Western Manuscripts

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 has now changed. With the publication in July 2017 of  A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford, by Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, the Library is now able to offer full codicological, textual and historical descriptions for its Medieval and Renaissance Western collection.

A catalogue of Western manuscripts to c. 1600 is also available online.

To provide a viewing environment for an ever increading number of manuscripts, 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.

MS 88 - Augustine's Homilies on John (1167)

The homilies that constitute Augustine's commentary are masterpieces not only of theological profundity, but also of pastoral engagement. John's gospel allows Augustine to range broadly over themes that were his life's work the Trinity, the person of Christ, the nature of the Church and its sacraments, the fulfilment of the divine plan. This codex was produced for, and belonged to, Buildwas abbey.

Detailed description of manuscript 88

MS 89 - Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon

Early 15th-century manuscript of the Polychronicon, a famous medieval book written by the Benedictine monk and chronicler Ranulf Higden. The work is divided into seven books (in imitation of the seven days of Genesis) and is a summary of general history, offering fascinating insights as to what was known or believed at the time. Among the perhaps surprising remarks is the note that the Earth must be round, because it casts a round shadow on the moon during an eclipse.

Detailed description of manuscript 89.


MS 92 - Walter de Milemete, De Nobilitatibus, Sapientiis, et Prudentiis Regum (1326-27)

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 92


MS 93 - The Hours of St Denis (1484-1501)

Richly illuminated manuscript written in French bastard secretary (lettre bâtarde). The scribe has not been previously identified but appears to be Jean Dubreuil. The decoration consists of over sixty images of scenes from the life, martyrdom, miracles, and translation of St Denis, each next to a text initial within a full border.

Detailed description of manuscript 93


MS 95 - Pauline Epistles, glossed

Early 10th-century manuscript.The Epistles are provided with the pre-Anselmian gloss that includes readings ascribed to ‘Lanfrancus’ (e.g. fol. 149) and ‘Berengarius’ (e.g. fol. 119). At the opening of each epistle, large pen and ink capitals, occupying half the central text space and often extending into the upper or lower margin. 12th-century leather, browned with age, over unbevelled wooden boards.

Detailed description of manuscript 95


MS 98 - 'St Omer' or 'Rede' Psalter

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 98


MS 100 - Hours of the Virgin, Use of Rome and prayers

Late 15th-century richly illuminated manuscript produced in France.All leaves have full borders, with vine and flower designs (some animals and birds) in a variety of colours. The prayers are divided by two-line champes in gold leaf with red and blue. At the openings of sections, seven-line illuminations: fol. 40: Jesus and the implements of the Crucifixion; fol. 212: John the evangelist with the poisoned cup; fol. 220v: Stephen holding an open book and palm branch; fol. 221: Laurence with a book and griddle; fol. 222: Anne teaching the Virgin to read. 17th-century purple velvet with an embroidered leaf design in gold and silver thread over millboards.

Detailed description of manuscript 100

MS 101 - Epistolary of Thomas Wolsey (1528)

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 101

The Wolsey Manuscripts Project


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.

Detailed description of manuscript 138


MS 145 - Wycliffite Bible

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 145


MS 151 - John Walton, verse translation of Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae

The manuscript is one of only two that now contain a full and accurate authorial ascription. It is a twin of Balliol MS. 316A, with the same contents, but the two lyrics here added are in the original hand there

Detailed description of MS 151


MS 152 - Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; John Lydgate, Poems

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 152


MS 178 - French New Testament (13th century)

The text is a full representation of the New Testament, though, rather than being a strict translation of the Vulgate, it includes gloss materials. It presents the books in the usual order, and includes, starting with Romans. The disposition of the unique prologues, following the actual texts, strongly implies that they were being intercalated into this copy from a source alien to the text proper. The text lacks the end of Jude and the start of Apocalypse, owing to a removed leaf.

Detailed description of MS 178


MS 179 - Ordinances of the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception (1503 x 1517)

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 179


MS 180 - Book of Psalms - Calligraphic manuscript by Esther Inglis (1599)

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 180


MS 341 - Cartulary of Eynsham Abbey (1196-97)

Various lists and copies of deeds relating to Eynsham. Produced by the monks of Eynsham to preserve the records of their holdings, it continued to attract accretions into the 15th century. It is not clear what happened to the manuscript in the wake of the abbey’s surrender on 4th December 1538. manuscript arrived during the second or third decade of the seventeenth century, and was in the ownership of the Dean and Chapter by the autumn 1644. The manuscript is now located in Christ Church Archives.

Detailed description of manuscript 341


MS 684 - List of the Household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (16th century)

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.

Detailed description of manuscript 684


MS 689 (aka Mus 1295) - Fragment of Missal, probably Use of Rome

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).

Deatiled description of manuscript 689


The Book of Evidences (1667)

Volume 1 (Shelfmark l.c.2)

Volume 2 (Shelfmark l.c.3)

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.