(Germany, almost certainly Fulda, mid-ninth century, possibly second quarter). 305 x 216 mm. (12 x 8 1/2"). Single column, 28 lines of text, written in brown ink in a fine Carolingian minuscule.
With large uncial letters at the beginning of each sentence and with a two-line Incipit written in uncials of the highest order, once red but now faded to a ghostly--but still legible--trace. For a leaf from the same manuscript, see Durham University Library Add.MS 1757, http://reed.dur.ac.uk/xtf/view?docId=ark/32150_s2d504rk36p.xml. Removed from a binding and so a bit soiled and darkened from binder's glue, one-inch hole (present before text added, so no loss), minor worming, but IN EXCELLENT CONDITION for this kind of recovered specimen, with virtually every word of the text clearly legible, with surprisingly ample margins, and with the better side unusually attractive, this side being without significant defects of any kind, even minor blurring.
Most likely copied at the imperial abbey of Fulda from an eighth century Northumbrian manuscript once owned by St. Boniface, the leaf from the Homiliary of the Venerable Bede, is, except for some small patches affixed to leaves in a 15th century choirbook, the oldest manuscript item we have ever offered for sale. Bede's Homiliary is unusual in that it is an original work, as opposed to a compilation, by a single contemporary author. Comprising 50 homilies, it was written for the monastic community at Jarrow in the years just prior to Bede's death in 735. The collection was widely disseminated before the end of the eighth century by Anglo-Saxon monks active as missionaries and scholars on the European continent, when selected homilies of Bede were incorporated in the 780s into the Homiliary of Paul the Deacon at the request of Charlemagne. Few early manuscripts of Bede's Homiliary have survived. The text here is from the Gospel reading and Homily on the Purification of the Virgin Mary, with Luke 2: 25-40 and the incipit for the homily on the recto, and the first section of teh homily, beginning "Solennitatem nobis hodiernae celebratatis," on the verso. The present item is a sister leaf to Durham University Library Add.MS 1757, and according to that institution, the manuscript from which both came was "probably written in the imperial abbey of Fulda, founded in 751 and one of the preeminent centres of scholarship and book production in Western Europe, and possibly identified with item 170 in their library catalogue of ca.1550: 'liber omeliarum Bede presbiteri numero XXV' (Vatican MS Palat. lat. 1928, edited K. Christ, 'Die Bibliothek des Klosters Fulda' (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1933). If the present manuscript dates to the second rather than the third quarter of the ninth century, then it was written during the abbacy of Rabanus Maurus [one of the great Carolingian scholars]. . . . Laistner (Handlist of Bede Manuscripts, pp. 114-18) records some 21 manuscripts, all of which are in institutional ownership; and to these might be added the 5 fragments in Quaritch: Bookhands of the Middle Ages III (cat.1088), items 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 (ca. 800 to twelfth century). The present manuscript is of great textual importance. As no copies survive from England before the twelfth century, our earliest witnesses are Continental. Of these, 6 complete manuscripts and 2 of the fragments listed above are of comparable antiquity, but only one other can be located to a particular scriptorium: the St.Gallen copy (Zurich, Zentralbibl. C42, second half of ninth century). In a letter written in 747-51, St. Boniface requested from one of Bede's students and followers, Archbishop Egbert of York, 'some of the works which Bede, the inspired priest and student of Sacred Scripture, has composed" including "his book of homilies for the year, because it would be a very handy and useful manual for us in our preaching' (Die briefe des heiligen Bonifatius, no. 91). In exchange for the volumes he sent 'two small casks of wine ... for a merry day with the brethren'. Boniface was instrumental in the foundation of Fulda, near his missionary outpost at Fritzlar, and retired and was buried there. His copy of the text most probably remained in the monastery. That lost manuscript was an extremely important witness to the text, doubtless written in the same scriptorium in which Bede worked, within a decade or so of his death by scribes who probably knew the author. The present manuscript's readings are consistent with those of the St. Gallen copy (Hurst's class IA) and both must have had Boniface's copy as their exemplar. St. Gallen's library was expanded in the ninth century and received numerous copies of books from Fulda. They are probably the sole surviving witnesses to this important lost exemplar." The modern critical edition of Bede's Homiliary rests largely on five manuscripts from the ninth, 10th, and 11th centuries, with only the two ninth century exemplars containing the complete collection. Our leaf can be dated and localized by intriguing paleographical and codicological features. Of special interest here paleographically is the use of the ampersand as a general abbreviation for the letters "et" occurring anywhere in a word, as for example: "&iam" for "etiam," "vocar&" for "vocaret," and "p&rum" for "petrum." Termed the "integrated ampersand" by German writers, this usage is characteristic of Carolingian minuscule manuscripts of the late eighth and ninth centuries. What serves to localize this leaf as a product of the famous scriptorium of Fulda is the lively snake-like tail with which the scribe ends the ampersand. Bernhard Bischoff calls this "schwungvolle &-Ligatur" the "unmistakable" earmark of early manuscripts from Fulda, a major center of Carolingian book production and scholarship in the ninth century with fundamental roots in the Anglo-Saxon tradition (the monastery there was founded in 743 by Anglo-Saxon missionary bishop Boniface). At Fulda, manuscripts continued to be written in Insular hands, alongside concurrent use of the Carolingian minuscule, until about 850, and the commingling of these traditions is evident in our leaf. For example, the scribe here uses the Insular "q," characterized by a tail turned toward the left, rather than the normative Carolingian form of the letter with a straight descender. Because the quill continued to be cut and held in the Insular fashion, the Fulda Carolingian minuscule has various distinctive qualities. Most readily seen in this leaf are the upright appearance of the script and the wedge-shaped form of the top of the ascenders of letters like "l" and "b." Finally, in codicological terms, the present leaf seems to have been prepared in a way that corroborates our hypothetical localization. The flesh and hair sides of the skin are indistinguishable because Fulda continued to prepare parchment in the Insular way by roughing both sides of the skin with pumice. (See B. Bischoff, "Latin Paleography," 1989, pp. 9-10 and 117-18 as well as the 1994 exhibition catalogue of Fulda manuscripts by H. Broszinski and S. Heyne, "Fuldische Handschriften aus Hessen," plates 23, 32, 33, 38 and passim for other examples.) The present item can be compared with fragments of two early Carolingian manuscripts from the Bernard Rosenthal collection with text of Bede's homilies in Quaritch catalogue 1088, issued in 1988. Both item #1 from that catalogue (a leaf of the eighth/ninth century) and item #2 (a leaf of the second third of the ninth century) share with our leaf the large uncial letters at the beginning of each sentence, and item #1 has the ampersand used as an internal abbreviation within words for the letters "et." (CRS1901)
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PJP Catalog: NY19BF.076