Posted by Digitisation Team on 5th May 2020

Colour your own medieval manuscript, part 2

Durham Cathedral Library MS B.II.34 Florus of Lyons, Collectaneum in epistolas Pauli (Corinthians-Hebrews)

Welcome to the second instalment of ‘Colour your own medieval manuscript’. We hope you enjoyed Part 1 – Durham Cathedral Library MS A.IV.10 Matthew, glossed and have now honed your illuminating skills and gained an insight into what it was like to be a medieval artist!

This week we have a sadly neglected initial ‘P’ from the beginning of II Corinthians in Durham Cathedral Library MS B.II.34 Florus of Lyons, Collectaneum in epistolas Pauli (Corinthians-Hebrews), written in England in the late 12th century. We can only wonder at what caused it to be missed, as the rest of the manuscript has been beautifully painted. It is carefully drawn out, with entwined symmetrical foliage, along with curls, blossoms and the odd dragon. It should, perhaps, have looked like this one at the beginning of I Corinthians, on f.2r:

Coloured initial on f.2r of Durham Cathedral Library MS B.II.34
Coloured initial on f.2r of Durham Cathedral Library MS B.II.34 Florus of Lyons, Collectaneum in epistolas Pauli (Corinthians-Hebrews), click to open manuscript

Other examples of the colour scheme it might have had can be seen on f.125v, f.150r and f.185r. You can find out more about the decoration in the volume from its catalogue entry:

Letters of a similar design can also be found in Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.19, Peter Lombard, On the Epistles of St Paul, which may be familiar to those of you who have been lucky enough to get your hands on one of our DPLR project bookmarks. These initials use a variety of pinks (f.277v), reds (f.4v) and blues (f.200r), highlighted of course, in gold. (To lift up the fabric covers on the manuscript, click on the ‘Layers’ tab, and then check the ‘visible’ box on the second layer.)

You don’t have to use traditional manuscript colours, we’re just using this as an excuse to show you more of our amazing manuscripts, so it’s worth looking at this wonderful scribe (and the chap down at the bottom) as well: Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.3 Bible, f2r. You can also see some lovely embellishments of the other initials on this page, why not add some to your image!

Coming next time: a full page image from Cassiodorus on the Psalms.

Posted by Digitisation Team on 23rd April 2020

Colour your own medieval manuscript!

A.II.3 f.279v Scribe
This could be you! (Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.3 f.279v)

Part 1 – Durham Cathedral Library MS A.IV.10 Matthew, glossed

Have you ever wanted to have a go at illuminating a medieval manuscript? Well, now is your chance!

With at least another couple of weeks of lockdown to go (here in the UK), we thought we might be able to use our stunning manuscripts to help you pass your time in a relaxing and inspirational way. As it turns out, a few of our manuscripts are not quite as stunning as they should be!

We have been searching out illustrations and initials that, for reasons now lost to history, were never quite finished – never coloured in vibrant hues or burnished with gold, never achieving their full glory, forced to languish through century after century in a dull monochrome. We need your help to put this right!

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing blog posts with an unfinished image that you can download and colour in, either digitally or printed out. You can use our other manuscripts for inspiration and historical accuracy, or you can go wild and give these images your own 21st century twist. Gold leaf is optional.

Our first offering is a full-page drawing from Durham Cathedral Library MS A.IV.10 (Matthew, glossed) showing Christ and the evangelists. This book was written in Northern France in the late 12th century and was presented to Durham Priory by Hugh de Puiset, bishop of Durham.

In the image, the youthful Jesus sits within a mandorla (the almond-shaped frame), blessing with his right hand and holding a book with his left. He is surrounded by four figures, in the top left is Matthew, receiving a scroll and pointing to Christ. The figure with the eagle head in the top right is John, who is also receiving a scroll and pointing to Christ. In the bottom left is Mark, shown with a lion’s head, who is writing in an open book, while Luke is in the bottom right, with an ox’s head, pointing to an open book. Both Mark and Luke are being blessed by a hand emerging from a celestial arc. The association of the evangelists with these animals can also be seen in the Lindisfarne Gospels, which is in the British Library.

If you are colouring digitally, you can download the original image as a full page or by itself, both with a slightly tidied up background to make them easier to colour. If you prefer more of a ‘colouring book’ feel or you want to print out and colour by hand, there is also an option with a white background:

DCL MS A.IV.10 f.1r full page, still in the manuscript
DCL MS A.IV.10 f.1r full page, still in the manuscript
DCL MS A.IV.10 f.1r just the image, A4 size
DCL MS A.IV.10 f.1r just the image, A4 size

We hope you enjoy colouring this beautiful image. Coming next week (…or possibly the week after): an unfinished initial P!

Posted by Digitisation Team on 16th April 2020

Project update, April 2020

Detail from MS B.II.33 f.2v Peter of Poitiers, Compendium historiae; Isidore, Etymologiae, Sententiae, recently uploaded (click to open manuscript)

Latest news from the DPLR project

The Libraries at Durham University and Durham Cathedral are now closed to the public until further notice, and the project staff are working from home. Much though we would like to, we can’t take our cameras and manuscripts home with us, so sadly, digitisation has been suspended for the time being.

We were excited to upload our 200th manuscript (MS. C.I.16 – Aristotle, Logica vetus et nova) earlier this year, and we now have a total of 216 books and manuscripts available online; the most recent addition being MS. B.I.17, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III and Scriptum super Sententiis (liber IV). We hope that you will continue to use our currently available resources to further your research (or to simply pass the time by looking at something amazing and beautiful!).

Work on the project has not stopped. We had already started building a new, expanded website and we will continue to take this forward, in the hope of launching it later this year. We will also continue to review, update and expand all of our online resources. If you are a regular user of this WordPress site ( or our Mediawiki (, and you have any suggestions for how they can be improved, do send us your ideas.

As always, we are interested in your research and would love to hear how you are using the digital manuscripts. If you want to share your work with us, please send a few paragraphs and image suggestions that we can publish on this blog.


Best wishes, stay safe and take care of yourselves,
The DPLR project team

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