Rare Books Blog

February 16, 2010

Fragment: Mahzor
Date: c. 1300-1500
Found in: Parsons, Robert. Elizabethae reginae Angliae edictum promulgatum Londini 29. Novemb. anni M.D. XCI. [Rome?: s.n.], 1593.

Alongside the many pieces of the Christian liturgy preserved in the Law Library’s bindings, we find a reminder that medieval Europe was home to many vibrant Jewish communities as well. Michael Rand, of the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem, has identified the fragment seen here is a folio from a mahzor, a Jewish service book used on the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and the pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot). According to Rand, the folio features a liturgical poem (piyyut) of a type called yotzer. This yotzer was used to celebrate Shavuot (which falls seven weeks after Passover and corresponds to the Christian feast of Pentecost). It is titled “Ayelet Ahevim Matnat Sinai” and deals with the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. The yotzer bears the name “Shim’on” in the acrostic, which has led some scholars to speculate that it was composed by the 10th-century poet Shim’on bar Yitshaq of Mainz. Rand points out that this particular poem was employed in the Ashkenazic, Roman (i.e. Italian), and Romaniote (i.e., Byzantine) prayer rites, and the formal script found here (called “square script”) appears to be Italian.

This fragment has been added to the online catalog of Hebrew manuscripts maintained by the Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel; the record (in Hebrew) can be viewed here. Thanks to Dr. Ezra Chwat of the National Library of Israel for cataloging the fragment and providing additional information about it.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 16, 2010

Fragment: Unknown
Date: 1350-1425
Found in: Repetitiones decem legum. [Paris: André Bocard for Jean Petit, 1507.]

The nature of the fragments used here as pastedowns is not entirely clear. The front pastedown (the first of the two images above) contains a list of benediction prayers for the Mass, some for the feast of the Virgin Mary (also known as the feast of the Assumption), and others more commonly associated with the feast of All Saints. Looking for clues on the other side of the leaf we find that the half-page of text there is severely effaced and of little help. Meanwhile, the rear pastedown (the second image) is a page from a completely unrelated manuscript (it appears to be a prayer book of some kind). We can say, however, that the front manuscript fragment is written in a low-quality version of the cursive book hand known as Anglicana, and appears to be English in origin. This judgment is supported by the fact that the title page bears an early inscription by “Cuthberti Shirbroke de Rockeland,” a cleric and doctor of canon law from a noted Norfolk family.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 16, 2010

Fragment: Legendary (Italy)
Date: c. 975-1075
Found in: Rolandinus, de Passageriis. Flos testamentorum. Padua: Matheus Cerdonis, 1482.

From the earliest days of Christianity, the faithful (and not-yet-faithful) were inspired by the words and deeds of particularly holy people, many of whom came to be regarded as saints. Hagiography (stories about the lives of the saints) was a popular genre of literature throughout the Middle Ages, and the Divine Office even contained daily readings about the Church’s early martyrs.

Among the oldest and most beautiful fragments in the Yale Law Library’s collection, the pastedowns of this incunable are taken from a manuscript recounting the lives of early saints. At the front (not displayed) we find part of the “Fabulous Deeds” (“Acta fabulosa”) of the apostle Saint Bartholomew, written by the Pseudo-Abdia Babylonio, probably in the early 10th century. At the rear, we find the end of the “Acta fabulosa” and the beginning of “The Passion of Saint Alexander, Pope and Martyr” (“Passio Sancti Alexandri martyris papae”). Looking out from his inhabited initial, a beautifully-rendered Saint Alexander gestures towards his tale with an outstretched hand. Note that the beginning (“CUM OMNIUM”) is also marked off by a special “display script,” in this case an all-capital script called Uncial, which after the 8th century was generally only used for headings like this one.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Richard Rouse (UCLA) for clarifying the origin of the manuscript fragment. From Elizabeth A. R. Brown (CUNY), Hope Mayo (Harvard University), Alison Stones (University of Pittsburgh), and David Ganz (King’s College London): “Hope Mayo says [the fragment] could go as late as [the 12th century], but probably earlier. [The fragment is from a] Legendary. Could be a big book – one needs to see verso + the fragment at the beginning [of the volume].” Here are images of the verso of the fragment shown above and of the companion fragment in the front pastedown of the volume.

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 15, 2010

In 15th- and 16th-century Europe, reusing and recycling was second nature. Linen rags were turned into paper, human urine was used to create lye, iron was melted down and refashioned. Bookbinders, for their part, cut apart discarded medieval manuscripts and reused the strong, flexible parchment in their bindings. Untold numbers of these fragments have survived until the present day, some completely hidden and others strikingly obvious. Each of these slips of parchment can help historians recover a bit more information about the distribution and popularity of medieval texts, the evolution of scripts, and the history of printing and binding.

The Yale Law Library houses nearly 150 early printed books whose bindings incorporate visible pieces of medieval manuscript. These fragments range in size from tiny scraps that can barely be seen, to entire sheets used to cover large volumes. Regardless of their size, each fragment offers both a keyhole peek into the medieval world, and a glimpse of Europe as it encountered the power of print.

In this exhibit we have tried to display books that reflect the diversity of medieval material that can be found in the Law Library’s bindings. As you explore, note the many styles and grades of medieval script, and the way scribes organized information and decoration on the page. Also, mark how bookbinders used the fragments, and the range of medieval texts to which they had access. (Bear in mind that books were often bound far from the city where they were printed.)

Only a small portion of the Law Library’s medieval material is featured in this exhibit. In addition to the many fragments, the Rare Book Collection holds 21 complete medieval legal manuscripts, and 136 books printed before 1500. If you would like to make use of these materials for your own research or teaching, please contact the Rare Book Librarian.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Fragments from a liturgical service book, ca. 1225-1325, bound in a volume of Year Book reports for the reign of Henry VI (London, 1500?-1547?). Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 15, 2010

Fragment: Bible
Date: Before c. 1100
Found in: Constitutiones marchie anconitane noviter emendate. [Perugia:] Franciscus Baldassaris, 1502.

Early Latin-speaking Christians used several versions of the books of the Bible, which had been translated piecemeal from Greek and Hebrew. Between 382 and 405, the scholar and theologian Saint Jerome translated anew the entire Old and New Testaments. Jerome was born in the Balkans, educated in Rome, and spent much of his life living in seclusion in the Levant. His new Latin translation—now referred to as the Vulgate—was highly influential and by the 13th century was effectively the standard text of the Bible.

The leaf of the Bible seen here is from a manuscript most likely produced in the 11th century, though possibly earlier, making it one of the oldest texts in the Law Library’s collection. The outside of the folio features most of chapters 38 and 39 from the Book of Ezekiel. While the visible portion of the fragment is quite plain, the text on the underside is marked by two colored initials. Note how an early owner of the Constitutiones marchie anconitane, not planning carefully enough when labeling it, was forced to create a unusual ligature of “M” and “A” within the abbreviation for “marchie.”

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 15, 2010

Fragment: Bible (Italy)
Date: c. 1100
Found in: La Pape, Guy de. Singularia Guidonis Papae. [Lyons: Jacob Giunta], 1540.

This example illustrates nicely one of the most common uses for medieval manuscript fragments in 15th- and 16th-century bindings: spine linings. Linings were used to reinforce the spines of books before their covers were applied, and the strength and flexibility of parchment made it an attractive choice for this duty. The Law Library has over thirty books with damaged covers that allow one to see medieval manuscript fragments used as linings; many other fragments no doubt remain hidden.

On these linings we see part of a Bible, in particular elements of Luke 1:39-40 and 1:46-47 along with both interlinear and marginal notations. These notations, known as the “gloss” (from the Latin glossa, meaning “glossary”), were assembled by scholars from a variety of commentaries on the Bible. By about 1170, manuscripts of glossed Bibles show enough similarities that one can speak of a standard or “ordinary” gloss. This ordinary gloss was an important tool for scholars and students working with scripture. As we can see elsewhere in this exhibit, glosses were also written for the core texts of Roman and canon law.

      – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Richard Rouse (UCLA) for clarifying the dating and origin of the manuscript fragment.

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

February 15, 2010

The liturgy of the Church in medieval Europe was built around two core elements: the Mass and the Divine Office. The Mass was a once-daily celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The Divine Office was a sequence of eight services that made up the devotional prayers of the canonical hours (Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline). Each day members of the clergy were supposed to attend or celebrate Mass and recite the entire Divine Office, though surely some priests found the process onerous and focused on the major services: Matins (a combination of Vigils and Lauds), the Mass, and Vespers. Laypeople were encouraged to attend Mass at least every Sunday (as well as on special feast days), but did not say the Divine Office (though lay devotional books based on the canonical hours did emerge in the 12th century).

The Christian liturgy was elaborately structured and changed from day to day, week to week, and season to season throughout the liturgical year. Furthermore, there were numerous regional variations. As a result, priests and clerics relied on service books to guide them through their local liturgy.

In the early Middle Ages, a “solemn” or “high” Mass was typically celebrated by a priest accompanied by a group of assisting ministers and a choir. They used four separate books: a sacramentary (the prayers), an epistolary (the Epistle readings), an evangelary (the Gospel readings), and a gradual (the sung elements). As demand increased for “private” or “low” Masses celebrated by a priest alone (primarily for the commemoration of the dead), the four books were combined into a single, more manageable volume. The “missal,” as this was called, almost completely replaced the separate service books by the early 13th century.

The story was similar for the Divine Office. Prior to the 11th century, several books were needed for its celebration, including an antiphonal (the musical elements), collectar (the prayers), lectionary (the scripture readings), martyrology (readings on the lives of the saints), and psalter (the Psalms). Eventually these were combined into a single volume, called a “breviary.” The popularity of breviaries grew rapidly in the early 13th century as the itinerant lifestyle of Franciscan and Dominican friars demanded a more portable service book.

It is possible that this consolidation rendered some sacramentaries, antiphonals, and other older service books obsolete, allowing their expensive parchment pages to become a source of durable bookbinding materials.

      – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Fragment of a Breviary, c. 1225-1325, found in Regis pie memorie Edwardi Tertii a quadragesimo ad quinquagesimum. London: Richard Tottell, 1565. Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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