The Western manuscripts collection at Christ Church presents something of a paradox. Despite being part of one of the the largest and richest library for research material in Oxford outside the Bodleian, its manuscripts are also among the least investigated. In part this neglect reflects cataloguing history. The Christ Church manuscripts were neither listed by Bernard nor described by Coxe. This will soon change, as the Western Medieval and Renaissance catalogue will soon be published, the first, we hope, in a series containing the various types of collections housed in this library.
To provide a viewing environment for these images, an interactive web application was built which allows use by scholars and students in the context of supporting descriptive material and bibliography. To access the fully digitized version of the manuscripts, as they are finalised by us, please click on the titles in the list below.
Milemete wrote his book on the nobility, wisdom and prudence of kings as an offering to King Edward III at the end of 1326. An ambitious project, the text is dominated by the decorative borders, crammed with heraldry, contorted hybrids, combats between man and man, man and beast, half-man and half-beast, hunting scenes and tournaments. It is one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world and one in the highest demand by specialists.
A thirteenth-century manuscript written in 'gothic textura semiquadrata', the decoration of which includes a series of exceptionally fine historiated initials. The calendar points toward production for use in St Omer or its neighbourhood. The manuscript arrived in England by the early fourteenth century and, by the fifteenth century.
Among the most stunningly beautiful volumes housed at Christ Church is Thomas Wolsey's Epistle Lectionary, a 16th century manuscript richly illuminated in the Flemish style. This large folio still sparkles brightly in all the colours of the rainbow and is - literally - heavy with gold. The book contains readings from the Epistles for a number of feast days throughout the year.
MS 138 - Nicolas Cantilupe's Historiola, and associated documents concerning the University of Cambridge
From its fifteenth century folio numbering, this manuscript is clearly an excerpt from a much larger volume. This quire had been separated from its parent by the early eighteenth century, when Thomas Hearne saw this manuscript and used it as the base text for his edition of Cantilupe's text. We can date his acquaintance with our manuscript: in his diary, he noted on 9th March 1712 that he had examined 'in the Dean of Xt Church's Study' the books of Henry Aldrich (who was recently deceased) and among them was Cantilupe's Historiola Cantabrigiensis.
This manuscript contains one of the best witnesses for the early versions of the translation of the Wycliffite Bible. MS 145 is also notable for its unusual page design. It has running titles for biblical books written in alternating blue and red ink and split across the opening. This is perfectly normal in copies of the Latin Vulgate Bible, but very rare in the Wycliffite Bible corpus. As far as we know, only one other such early version manuscript exists.
The text of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is complete, but in a different order than that encountered in most other manuscripts. The text of John Lydgate's Poems includes 'The churl and the bird' and 'The sege of Thebes'. There is reasonably extensive evidence for production and early ownership in the mid-south and near southwest. Donated to Christ Church Library by John Verney in 1769, as revealed by a note entered by Edward Smallwell.
A richly illuminated Tudor manuscript written in French lettre bâtarde. The first six leaves date from the foundation of the fraternity in 1503; the final one, however, may have been added as late as 1517. Of particular interest is the illumination on fol.1v representing Joachim embracing Anna outside the Golden Gate, viewed through an open portcullis; in the foreground, Henry VII and his queen, with their three sons and four daughters.
An astonishingly beautiful manuscript of the Book of Psalms, in French, richly bound in crimson velvet decorated with silver-thread embroidery and pearls. Essential to the attractiveness of this manuscript is its calligraphy, with Esther Inglis demonstrating her ability both to construct a script which appears as constant as anything print can offer and to move from one script to another. There are about seventeen different scripts present in this volume, in two to four different sizes. This manuscript was produced by Esther Inglis in Edinburgh for presentation to Elizabeth, queen of England.
This roll presents the career of Thomas Wolsey in tabular form, concentrating attention on the size of his household. Added text: A biography of Sir Isaac Newton by his relative, Thomas Newton. Parchment. A long roll made from a single hide. Overall: 872mm x 176mm. It is divided into four columns, each bounded in red, of varying widths: 32mm, 92mm, 18mm, 20mm. Writing occurs only in the first and second column, with the second column also divided horizontally by black lines, its top section 47mm high, the central section 640mm, the penultimate 101mm, and the last 84mm. Written throughout in one tiny italic script.
Eight non-adjacent leaves from a Roman Missal, written on parchment in 'gothic textura rotunda'. Purchased at auction in Geneva, and donated about 1990 by Paul Lewis, father of Jonathan W. Lewis (Christ Church, 1991).
The Book of Evidences (1667)
The Book of Evidences was compiled by Anthony Wood, the antiquarian, and John Willis, Chapter Clerk at Christ Church, who was the brother of the famous physician, Thomas. Its purpose was to describe Christ Church’s landed estates to prove ownership after the turmoil of the English Civil War and Commonwealth confused land boundaries and rights. Each property is described, often with an account of its pre-Christ Church history, and with details of the rent due and any other obligations. Rectors, vicars, and curates for each of our parishes are listed and, in some cases, legal disputes are recounted well into the 18th century. The Book is, in effect, Christ Church’s Domesday Book and is usually the first port-of-call for any research involving property. The Book was originally in one volume, but was re-bound in the 1950s into two for ease of use and conservation. The manuscript is kept in Christ Church Archives.