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