Posted by Digitisation Team on 25th September 2019

Decorations in Pierre Bersuire’s ‘Repertorium morale’

This week’s guest blog is from Kathleen E. Kennedy, Associate Professor of English at Penn State Brandywine on Pierre Bersuire’s Repertorium morale.

Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.19B - Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 3, part 2, f.498v
Detail from Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.19B – Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 3, part 2, f.498v

Durham Cathedral’s copy of Pierre Bersuire’s Repertorium morale is an excellent introduction to English ecclestical book production in the late Middle Ages. Enormous compendia like the Repertorium were laboriously compiled to assist in crafting one of the most widely popular forms of late-medieval media: sermons. A sort of sermon-maker’s dictionary, the Repertorium offered biblical facts under keywords organized in alphabetical order.

Durham’s copy of the Repertorium is especially poignant, as it was apparently left to the cathedral library by English chancellor and Durham bishop Thomas Langley, just before his death in 1437. Langley’s own life is just as exempletive as the volume, offering an excellent example of the careerist politician-churchman that was vital to late medieval statesmanship. Yet, for all of Langley’s unflagging support for the Lancastrian dynasty, he was also a man of the faith of his time. Recognizing that his political career had left his ecclesiastical duties a distant second for many decades, he turned in the last decade of his life to Durham, and sought to devote his considerable energies to his see at last.

Providing the library with a copy of the Repertorium was precisely the sort of work Langley might have been particularly keen on in this decade, as the text could materially assist in the writing and delivery of quality sermons long after the bishop was gone. Moreover, donating a copy of the Repertorium demonstrated both wealth and personal network, and such ostentatiously calculated piety was standard practice in Langley’s era. The substantial quantity of parchment and extended services of copyists needed for such an undertaking (almost 2500 pages of text) cost dearly. Further, one had to have the connections necessary in order to find a complete copy of the Repertorium to use as an exemplar in the first place. After a lifetime in government service, Langley had more than deep enough pockets, and his decades in London furnished him with the contacts to complete this major commission.

The three-volume set demonstrates various strategies that book artisans employed in order to fill large orders within a reasonable span of time. Each volume was completed by a different team of artisans. The Repertorium as a text was primarily utilitarian, and so, at minimum, required only basic ink decoration as visual cues to the text’s organization. However, Langley also purchased some more expensive, illuminated initials for each volume, highlighting the beginning of some of the alphabetical sections. These initials are in three different styles. The first is a standard style used in French manuscripts of these decades, and the flourishing is also continental in style, rather than being English. The scribe signed his name, Johnnes de Fonte, in a scribal colophon more commonly used by continental scribes than English scribes. While entirely professional, the second volume’s script is less elegant than de Fonte’s hand, and the flourishing is English in style, including elaborately decorated catchwords on shaded scrolls. This volume’s illuminated initials show an English style and distinctive use of green on the stalks of sprays. This volume might reward closer study to see if it can be related to volumes known to be decorated in the North.

Detail from Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.18A - Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 2, part 1, f.9v
Detail from Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.18A – Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 2, part 1, f.9v

The third volume, now split into two parts (part one here, part two here), provides our concentration for this post. Its script is even more workmanlike than that of the second volume. Alone of the three, we know quite a bit about the artists hired to decorate a half-dozen borders in this volume. In almost every respect this was an unusual project for the artists, known as the Followers of the Corpus Master, to have decorated. Active in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, the Followers made books for very elite clientele, including the French dauphin, Charles d’Orlèans, and a series of chancellors and high clergy including Thomas Langley, Thomas Bourchier, and John Wheathamstead. Yet, the majority of their body of work were small devotional manuscripts: books of hours and psalters. They produced very few two-column manuscripts such as the Repertorium, and exceptions, like their copies of the Wycliffite New Testament and the massive Prayerbook of Charles d’Orlèans, prove the rule. The prayerbook illustrates an even larger team effort than the Repertorium. According to Gilbert Ouy (2000), it seems to have been ordered and produced very rapidly just before Charles’ return to France in 1440, and Kathleen Scott (1996) believed it took many scribes and over a dozen artists to complete its thousand pages. As in the Prayerbook, the Followers of the Corpus Master decorated only a few initials in the Repertorium. I have suggested elsewhere that at least some members of the Followers were clergy and thus not supporting themselves on the proceeds of their art (2017). Commissions like the Repertorium further support that hypothesis. While laypeople increasingly crafted books in the later Middle Ages, clergy continued to serve as book artisans as well, creating both simple utilitarian volumes and luxurious art objects.

According to Scott, the Followers, and their teacher the Corpus Master, were innovators in English art, introducing a range of continental motifs and colors to England while producing delicate, lively borders and initial art in a recognizably English style. The group’s high-end clientele seem to have enjoyed this hybrid style, and these features spread widely into English art over time. In the Repertorium we see a relatively narrow range of these motifs, suited to the limited number of initials and borders completed by these artists. Each spray features a different colored motif that is further decorated with small, gold motifs. The borders shows capable, if restrained dimensionality–acanthus leaves twine about bars, and gold backgrounds are pierced by vines developing into sprays. Floral aroid forms reigned over English style for decades beginning in this period, including in other examples of the Followers’ work, but appear here in small forms, and in moderation. From border to border straight sprays vary with lively curling sprays that hallmark this group’s style, and the green lobes topped with stacks of bubble-like circles ending in a lobed tail increase the light, almost frothy effect on the page. In comparison to the sprays, in this volume the initials are large and fine, but not especially innovative.

Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.19B - Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 3, part 2, f.380r
Durham Cathedral Library MS. A.I.19B – Pierre Bersuire, Repertorium morale, volume 3, part 2, f.380r

I frequently claim that one can teach an entire course with any medieval manuscript, but Durham’s copy of Peter Bersuire’s Repertorium is unusually rich. Through it we can explore both late medieval English mortuary piety and popular media and religion. Considered together, these volumes offer illustrations of a wide range of book producing techniques, and enable a relatively unusual view into the work of a specific group of illuminators. Though its physical size may be daunting, these volumes richly repay the time that we spend with them.

Kathleen E. Kennedy
Associate Professor of English, Penn State Brandywine

Posted by Richard Higgins on 25th April 2019

Our latest research fellow, Graziana Ciola

Hello, everyone! I am currently the Zeno Karl Schindler Foundation/Lendrum post-doctoral fellow for the Durham Priory Library Project.
I am a historian of medieval logic and philosophy. I specialise in 14th century logic and natural philosophy. I completed a PhD in Philosophy at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, defending a doctoral thesis on Marsilius of Inghen’s Treatise on Consequences, and came to join the Priory Library team in Durham from UCLA. The manuscripts definitely make up for the weather! I am particularly interested in the articulations of the motions of logical following and rationality throughout history.
My current research focuses on the impact of Richard de Bury’s Durham Circle on the development of logic and philosophy in the 14th century and beyond. I will be posting updates here on my ongoing research, particularly on the Durham Cathedral  C.IV manuscripts, i.e. most of the logical and scientific manuscripts from the Priory Library’s collection. Expect many oddities and hopefully a few breakthroughs! Page from Aristotle’s Logica nova, with commentary DCL MS C.IV.27, f.60r
Posted by Richard Higgins on 28th March 2019

Using the features of IIIF

The Priory project has followed the IIIF standards for making our images of Priory books as open and usable as possible. In return we have already gained many benefits, not just from sharing technology but also access to Priory books held and digitised by other institutions. Part of working with open source software and standards is the obligation to participate in their development: simply using them helps to spread the influence and build their reputation, but where possible it is important to contribute towards development.

As creators and end-users of the project infrastructure we can identify different requirements which may not be apparent (or at the time relevant) to others. When talking about the origins, creation and subsequent use of books there is a need to be able to take the audience to a particular place on a specific page of a book to illustrate the point. This has been difficult so far in IIIF: at best a browser-specific solution got you near, but there wasn’t a part of the standard that combined the precision of the image api (here is the part of the image to look at) with the scope of the presentation api (here we are at a page within a book). So when a new IIIF api was announced for content state – “to describe a standardized format which enables the sharing of a particular view of one or more IIIF Presentation API resources” – it seemed that a solution was available, a neutral way of expressing the specific target within the image within the book. In section 4.1 the api defines the correct way to express the resource in JSON, so all that was needed was to build a tool to create the JSON and enable a browser to use it to perform the required action.

The JSON required is

{ "@context": "", "id": "", "type": "Annotation", "motivation": ["highlighting"], "target": { "id": ",2000,1000,2000", "type": "Canvas", "partOf": [{ "id": "", "type": "Manifest" }] }}

most of this is boilerplate, but lines 6 and 9 are significant and require input. Three values are required: the manifest, the canvas and an area on that canvas defined as xywh coordinates. Any viewer displaying a page will know the manifest and canvas ids, so retrieving them is straightforward, all that is required is a means of identifying and storing the xywh values. An existing tool provided this function, so could be adapted to provide access to the three required variables. Added to a means of browsing manifests, this can be used to navigate to the relevant image with a tool like here clicking on either image cropper button gives access to the image.

For another example, using an image hosted by the Wellcome Institute, an artist’s interpretation of designer DNA channels which selectively transport cargo through a biological membrane (CC-BY Michael Northrop/Wellcome Images). In the picture there are a lot of blue balls (the image has been chosen as one I have no technical knowledge about). If one of them is significant and I need to draw attention to it, then something along the lines of fifth one down third one from the left is probably inadequate. Drawing a box around it is a more reliable means of getting the right one.

CC-BY Michael Northrop/Wellcome Images CC-BY Michael Northrop/Wellcome Images

Information about the image and the selected area can be viewed and copied, along with the correct JSON required by the api. This is displayed in readable text but copied encoded as base 64, the recommended way of passing text via http. More about the code for this can be found at

The other half of the task is to process this in a viewer and display it correctly. There are several viewers available, and the point of the api is that this will work with any viewer, but we needed to start somewhere so decided to add the feature to our existing Mirador viewer. We use a modified version of Mirador 2: as development on Mirador 2 has now ceased and work is well under way on Mirador 3 it was easier to work with the production version 2 rather than 3, but it was clearly not worth doing too much work on an about to become obsolete version. What we could establish was a demonstration of the way it could look and work that would make adding it to Mirador 3 easier later on.

The early test version zoomed in on the target area and placed it centre screen, which worked up to a point. Zooming depends upon the size of the image and the size of the target: a small image with a large area selected is not easy to define, and the focus of a small area selected in an image at maximum zoom raises similar problems. The answer was to use the annotation facility of the viewer (a standard IIIF feature) to draw a box defined by the xywh value. Once this had been added there was still a need to add an explanation as to what the box meant, which could also be done using the standard annotation features by adding it as a resource. An extra javascript file was added containing the functions to recognise and process the JSON.

So you can now view the right blue ball:
or find a small house on a large map:
and for the Priory Project point to the feature in St John’s College, Oxford MS 154 that shows that it was a Durham Priory book:
Posted by Richard Higgins on 29th January 2019

Who Consults the Durham Cathedral Library Manuscripts and Why

By Catherine Monahan

In a recent trip to England, I visited Durham Cathedral in hopes of viewing several of the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts found in the Cathedral Library. As the Managing Editor of the Dictionary of Old English, I was looking forward to seeing the actual manuscripts rather than the poor copies which we consult regularly during the process of writing entries for the Dictionary of Old English (DOE). I was particularly interested in the Durham Ritual (Durham Cathedral MS A.IV.19) and a small Latin – Old English glossary of herb names found in Durham Cathedral MS Hunter 100.

Each of these two manuscripts provide particular points of interest when it comes to dealing with their content.

The Durham ritual is a tenth-century Latin manuscript which (like the Lindisfarne Gospels) has had a running gloss of Old English added in tiny script above each Latin word. What is unusual about this particular manuscript is that the Old English is highly abbreviated with many atypical spellings. When we write a dictionary entry for any Old English word, we try to include all the known spellings and the Durham Ritual provides many that do not occur anywhere else in the extant Old English corpus.

Durham Cathedral MS Hunter 100 is a manuscript written at Durham shortly after 1100 and it piqued our interest because it contains, in its glossary of herb names, the earliest instance we can find of the word lavender (predating that noted in the Oxford English Dictionary).

As it happened, I was unable to see either manuscript since the Durham Ritual is presently a part of the British Library exhibit, “Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War” and Hunter 100 is too fragile for display. Most fortunately, both manuscripts are now available as part of the “Durham Priory Library Recreated” project, and can therefore be viewed online. When several members of our project visited the digital site, we were very impressed with the high quality of the manuscript images. They are a huge improvement over what was previously available to us and as such, a great boon to Anglo-Saxon scholars.

About DOE

The Dictionary of Old English (DOE) defines the vocabulary of the first six centuries (C.E. 600-1150) of the English language, using twenty-first century technology. The DOE complements the Middle English Dictionary (which covers the period C.E. 1100-1500) and the Oxford English Dictionary, the three together providing a full description of the vocabulary of English.

The Dictionary of Old English (DOE) is a research project based at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. Begun in the 1970s as a ground-breaking foray into the digital humanities, the DOE has two distinct areas of focus. First, it has assembled and digitized the entire extant literature written in Old English between CE 600 and 1150. Every written word, including poetry, charms, inscriptions on jewelry and on stone, historical and legal documents, botanical and medical texts, has been input to build an electronic corpus of Old English. Second, the DOE treats this digital corpus as the master source for the dictionary. Before defining any word, the editors of the DOE survey each and every example of it occurring in this corpus, reviewing, analyzing and organizing the evidence to produce an entry that documents every nuance of the word.

example entry from online dictionary of Old English

The Dictionary of Old English has published online eleven fascicles to date, which cover the first ten letters – A to I – of the 22-letter Old English alphabet. We are presently working on drafting entries beginning with the letter L.

A notable feature of the online DOE: A to I is the incorporation of manuscript images. These images, which allow readers to see contested passages, enable DOE users to examine manuscript evidence for themselves. As more manuscripts become available online, we hope to expand the number of these links to problematic passages.

Visit our webpage ( to check out our Word of the Week section, a selection of words from unpublished entries; the weekly word can be received by email on request. We also have an “Adopt-a-Word” campaign where Old English enthusiasts can support the writing of their favourite Anglo-Saxon word. Here are just a few to chose from:

lācnestre ‘female physician’

lamb ‘lamb’

lǣcecræft ‘medicine’

lāþ ‘repulsive’

lāþian ‘to loathe’

lēof ‘beloved’

lēogan ‘to tell a lie’

lēoht ‘bright’

leornian ‘to learn’

lufu ‘love’

lust ‘desire’

Posted by Richard Higgins on 24th November 2018

Identifying pigments used in manuscripts

‘Team Pigment’ a group of historians and chemists from Durham and Northumbria Universities are currently analysing manuscripts from the 5th to the 15th century in order to ascertain which pigments are dyes were used in the creation of these splendid works. In a previous blog post, the reasons why ‘Team Pigment’ are researching this area were discussed. In this blog post I am to give an overview into ‘how’ pigments are analysed.

Several methods can be used to identify pigments on the page, one of which is Diffuse Reflectance Spectroscopy (DRS). This method utilises the fact that visible light reflected from a sample produces an individual spectrum dependant on the nature of a sample. For example a white light shined on the blue pigment lapis lazuli will produce a spectrum as shown below on the left. This shows reflectance in the blue part of the spectrum but also some towards the red end of the spectrum. The diffuse reflectance spectrum of a different blue pigment, smalt, is shown below on the right. This spectrum again shows reflectance in the blue and red areas of the spectrum, but in a different pattern from that of lapis lazuli. In this way, and when compared to known samples, pigments in manuscripts may be discerned even when to the naked eye the samples look the same.

Diffuse reflectance spectra of lapis lazuli and smalt both identical to the human eye

However, diffuse reflectance has its limitations, as some pigments produce very similar spectra. Infrared spectroscopy is another tool that can be used and which works in a similar way to diffuse reflectance but in the infra-red portion of the spectrum.

Yet another tool, and one which ‘Team Pigment’ are developing with high-specification and portable equipment, is Raman spectroscopy. This technique identifies vibrations in molecules to produce a Raman spectrum of bands at certain wavenumbers. When compared to library data the sample can be ascertained. Below is a manuscript from Durham Cathedral that has been examined. The Raman spectrum of the pigments gives us conclusive evidence about which pigments were used to decorate the page.

Raman spectra of an illustration in A.II.10, part of a 7th Century Gospel Book

Alongside these three techniques, multi-spectral imaging is also used. This is where light of different wavelengths are shone onto the page being examined, and a picture is taken using a filter at a specific wavelength. This can sometimes reveal under painting or writing, as well as providing further information about pigments. We can even see if anyone has sneezed on the page, as the sneeze shows as a luminous splatter in ultra-violet light!

Louise Garner, Durham, October 2018