Previous Exhibition: The History of the Book

While our previous exhibition sought to travel thorough Worlds Real and Imagined, we've taken time itself as the medium for our new exhibition, moving from the first century C.E. to the nineteenth, from giant genealogical rolls and giant bibles to woodcuts and fine engravings , and from papyrus to parchment to paper. While unfortunately it will be impossible to turn the pages of the printed volumes that you will see presented below, you can see larger versions of each thumbnail image by right-clicking on the image and selecting the 'open in a new tab' option. On the other hand, you can turn the pages of each of the manuscripts that you see below by clicking on the image itself, or simply zoom into the image on display by clicking the 'Show in ZPR Viewer' button below the thumbnail.

Before the Book

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 098: Genealogical Roll (Creation to temp. Edward IV)


c. 1470, England: Measuring over 39 feet (11.9 m) long and just short of 2 feet wide (42 cm) this large medieval scroll is among the longest of its type (of the 75 known and measured examples, only 5 are longer). Beginning with Adam and Eve, the principal line traces all the way down to Edward IV and his resumption to the English throne in 1470. In addition to the English genealogy, the royal families of France and Wales have also been included, along with the bloodlines of several noble houses connected with the royal court, namely the Lacy, Mortimer, Senyville, Plantagenet, Fitzobern, and Marshall families.

Evolving Materials

MS 541 (32)
MS 541 (33)
MS 541 (34)

PAPYRI FRAGMENTS (MS 541, 32 - 34)

First – Third Century AD: Prior to the invention of parchment or paper, papyrus was used as an early writing support. Formed of aquatic reeds which are peeled, cut into thin strips, soaked in water, then arranged into two perpendicular layers and compressed, papyrus was most commonly sold in scroll form, though some sheets may have been sold individually for record keeping and quotidian documentary needs. In this set of fragments only two are legible: MS 541 (34) is an official receipt for a payment of 6 drachmae datable to AD 98 – 117, while MS 541 (32) dates from the third century, and mentions an epistrategus, a high-ranking military or judicial official, though the context is unknown.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 627: Papal bull of Adrian IV (fragment)


1156, Rome: Believed to have once been part of the binding of one of Parker’s manuscripts (MS 183), this papal bull was written by Pope Adrian IV (1154 – 1159) and sent to Durham. The largest signature in the centre of the bull is that of Adrian himself, while the other signatories made their mark with a cross and then identify themselves by name and office afterwards. The many holes that appear regularly throughout the document are likely the result of this sheet of parchment being incorporated into the earlier binding.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 119: Letters Principally of Foreign Reformers


11 November 1527, Basel, Switzerland:

This letter, in Erasmus’s own hand, addresses queries that Martin Bucer seems to have posited in an earlier letter concerning Erasmus’s participation in the Reformation movements on the continent. Though the tone remains friendly, the letter largely condemns not only the ecclesiastical leaders of the Reformation, namely Zwingli, Luther, and Osiander, stating that they ‘wrangle amongst themselves in their nasty little books’, but also the zealotry and intolerant behaviour of their followers. After abruptly ending his letter, and perhaps regretting his harsh critiques of prominent Reformation thinkers, Erasmus entreats Bucer not to ‘spread the letter abroad lest it stir up some commotion’. On the opening above, the third page of Erasmus’s letter is visible on the right, while the left-hand side of the page offers a sixteenth-century transcription this same letter, likely made in response to Erasmus’s notoriously difficult handwriting.


The early letters, documents, bequests and charters connected to Corpus Christi College all bear the seal made by pressing the matrix displayed above into molten wax. The result is depicted in the image on the right where the two shields of our founding guilds are prominently featured while the upper register depicts the coronation of the Virgin, and the bottom is filled with figures, two of which appear to be physically holding a church. The box which is displayed with the matrix is where it is currently housed and was likely made in the 15th or 16th century

Before the Conquest: Book Production on the Continent and in England Prior to 1066

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 272: The Psalter of Count Achadeus


883 – 884, Rheims: Known as the Achadeus Psalter owing to a gilded inscription after Psalm 150 recording that Count Acadeus ordered the Psalter to be made, MS 272 also contains the Canticles, Psalter collects, a litany, and prayers. As the litany makes mention of Pope Marinus (882 – 884), King Carloman (882 – 883) and Fulk, bishop of Rheims (883 – 900) we know that the manuscript was made in France, but as the glosses to the Psalms, which are largely borrowed from Cassiodorus’s Expositio psalmorum, are written in a variation of English Caroline minuscule, we also know that the manuscript was in England by the at least the first quarter of the eleventh century. The size and elaborate character of the initial that begins Psalm 97 seen above speaks to the importance of this psalm, typically the first recitation at Saturday Matins in the medieval secular liturgy.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 304: Iuuencus, Euangelia metrica


Early Eighth Century, Spain or Italy: Juvencus was an aristocratic Spanish priest who composed this metrical paraphrase of the Gospels in the late fourth century. This manuscript is one of the earliest copies of the text and was likely written in either Spain or Italy – E. A. Lowe, an expert on the uncial script used in this volume states that this manuscript was likely made in Spain in the first edition of his Codices Latini Antiquiores, but changes his mind in his second edition, suggesting instead an Italian provenance. Regardless of the manuscripts origins, it can be conclusively identified as a manuscript listed in the medieval library catalogue of Christ Church, Canterbury.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 023: Anglo-Saxon Illustrated Prudentius. Orosius


Tenth century, England, Canterbury or Malmesbury Abbey: Prudentius’s most influential work, the Psychomachia, tells the story of a battle between the virtues and the vices in which the allied virtues are ultimately victorious. Our copy of the poem is coupled with particularly fine examples of Anglo-Saxon line drawing, which can be attributed to the Canterbury School, though a presentation inscription in the front of the book locates it to Malmesbury Abbey instead. Unlike the heavier style of decoration seen in most contemporary continental manuscripts, these light and airy line drawings are characteristic of English book production prior to the Norman Conquest.

After the Normans: English Book Production in the Century after the Norman Conquest

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 004: The Dover Bible, Volume II


Twelfth century (c. 1160), England, Christ Church, Canterbury: This majestic tome is part of one of the greatest Bibles produced at one of the most important religious houses in post-Conquest England. This is the second half of the magnificent two-volume ‘Giant Bible’ copied at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ Church, Canterbury in the late 1150s but intended for use at its dependent cell of St. Martin’s Priory at Dover, hence our modern naming of it as ‘The Dover Bible’. It was likely commissioned, possibly by Abbot Theobald (d.1161), for presentation to the newly-refounded community at Dover on the occasion of its consecration on 19 October 1160. Although this was undoubtedly one of the community’s most prized treasures, it was intended, and used, for formal reading at a lectern. The Bible ranks amongst the most important manuscripts in Parker’s collection, and contains some of England’s more magnificent Romanesque illuminations, featuring large decorated initials, many illuminated, throughout. That displayed here is one of its most famous. In this initial ‘S’ are illustrated a painter and his assistant, both laymen, at work. The painter (lower left) holds his brush in his right hand and an oyster shell containing his black paint in his left, while his assistant (upper right) is shown mixing paints on a stone slab.

Golden Gothic: Late Medieval Manuscripts from England and France

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 020: Apocalypse. Visio Sancti Pauli


c.1330-40, England, London / St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury: Lavishly illustrated with over a hundred pictures, the Corpus Apocalypse is one of the finest fourteenth-century illustrated copies of the Book of Revelations, written in Latin and in Anglo-Norman verse. The manuscript was illuminated in London, c.1340, made for Sir Henry de Cobham (d.1339) and was later bequeathed to St. Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, by Juliana de Leybourne (d.1367), countess of Huntingdon. It comprises a visionary text in which an angel escorts Saint Paul the Apostle on a tour of the underworld (based on a reference in II Corinthians 12:2-4), and he is shown the torments of Hell and the joys of Heaven. This superb full-page illustration at the end of the manuscript shows the consecration of King Edward II in the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey attended by the bishops of England and Wales (on 25th February 1308), showing the bringing in of the holy oil and chrism.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 141: Registrum bibliothece de Syon


c.1500, England, Syon Abbey: The Bridgettine Abbey of Syon, near London, was founded by Henry V in 1415 in honour of Saint Bridget (c. 1303-1373), the Swedish mystic. Almost uniquely in Britain, it was a double house, with both monks and nuns. This is the detailed Registrum, or catalogue of the magnificent library of the monks of Syon, compiled around 1500 by the librarian Thomas Betson (d. 1516). The collection is sub-divided into alphabetical classes, and the leather fore-edge tabs, a typical finding-aid in Syon books, helped its user to navigate the catalogue quickly and efficiently. Betson’s registrum is a carefully planned volume. Its pages are painstakingly designed and its contents neatly arranged, written in an elegant and well-formed script. The effect is one of harmonious, well-balanced order. Each volume’s entry comprises the class-mark letter (in red) and number (in black); the heading “2o fo” (in red), followed by a record of the volume’s title and sometimes contents. This system is explained in the three parallel ‘header’ sections at the top of this page, beginning “Nota”, “Hec” and “In ista”. The rest of the page contains the three entries for shelfmarks ‘A1’ through ‘A3’. On the facing blank page we see Parker’s addition of his own title for the volume – in his characteristic red crayon – as the “Registrum Bibliothace / De Syon”.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 540: Book of Hours (Use of Rome)


Late fourteenth century (c.1390-1400), France, Avignon : This charming little late fourteenth century French Book of Hours – or medieval personal prayer book - is a comparatively recent addition to our collection, purchased for the College at auction in 1923 by Lord Queenborough (d. 1949). This prayer book was made in Avignon in the final decade of the fourteenth century, probably commissioned by a patron who very likely lived locally. The book’s decoration and illumination are connected to a group of artists whose work has been identified in a clutch of other Books of Hours, one of whom is believed to be Jean de Toulouse, a celebrated artist documented as working in Avignon between 1378 and 1394 whose style is similar to that of another Parker manuscript, the Miroir des Dames (MS 324), which may have been illuminated for Jeanne d’Evreux, queen of France. The book contains many illuminated ornamental initials and borders plus eight half-page miniatures, such as this framed miniature of the Adoration of the Magi, featuring a background of gold diaper pattern on pale green, below which an ornamental initial of three lines with blue and pink ivy leaves on gold.

Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 007: Chronicle and Register of Benefactors of the Monastery of St Albans


Fifteenth century (c.1400-25), England, The Abbey of St. Albans: The Abbey of St. Albans was one of the largest and most important Benedictine houses in England, with a long tradition of historical writing. Almost 150 books may be identified as having survived from the medieval library of St Albans, including eleven acquired by Parker. As one might expect, the most important of Parker’s St. Albans acquisitions are chronicles. In addition to the Abbey’s copies of Matthew Paris’ autograph manuscripts of his Chronica maiora (MSS 26 and 16), and John of Tynemouth’s early 15th-century two-volume Historia Aurea of the Abbey (MSS 5 and 6), Parker acquired this majestic volume, MS 7, which contains the Chronicle of the Abbey (Chronica) and its continuations by the St. Albans chronicler Thomas Walsingham (c. 1370-c. 1422), together with a finely illustrated copy of the same author’s celebrated Register of its Benefactors (Registrum Benefactorum Sancti Albani). These are vital accounts for the history of St. Alban’s, chronicling the history of the community and preserving records of its members and benefactors. Numerous illustrations commemorate many of them, mostly as busts or heads, but a privileged few are depicted as full figures. Principal amongst this privileged elite was the abbey’s Founder, King Offa of Mercia (d.796), shown here holding a model of the Church and charters adorned with seals, resplendent above his glowing description as “Gloriosus Rex Offa merciorum”.

The Birth of Print: Woodblock, Incunabula, and Mentions of Gutenberg


c.1460, Possibly from the Netherlands: The Biblia pauperum are probably the best known type of medieval Picture Bibles. They are amongst the earliest books ever printed in the West, and the commonest works put out in block-book form, beginning in the 1430s and continually throughout the fifteenth century, mainly in the Netherlands and Germany. Unlike printing with moveable type, in which letters and numbers can be freely rearranged, block books like the Biblia pauperum were produced by carving the negative image of an entire page, both the text and the images, into a single wood-block, which was then inked and pressed against the paper. Their content lies somewhere between Bibles and biblical commentaries, and their pages privilege image over text, illustrating typological correspondences between the Old and New Testaments, that is to say they highlight parallels between episodes from the respective Testaments. Their title, Biblia pauperum, which roughly translates as ‘Bibles of the Poor’, is a relatively modern one and is entirely misleading, for most copies were made for the religious education and delight of a wealthy and educated lay readership. Each of the central scenes is taken from the New Testament: in this opening, ‘The Baptism of Christ’ and ‘Satan Tempts Christ in the Wilderness’, flanked by images depicting the typological precedents from the Old Testament for these central images, thus on the Right-hand page, the central illustration of ‘The Temptation of Christ’ is accompanied on its left by scene of Jacob and Esau and on its right, by one of Adam and Eve in Paradise.


1483, Westminster, pr. William Caxton: Jacobus de Voragine’s Legenda aurea, more commonly known as ‘The Golden Legend’, is a collection of hagiographies, or saints’ lives, likely compiled around the year 1260. It was one of the most widely-read works of late medieval Europe and over a thousand manuscript copies survive. This volume was amongst the first titles printed by the English merchant, writer, printer and bookseller William Caxton (c. 1422- c. 1491), widely credited as the first person to introduce the printing press into England, in 1476. This is a copy of Caxton’s first edition of the work, the first printed English translation of the text. It is therefore not only one of the first books Caxton printed in the English language but also numbers amongst the first books printed in England. This opening shows the beginning of the entry for St. Christopher (named variously “Seynt Cristophre” or “Cristofre”), the early Christian saint revered for having carried the Christ Child across a dangerous river on his shoulders as shown in this woodcut.


1497, Augsburg, pr. Johann Schönsperger: This is Parker’s copy of Schedel’s vast Liber Chronicarum (the second Latin edition) often referred to as ‘The Nuremberg Chronicle’, first printed in 1493 by Anton Koberger in Nuremberg, hence its name. It is one of the most famous incunabula (i.e. printed books produced before 1500) ever printed and amongst the first the successfully integrate illustrations and text. Including over 1800 woodcut illustrations, it was an immense undertaking to record the history of the world from creation until the end of the fifteenth century. On this page Parker noted the invention of printing in Mainz in 1440.


1554, Basel, pr. Heinrich Petri: This opening contains Münster’s account of the invention of the “Ars impressoria”, or ‘art of printing’ in Mainz, an accomplishment which Münster attributes, through crediting him with the invention of the printing press, to one ‘Johannes Gutenberg, a noble knight’ (“autor Iohannes Gutenbergius, equestri uir di-gnitate”). This accreditation is accompanied by a charming woodcut of the great man’s famous book, which must be amongst the earliest pictures of a Gutenberg Bible ever printed.

Moving Towards Modern: Fine Engravings with a Connection to Corpus Christi


1831, Cambridge, pr. J. Smith: In the mid-eighteenth century, Fellow – but not Master - of Corpus, Robert Masters (1713-1798) published his two-part history of the College entitled the HISTORY of the COLLEGE of CORPUS CHRISTI and the B. VIRGIN MARY (Commonly called BENE’T) in the UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE, From its Foundation to the present Time (pub. 1753 and 1758). A little under a century later, John Lamb (Master 1822-50) published an updated and extended edition of Masters’ mighty tome with only a slightly shorter title and replete with “additional matter and a continuation to the present time”, viz. 1831. Lamb’s edition also incorporated several illustrative lithographic plates providing supplementary illustrations and heraldic imagery relating to the history of the College, its Masters and members. This is we see the first of these plates, accompanying Lamb’s first chapter, “Of the Gilds of Corpus Christi and the Blessed Virgin Mary”, providing illustrations of the seals of the patrons and organisations associated with the foundation of the College in the mid-fourteenth century.


1688, England, Cambridge: David Loggan (1634 – 1692) was a painter, draughtsman, and engraver. Born in Gdansk, he moved first to London and then to Oxford in 1669 when he was appointed the ‘public sculptor’ to the University. Having completed his Oxonia Illustrata, a set of engravings that depict every college in Oxford, in 1675, Loggan then embarked upon the same project for the Cambridge Colleges in the following year. The current opening depicts the College of Corpus Christi, with several noticeable differences: namely New Court, where you’re currently standing, hasn’t yet been built. Nevertheless, Matthew Parker’s collection of manuscripts and printed books was already here, kept in between the Chapel and the Master’s Lodge.