Rare Books Blog

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.

February 11, 2010

Nearly 150 early printed books in the Yale Law Library have bindings that incorporate visible pieces of medieval manuscript. A number of these books are featured in the latest exhibit from the Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, “Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings.” The exhibit is on display through May 2010 in the Law Library.

In 15th- and 16th-century Europe, recycling was second nature. Bookbinders, for their part, cut apart discarded medieval manuscripts and reused the strong, flexible and expensive parchment in their bindings. These scraps reveal information about the distribution and popularity of medieval texts, the evolution of scripts, and the history of printing and binding. A precious few of them preserve the only surviving fragments of long-lost texts.

The exhibit reflects the diversity of medieval material in the Law Library’s bindings. The Bible and liturgical manuscripts are well represented, some with early forms of musical notation. Four of the law books contain legal texts in their bindings. Other examples include a sermon, a fragment of Cicero, and two Hebrew manuscripts. One of the fragments is the oldest item in the Law Library’s collection, dating from around 975-1075.

While most of the fragments are identified and tentatively dated, a couple remain mysteries. The exhibit coincides with the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, March 18-20 at Yale University. Conference attendees will be invited to try their hand at identifying the fragments.

The exhibit was curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, and Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library.

The Rare Books Exhibition Gallery is located in the lower level of the Lillian Goldman Law Library (Level L2), directly in front of the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Reading Room. For those unable to visit the exhibit in person, it will appear in installments here on the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog. Additional images are available in the Law Library’s Flickr gallery.


February 5, 2010

One of my favorite events each year is the visit by the students from the Yale Law School’s Linkages Program. Over a dozen law students from Argentina, Brazil and Chile visited the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room on February 5. The items they viewed included Fori Aragonum [Laws of Aragon] (Zaragoza, 1496), with a splendid hand-colored shield of the city of Huesca and what one expert recently called the finest early Spanish binding he’d ever seen. I also put out our facsimile of the Treaty of Tordesillas, the agreement between Spain and Portugal that is the reason some of the students speak Spanish and others Portuguese. As usual, they had lots of questions and we had a great time. ¡Bienvenidos!

Rare Book Librarian

January 12, 2010

The January 12, 2010 issue of the Yale Daily News has an excellent article on our "Images of Justice" exhibit, curated by my intern Seth Quidachay-Swan of Southern Connecticut State University. Thanks to the reporter, Alison Greenberg, for a well-written piece.

Rare Book Librarian

December 22, 2009

The Lillian Goldman Law Library prides itself on having what may be the best collection of early Italian statutes in the Western Hemisphere. However, our collection will never come close to matching the superb collection of statuti at the Biblioteca del Senato della Repubblica “Giovanni Spadolini” (the library of the Italian Senate).

It was a great privilege to tour the Biblioteca del Senato and its statute collection on a recent visit to Rome, courtesy of Dr. Raissa Teodori, Head of Special Collections, and Dr. Alessandra Casamassima (Special Collections Cataloger).


L-R: Alessandra Casamassima, Emma Widener, Mike Widener, Raissa Teodori.

Dr. Teodori gave an excellent overview of the library’s special collections at the 25th Annual Pre-Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)-Library and Research Services for Parliaments, in August 2009, which is available as a PDF file. In addition, there is a published guide to the collection, co-authored by Teodori, Casamassima and Dr. Sandro Bulgarelli (Director of the Biblioteca del Senato): Le Radici Della Nazione: La Storia Delle Citta Italiane Nella Biblioteca Del Senato Statuto Dei Comuni E Libri Antichi Di Storia Locale Dal XIII Al XIX Secolo (Skira, 2004).

The Senate library and its sister library from the lower house of the Italian Parliament, the Biblioteca della Camera, recently moved into a common building on the Piazza Minerva, next to the Pantheon. Both libraries have superb reading rooms and a strong emphasis on service to the general public as well as to legislators.

The library’s building is itself a historic monument. Formerly the mother house of the Dominican Order, it was the site of Galileo’s trial for heresy. The adjoining church, the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, is the only Gothic church in Rome, and contains the tombs of four popes, St. Catherine of Siena, the painter Fra Angelico, and an important figure in legal history, the canonist Guillaume Durand (d. 1296), author of the Speculum iudiciale, “the most widely used procedural treatise of the Middle Ages” (Kenneth Pennington, Medieval Canonists A Bio-Bibliographical Listing).


Rare Book Librarian

Piazza Minerva in Rome, with the Biblioteca del Senato on the left, the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva on the right, and Bernini’s elephant at center.


December 22, 2009

“Images of Justice” is an exhibit prepared by Seth Quidachay-Swan, who recently completed an internship in the Lillian Goldman Law Library as part of his work toward a Master’s in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State University. Seth will receive his M.L.S. in January 2010, and he also has a J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School (2008).

In his research for the exhibit, Seth drew on Images of Justice, 96 YALE LAW JOURNAL 1727 (1987), by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis of the Yale Law School. This article has evolved into a book that will be out soon: Judith Resnik & Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: From Renaisance Town Halls to 21st Century Democratic Courtrooms (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2010).

The exhibit is on display on Level L2 of the Law Library, in the wall case to the left of the door to the Paskus-Danziger Rare Book Room.


The image of Justice has been around for over 2000 years. Her lineage traces back to Egypt, Greece and Rome, in depictions of the goddesses Ma’at, Themis, Dike and Justitia. During the medieval period, Justice was adopted by Christian iconography as a representation of ancient virtue. Images of Justice were also common in Renaissance art and texts. Even today, Justice remains recognizable. Her image adorns many modern government buildings and court houses.

Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (Amsterdam, 1735).

Today, Justice is most recognizable as a blindfolded woman with a sword and scales. However, earlier depictions of Justice displayed a wide array of allegorical meanings. Justice’s iconic scales measure the strength of a case. Images of a dog and snake with Justice are thought to represent friendship and hatred that could corrupt judgment. Sometimes, Justice’s sword is replaced with a fasces, the Roman symbol of a judge’s power to punish. Two-faced depictions of Justice sought to dispel fears of blind justice morphing into blind fury by prudently leaving one face unblindfolded to carefully wield her sword in meting out judgments and one face blindfolded to show her impartiality in judging the merits of cases.

Joost de Damhoudere, Praxis rerum civilium (Antwerp, 1567).

Renaissance iconography often depicted Justice with her sister virtues: Prudence (looking into a mirror), Temperance (holding a bridle and water jug), and Fortitude (wearing a lion skin or carrying a broken column). This artistic tradition continued into the 17th and 18th centuries, but is rarely used today.

Hugo Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (Frankfurt, 1699).

Why is Justice so recognizable? Perhaps because Justice represents an idealized model of the legal system, with which political leaders and thinkers throughout history have sought to align themselves. For example, an image of Justice adorns a 1766 edition of Cesare Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene (Of Crimes and Punishments). In this seminal work on criminal justice, Beccaria argued that punishments should be based on the injury caused to society, and that the prevention of crime was more important than its punishment. The text’s portrayal of Justice underscores Beccaria’s argument: Justice turns away from the barbaric and arbitrary punishments of medieval times in favor of a more enlightened penal code.

Cesare Baccaria, Dei delitti e delle pene (Haarlem, 1766).

 – SETH QUIDACHAY-SWAN, Southern Connecticut State University


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