|Benedictional of Archbishop Robert ofjumiges, now in Rouen. There
was no comparable development of benedictionals elsewhere.
Even today the cathedral at Ely is dedicated to St Etheldreda,
the Abbess who died in 679, and it seems that St Ethelwold held her in
special veneration. At any rate, he refounded her abbey at Ely and chose
her as the subject of one of the illuminations in his great book .
The inscription reads: 'Imago Sanctae Altheldrythae Abbatissae ac
Perpetuae Virginis' ('The representation of St Etheldreda Abbess and
The work and achievement of St Ethelwold was shared by his two great
friends, St Dunstan and St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester and Archbishop of
York, so it is interesting to note that the Ramsay Psalter, written in
Peterborough, was almost certainly produced for St Oswald.
During the last years of Anglo-Saxon rule a proto-Romanesque style was
developing in England, but this was entirely smashed by the Conquest and
there is no English miniature between 1066 and the Albani Psalter of
With the twelfth century we come to a series of splendid
folio Bibles produced under the influence of yet another revival of the
monastic spirit. They were not intended for study but rather for
ceremonial use on great occasions. These manuscripts are similar in
character to the Romanesque cathedrals and abbeys for which they were
created. They are austere yet rich, severe but filled with an
omnipresent power, and their illumination has much in common with the
sculpted Last Judgements found on the tympana of many pilgrim churches.
This illumination was strongly influenced by Byzantine art,
for there was considerable contact with the remarkable Byzantine
civilization flourishing under the Norman kings in Sicily and some
contact with Constantinople itself. However the great impact came with
the second crusade. So many Englishmen took part that, according to a
contemporary chronicler, 'you would imagine that England would be
emptied and exhausted by the movement'. The crusade was a disaster, but
on their way home the defeated crusaders were entertained by Roger, King
of Sicily, who consoled them with gifts that must have included
manuscripts and works of art. Here, too, they saw the stupendous mosaics
in Palermo and Monreale. The parallels between these and subsequent
English art are far too close to be coincidental.
The Lambeth Bible
was produced, almost certainly, at Canterbury. Here, although we do not
know his name, it appears that the artist was a layman and that he moved
about in the world. The similarities to the Sicilian mosaics are so
close that he may well have seen them with his own eyes. Further, there
is strong reason to suppose that the same artist illuminated a book for
Wedric, Abbot of Liessies in what is now France. Unfortunately this book
was a victim of the Second World War, having been destroyed at Metz, but
two remarkable detached leaves survive in the possession of the Societe
Archeologique in Avesnes.
Figure 5 reproduces a page from one of these leaves in which St John is
seen writing his Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit in the form of a
dove which, held by the hand of God, whispers in his ear. Very touch-ingly,
Wedric holds the inkhorn into which the saint dips his pen.
The greatest English Bible of the twelfth century (some say the greatest
of all twelfth-century manuscripts) is the Winchester Bible, still in
the Cathedral Library. Walter Oakeshott has distinguished the hands of
six artists who worked on this supreme book over tens of years. In some
cases one man drew an illumination while another painted it. It is
interesting to observe the monastic tradition preserving features from
previous ages. The interlacing strapwork derives from Hiberno-Saxon
manuscripts, while the struggle with the lion not only reflects
Byzantine art but harks back to classical images of Hercules.
The long production of the Winchester Bible probably extended into the
early years of the thirteenth century, and even then it was never
finished. This very passage of time enables us to watch, in the later
miniatures, the emergence of a new spirit: the age of stern Romanesque
austerity changing into the age of Gothic grace.
The Winchester Bible was probably produced to the order of Henry of
Blois (1129—71, a splendid character and a munificent patron), Bishop of
Winchester and brother of King Stephen. He made several visits to Rome,
and was familiar with Mediterranean and, perhaps, Sicilian art; and it
was he who commissioned the Winchester Psalter. Most of the Psalter's
illuminations are distinctly English, but two ) are strongly Byzantine.
This manuscript, too, was rescued by Sir Robert Cotton and passed to the
During the same period great Bibles were also produced on the Continent.
One of these, in two volumes (Harley MSS 2798-99), came from the
Premonstratensian Abbey of Arnstein near Coblentz on the Rhine.
frying-pan, may the falling sickness and fevers draw near him, may he be
hung up and twisted around. Amen.') This curse did not achieve its
purpose, for the manuscript had already left the monastery when it was
purchased by Robert Harley in 1721. This is the more to be regretted,
for the curse might otherwise be used against those who, in our own day,
have turned the stealing of books from national, and other, collections
into a modus vivendi.
The monastic scriptoria of Bury, Canterbury and Winchester
produced splendid Bibles and liturgical manuscripts over several
centuries, but the most interesting scriptorium during the first half of
the thirteenth century, St Albans, is famous for its chronicles and
The historiographers wrote the St Albans Chronicle,
commencing with the Creation of the World. This ambitious history was
continually up-dated by the addition of events as they occurred. In the
first half of the thirteenth century St Albans produced two historians
who are of the greatest importance for our knowledge of medieval
history, Roger of Wendover (d. 1236), who wrote Flores Historiamm, and
Matthew Paris. Matthew Paris (c. 1200-59) entered the monastery at the
age of seventeen. In his youth he assisted Roger of Wendover and, on the
latter's death, took over the duties of historiographer and head of the
scriptorium. By this time there must have been an outstanding historical
library at St Albans - but Matthew Paris did not confine himself to
documents. He took every opportunity to talk to men of affairs, to
mingle with courtiers and talk with the king when, from time to time, he
stayed at St Albans, and to gather information at first hand. Nor was he
confined to the cloister; he travelled in England and observed and wrote
of historical events. His vivid observations on court life include an
entertaining account of an elephant that some potentate had presented to
the king. In our own day we see politicians attempting to ingratiate
themselves with television interviewers, and it is amusing to note that
Henry in and his court were much the same. When, for example, the Holy
Blood was to be translated from St Paul's to Westminster — and carried
by the king - Matthew Paris was invited to watch the ceremony from the
steps of the throne. It is much to his credit that he maintained an
independent position and, when he felt it necessary, never hesitated to
criticize the king.
Matthew Paris was an active head of the scriptorium. He wrote
and illustrated books with his own hand and produced volumes of maps. We
may with confidence credit Matthew Paris with the beautiful signed
drawing in which he depicts himself at the feet of the Virgin . Having
rounded off his Chronica Majora at the year 1250, Paris intended to
retire and take life more easily. However, his enthusiasm apparently
proved too strong, for he made the last entry in his own hand shortly
before his death. At the end of the chronicle there is a drawing, by a
disciple, of the old chronicler on his deathbed. He rests his head on
his arm, which lies upon an open manuscript, 'Liber Cronicorum Mathei
Parisiensis'. Above is the inscription: 'Hie obit Matheus Parisiensis'.
One English thirteenth-century illuminator who has emerged from the
Manuscripts page 4