Saturday 6 December 2014

A 13th-Century Bible From Beauvais at Smith College

On a recent visit to Smith College, Massachusetts, I saw a 13th-century Bible (MS 241) with unusual clues to its provenance.
It is folio size, rather than the 'pocket' format so common from the 13th century, and unusual in being written in a single column. It is decorated with fine initials, either in gold on a blue and rose parti-coloured ground with white ornament:
or puzzle initials in red and blue:
The Genesis initial has some fine foliage and dragons, but there is no human figurative decoration.

The text is written 'above top line' which, combined with the style of decoration, suggests a date in the 1230s or '40s. In light of its later provenance I take it to be French, but a similar style is also found in English manuscripts of this date.
[Feel free to contradict me in the comments below!]

A late 19th- or 20th-century pencil inscription on a paper flyleaf reads "Early thirteenth Century / in the Rhine Provinces near Nymegen [sic] / and Xanten".
Evidence for this localisation is not apparent to me, but the current catalogue description follows it and tentatively attributes the volume to "the Rhine Provinces":
although another Smith College webpage does suggest that is is more likely to be French.

The first parchment flyleaf has a long and unusual inscription:
"Anno mo. ccc.o xiio. xxviiia. die februarii que erat feria secunda ante brandones /
contulit mihi rex prebendam sancti quintini. Item anno & mense predictis .xxixa die februa[rii] /
dominus .j. de maregniaco tunc electus confirmatus beluacansis contulit mihi prebend[am] /
sancti mikahelis beluacensis. ad quam(?) fui receptus anno predicto mense martii /
tercia die. Item anno predicto octaua die marcii. resignaui prebendam nouioniensis /
& sequenti die fui receptus ad prebendam sancti quintini"
(click to enlarge)
Which may be translated as:
In the year 1312, on the 28th day of February, which was Monday of Quinquagesima, the king conferred on me the prebend of Saint Quentin. 
Item, in the same year and month, on the 29th of February, lord Jean de Marigny, then elected and confirmed [bishop] of Beauvais, conferred on me the prebend of Saint Michel, Beauvais, to which I was received in the aforesaid year, in the month of March, on the 3rd day.
Item, in the aforesaid year on the 8th day of March, I resigned the prebend of Noyon, & the following day was received to the prebend of Saint Quentin.
"Saint Quentin" suggests the town of Saint-Quentin, not a huge distance from Noyon and Beauvais, the other places mentioned:
but in the present context it is perhaps more likely that the writer is referring to the Abbey of St Quentin in Beauvais itself.
[EDIT, 7 Dec. 2014: Jean-Luc Deuffic points out in the comments below that the church in Saint-Quentin is, in fact, more likely than the abbey in Beauvais]

Despite all this detail, the writer does not give us his name.

The dates are also confusing:

  • In 1313 (new style) 28 February was indeed the Monday immediately after Quinquagesima Sunday (because in that year Easter fell on 15 April), but it was not a leap year, so there was no 29 February.
  • 1312 (new style) was a leap year, but 28 February was the Saturday between Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sundays.

The discrepancy is settled by the fact that Jean de Marigny became bishop of Beauvais in 1313, which confirms that this is the year being referred to. Presumably the writer mistakenly thought that the day after 28 February 1313, was 29 February.

The whereabouts of the manuscript are unknown for the next two and a half centuries, but there is an erased 14th- or 15th-century signature(?) on the last page:

And on 2 February, 1567, Nicolas Goletius of Enghien, wrote an ownership inscription:
"τα βίβλια
Nicolai Goletij Eccl(esiast)ici Anghienij
Sibi ac posteris
Postridie Cal. Februari                       
Anno supra sesquimillesimum
sexagesimo septimo"
"Anghienii" may refer to Enghien in Belgium, or perhaps more probably Enghien-les-Bains, between Paris and Beauvais.
[EDIT, 7 Dec. 2014: Jean-Luc Deuffic points out that Enghien-les-Bains did not exist before the mid-19th century, so the Enghien between Brussels and Mons must be referred to here.]

The Bible then disappears from sight for another two centuries, but by the later 18th century it was owned by the Classical philologist Karl Luwig Bauer of Hirschberg, who published an account of it in the Lausitzisches Magazin for 15 April, 1784 (pp.108–10), which begins:

There are further gaps in the Bible's recent provenance. The front pastedown bears the bookplate "Library of Alvin W. Krech, 1893":
and it was given to Smith College by Louis H. Silver (1902–63)—much of whose library is now at the Newberry, Chicago—in 1956.


  1. Merci Peter pour cet intéressant post. De mon côté je pense qu'il s'agit de Saint Quentin en Vermandois, dont la prébende était à la nomination du roi. Robert de Sorbon y fut chanoine ... Avec la date de 1312 on devrait pouvoir identifier le copiste ... J'ai étudié Raoul le Breton, proviseur de Sorbonne (1315-1320) qui fut chanoine de Saint-Quentin avant 1315. Peut-être une piste ?

  2. Raoul le Breton fut aussi chanoine de Beauvais, mais en 1319 ...

  3. Thanks for this, Peter. I've spent some time with this manuscript as part of my work cataloguing the collection, and I agree that it's probably French. The MARC record you saw hasn't been updated with the work I sent to them...that should happen soon. I hadn't seen the Bauer piece, though. Thanks for that! - Lisa

  4. Jean-Luc Deuffic sent me the following additional useful comments:

    Comme je l'ai proposé, Raoul le Breton (que je connais très bien !) est un bon candidat, ayant été à cette époque chanoine de Saint-Quentin en Vermandois et de Beauvais, sauf que pour ce dernier canonicat la lettre du pape est du 12 septembre 1319 ...

    Une petite remarque pour "Anghien" = Enghien-les-Bains est une ville "moderne", née en 1850. Elle doit son nom à la seigneurie homonyme, près de Mons (Belgique). Donc c'est peut-être vers là qu'il faut chercher.
    J'avais pensé au poète/avocat Nicolas GOULET dont on trouve aussi le nom (le même?) sur le ms. Paris, Arsenal 542, f. 81 : Nicolaus Goulet (XVIe s.)

  5. Dear Peter, I'm glad to read your and others' illuminating notes on this beautiful Ms., known to me only from the digitization. But I wonder if it could be earlier than 1230s/1240s, say c.1210-1220? For one thing, I see that the scribe, who wrote very stylishly, used both tironian et and Caroline "ampersand". For another, and more significantly whatever its date: it shows essentially no signs of influence of the Paris Bible, e.g.: no Prayer of Manasseh; no 3 Ezra; the Letter of Jerome (Propter peccata ...), which in Paris Bible is written as the final chapter of Baruch, is here placed between Jeremiah and Lamentations; Luke 1:1-4 is not designated as a prologue; Paris Bible readings not evident (e.g. Deut. 27:24 does not have the interpolated verse "Maledictus qui dormit cum uxore proximi ..." I've made a full list of contents, which I'd be happy to send to anyone interested. And just a minute point, the inscription of Nicolaus Goletius reads "Eccl'icj" not Ecdici; viz. Ecclesiastici.

  6. I'm sure you are right to question this. Re-reading this post, I now don't know why I wrote "The text is written 'above top line' which, combined with the style of decoration, suggests a date in the 1230s or '40s" -- what I really meant was "... suggests a date **no later than** the 1230s or '40s". My feeling -- and it's no more than a feeling -- is that the 2nd 1/4 of the century is appropriate for the decoration. The absence of "Paris" features is suggestive, but does not *necessarily* indicate an earlier date.
    I'll silently correct the "Eccl'icj" typo - thanks!



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