Table of Contents
Main Sections
I. Function of Books
II. Book Production
III. Book Structure
IV. Typology of Books
        1. The Bible
        2. Liturgical Books
        3. Diverse Book Categories
V. Book Illumination
Back to the previous subchapter            IV. Typology of Medieval Books Credits
This section is designed rather to give a general introduction into the types of medieval books and their typical layout than to examine all existing types of books.
1. The Bible

The Vulgate

The Bible is the most important book of the European Middle Ages. In Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages there existed a number of Latin translations of the Bible, the most important among them being Vetus Latina (Earlier Latin). In 404 Jerome completed the new Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgata (Biblia vulgata, in English -- Vulgate), which eventually became the most popular one throughout the Middle Ages. It should be borne in mind, however, that the text of the Vulgata varied considerably in different manuscripts.

It was not until Carolingian times that the Holy Scripture received its modern form of the Biblia (a “library of books”), a full collection of sacred texts all in one volume. Before that, and in many cases long after, many particular books of the Bible, such as the Apocalypse, the Gospels individually, the Psalter were reproduced in separate volumes and perceived as more or less independent texts. Also popular were separate editions that grouped together several related books, such as the Pentateuch, Wisdom-literature, Gospels altogether, etc.

Vernacular Bibles

In the eleventh – thirteenth centuries the first vernacular translations of the Bible appeared, of which the most influential was the French one, made in the mid-thirteenth century.

Biblical Books Separately

In the Middle Ages the Apocalypse, or the book of Revelation,  was frequently reproduced separately, with commentaries, and sometimes with picture cycles. Apocalypse manuscripts were especially widespread in tenth and eleventh-century Spain; in the thirteenth century they were proliferated all over Europe.

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The four canonical Gospels were rarely reproduced individually, more often in group. The full text was in most cases accompanied by an introductory matter such as Eusebius' canon tables and chapter lists (capitula). From the seventh century onwards Gospel books also contained the Capitulare.

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Old-Testament books were often reproduced in groups, such as the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses) and the Hexateuch (the first five books and the Book of Joshua).

The Psalter was often reproduced alone, functioned rather as a liturgical book than a book for reading.

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Commented Bible

Biblical texts were rarely reproduced alone, without commentaries. By the High Middle Ages readers expected to have the cumulative commentaries of the Church fathers and of recent scholarship immediately available, as a guide to each passage. By the eleventh century this circumstance resulted in a special layout of biblical manuscripts. The commentaries in glossed Bibles for professional (university or clerical) use were intentionally clearly separated from the biblical text itself.

Two types of glossed Bibles were the most popular: the Glossa Ordinaria, thus called from its common use during the Middle Ages, and the Glossa Interlinearis. The Glossa Ordinaria - the most advanced twelfth-century type of commented Bible - consisted of nine or ten volumes containing individual or grouped books of the Bible, each having marginal annotation throughout. This gloss is quoted as a high authority by St. Thomas Aquinas, and it was known as "the tongue of Scripture." Until the seventeenth century it remained the favourite commentary on the Bible, and it was only gradually superseded by more independent works of exegesis.

The second gloss, the Glossa Interlinearis, the work of Anselm of Laon (d. 1117), derived its name from the fact that it was written over the words in the text of the Vulgate. After the twelfth century, copies of the Vulgate were usually supplied with both these glosses, the Glossa Ordinaria being inserted in the margin, at the top and at the sides, and the Glossa Interlinearis being placed between the lines of the Vulgate text; while later, from the fourteenth century onward, the Postilla of Nicholas of Lyra and the Additions of Paulus Brugensis were added at the foot of each page. Some early printed editions of the Vulgate exhibit all this exegetical apparatus.

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Biblical Concordances

These were Dominican friars who first composed verbal concordances of the Bible in order to allow a preacher to do a quick search for a quotation. The first concordance, completed in 1230, was undertaken under the guidance of Hugo of Saint-Cher. It contained no quotations, and was purely an index to passages where a word was found. These were indicated by book and chapter. As a result, it was of little service to preachers. In order to make it valuable for them, three English Dominicans added (1250-1252) the complete quotations of the passages indicated.

Picture Bible

A growing concern with moral education of unlearned classes led to development in the thirteenth century of another type of commented Bible: there the biblical text was re-narrated in abridged form, fused with interpretation, and extensively illustrated, thus creating a “picture Bible,” such as the Bible historiale, Bible moralisée, and Biblia pauperum.

Bible historiale  is the biblical narrative in prose form, written in French by Guyart des Moulins and based on his translation into French (1294) of the Historia scholastica of Peter Comestor and on the above-mentioned French translation of the Bible (1250) This was the Bible that the noble laymen were expected to own.

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Bible moralisée is the Latin Bible in pictures, also known as the Bible historiée, Bible allégorisée, or Emblèmes bibliques. Composed in the thirteenth century, it consists of short biblical passages and related commentaries with moral or allegorical lessons. These latter usually emphasise the connection between the Old and the New Testament events. The texts were accompanied by extensive illustrations.

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Biblia pauperum consisted of a series of captioned miniatures or hand-coloured engravings illustrating parallels (typology) between the Old and the New Testament and became extremely popular in the Later Middle Ages. Literally, Biblia pauperum means the “Bible of the poor.” In the Middle Ages Bibles of this type did not have this name: it was invented by German scholarship in 1930s. They believed that such a Bible, abundant with pictures, was made for the education of the illiterate poor clergy and laymen. However, production of a Biblia pauperum still was costly; one can suggest that these Bibles were rather designed for noble or clerical entertainment.

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