Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare CXVII "The Vercelli Book": Vercelli Homilies I-XXIII, "Andreas", "Fates of the Apostles': "Soul and Body 1 ': "Homiletic Fragment 1 ': "Dream of the Rood': "Elene"

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Peter J. Lucas


482. Vercelli, Biblioteca Capitolare CXVII

"The Vercelli Book":

Vercelli Homilies I-XXIII, "Andreas", "Fates of the

Apostles': "Soul and Body 1 ': "Homiletic Fragment 1 ':

"Dream of the Rood': "Elene"

[Ker 394; Gneuss 941]

HISTORY: Written in the late 10c by a single scribe, probably over a period of time that included intervals between the different parts of the manuscript. There are three distinct Booklets, A (ff. 1-24), B (ff. 25-120), and C (ff. 121-135), but they were probably not planned in this order. Linguistic evidence suggests that the manuscript had its origins in the SE of England (Scragg 1973: 206; see further Scragg 2008; cf. Treharne 2007). If the suggestion of O Carragain (1998: 96-7) that the book was the work of a secular canon is followed, then Rochester is a plausible place of origin, as the cathedral there had five secular canons attached to it up to 1080 (Knowles and Hadcock 1971: 74, also 435). Others favor St. Augustine's, Canterbury (Scragg 1992: lxxviii-lxxix).

[Note on Compilation: Several scholars have written on the compilation of the Vercelli Book, notably Scragg 1973, Sisam 1976: 40, and Szarmach 1979: 184-7. Scragg's divisions have the merit of following the codicological structure of the manuscript, so giving Groups A, B and C corresponding to Booklets A, B and C. Only his Group B is subdivided, thus:

1a HomilyV

1 b "Andreas" and "The Fates of the Apostles"

2a Homilies VI-X

2b Homilies XI-XIV

3 Homilies XV-XVIII

4a "Soul and Body 1 '; "Homiletic Fragment 1 '; and "The Dream of

the Rood"

4b Homilies XIX-XXI

4c Homily XXII.

Group lb contains distinctive (provision for) decorated initials. Apart from the content, Group 2a is suggested by the numbering in the manuscript of Homilies as 'ii' -'v: and is drawn from a south-eastern homiliary of the second half of the tenth century. Group 2b is suggested by the rubrics, 'Spel to forman gangdrege: 'spel to clam oorum gangdrege' and 'spel to priddan gangdrege'; Wright (2002: 212-24) has argued that Homilies XI-XIII were written (or adapted) with secular clergy in mind. Group 3 derives from a Mercian homiliary of unknown date. And Group 4b, which shows distinctive (provision for) decorated initials, is drawn on a late West-Saxon collection. This kind of analysis of how the texts in the manuscript were compiled shows that they are drawn, probably in groups, from a variety of sources and presumably from a number of exemplars, and that, just as the scribe took over aspects of lay-out and display, he also preserved linguistic features that he found in his exemplars. Other commentators have remarked on the scribe as a faithful copyist (Sisam 1976: 44; North/Bintley 2016: 9, 21). For a table showing the arrangement and contents of the Vercelli Book see Lucas 2011: 173-4. Zacher 2009: 287-90 ( = Appendix 2) sets out a table showing exemplar (Scragg) in relation to quire (Sisam).] 

On f. 111 v, the last page of quire XV, the last line is left blank and the writing on the penultimate line is spaced out as if to fill the whole space of the line. This evidence suggests that the scribe was copying an exemplar quire by quire at this stage. The manuscript was corrected, at least in part, contemporaneously, as indicated by excision marks suprascript on f.14r/23-4 (cf. Scragg 1973: 204, n.2). On f. 49v there is a trial animal drawing, perhaps a practice for a capital. At the bottom of f. 63v (the last leaf of quire VIII) an 11c hand has written 'writ þus', presumably an instruction to a copyist to carry on from one quire to the next. At the bottom of f. 135v, set in a little from the outer edge of the written area, probably the same annotator has written 'writ pis'. The words may possibly have been preceded by a few others, but, if so, they are now irrecoverable, as the area is one affected by reagent and the letters of the text on the other side show through. They may also be an indication that there was once more material after the present end of the manuscript. Perhaps the manuscript was copied before being removed to the continent.

On f. 24v an llc Italian hand has added the liturgical heading 'R[esponsio] Adiutor meus esto domine ne derelinquas me deus salutaris meus• V[ersus]' (Ps. 26:9) with neumes above. On the basis of this addition and its distinctive form, K. Sisam (1953: ll3-16) concluded that the manuscript was in Italy in the l lc, most likely at Vercelli itself (see further C. Sisam 1976: 44). There, in the Biblioteca Capitolare, it has stayed until the present day.

In the early 19c it was provided with a binding of brown calf on medieval boards blind-stamped with a double ornamental border in a pattern found in other Vercelli books in the Biblioteca Capitolare, with membrane pastedown and endleaves. The spine is inscribed 'HOMILIARUM | LIBER | IGNOTI IDIOMATIS | 41 | SÆCULO XI CXVII' ['41' is a former Vercelli number]. In 1834 the manuscript was copied by Johann Christian Maier (1791-1835), and his transcription and notes now comprise London, Lincoln's Inn, MS misc. 225, which is to be relied upon for some readings (Ker 1950: 22-5, and C. Sisam 1976: 51-3), as well as for indications of the structure before the restaurazione (see below). This transcript, probably edited by Benjamin Thorpe, was printed in 1836 but not issued by the Public Record Office until it appeared in Cooper in 1869. In the meantime copies were not made public, much to the annoyance of other scholars such as John Kemble (Wiley 1979: 223); however Richard Cleasby acquired a copy in 1837 on which he made extensive notes (Fell 1981).

At the same time as he made his transcript, Maier applied a reagent called Gallaepfel-tinktur 'gall-nut-tincture' ( cited from Maier's own testimony by Halsall 1970: 4, 6, repr. C. Sisam 1976: 48; for a recipe see Bock 2015: 257), which was rich in tannins and, while intended to enhance legibility over a short period, had the effect of staining brown the areas to which it was applied, and some of the writing was obliterated. The first leaf, which contained the beginning of the unique text of a homily for Good Friday on Jo. 18-19 (Item 1 below), is now virtually illegible. Elsewhere the damage is less. At least twenty-nine other places are affected (most still legible): f. 2r/24, f. 25r/29, f. 26r/12-24 (in a streak), f. 36v/7-ll (patch), f. 37v/14- 16 (blot), f. 37v/21-4 (another blot), f. 38r/4-ll, f. 38v/l-2, f. 42v/l-3, f. 54r/l-17 (blot), f. 54v/l, f. 55r/10, f. 55v/20-2 and 24-5, f. 57r/l, f. 65r/2 and 15 (blots), f. 67v/21-2, f. 75v/l-6 and 8-24 (i.e., the whole page except for the writing in red), f. 77r/4-5 and 10-24 (streak), f. 84r/13-24 (streak), f. 86r/20-4, f. 86v/23-4, f. 103v/7, f. 106v/27-9, f. 119r/28-31 (blot), f. 120v/17, f. 12lr/21, f. 134r/24-9 (blot), f. 135r/23-30 (blot), f. 135v/17-28 (patch); see further Bock 2015: esp. 260-74, who finds a total of 33 leaves affected and notes that Maier treated 17 out of 89 erasures.

In 1910-11 the manuscript was sent for a heavy restaurazione carried out at the Vatican. For example, the last quire (ff. 129-135) lacks leaf 8 but f. 136 has been fused to it to form an apparent bifolium. But as noted by Ker (1957/91: 463) the pattern of wormholes indicates that f. 136 once stood back to front and the other way up at the front of the manuscript and the heading on the verso 'CVM PERU ENISSE[T]' (probably from Lk. 22:40 and associated with Homily I for Good Friday) being presently upside down confirms this deduction. F. 136 was once at the beginning of the volume, perhaps put there for protection, but was possibly originally the last leaf of quire XVIII, in which case it would have been the other way round, with hair side outside. There are paste-marks on f. 135v that suggest it was next to the binding, and these are consonant with f. 136 having been at the front of the volume when the manuscript received its medieval binding (assuming it did receive one). Nearly all scholars who have studied the manuscript in any detail have done so not knowing its state before the 1911 restaurazione.

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