Medieval Manuscripts in Law Book Bindings, no. 11

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.

Published In: