to a collector in Virginia (it’s listed in Bond and Faye, publ. 1962), to Barney Rosenthal (bookseller par excellence), and now it’s ours.

Our students will read it as an example of the 13th century mendicants’ new style of biblical commentary; they’ll see the Parisian Dominicans at work building tools to study the bible (even though the work circulates under the name of Hugh of St. Cher, it seems that he was the leader of the team, rather than the sole author); they’ll see the Parisian tools still in use 200 years later. And they can compare this manuscript to the most recent printed version of the text: in Venice in 1754–that publication occupies eight folio volumes for the entire series of Hugh’s postils. And Columbia is fortunate to also own that edition.

The purchase was made by combining funds from Columbia University’s P. O. Kristeller Endowment together with a generous grant from the B. H. Breslauser Foundation. We are very grateful to these two manuscript scholars, who left behind them the means for others to build collections of manuscripts–the first impetus to study.

The new baby’s name is Western MS 92; come visit it sometime!

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