Bible of Marco Polo

Bible of Marco Polo

A European manuscript in China with an unbelievable story: Marco Polo's Bible, discovered by a Jesuit in a private Chinese collection

  1. The travelogue of Marco Polo (1254–1324) is one of the most popular and enduring stories from the Middle Ages

  2. Philippe Couplet (1623–1693) claimed to have discovered his Bible in a private collection in Cham Xo, Nanking Province

  3. Whether it belonged to Polo or not, it is an incredibly rare specimen of a European manuscript in China

Bible of Marco Polo

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Bible of Marco Polo

Few medieval figures are as popular in the modern imagination as Marco Polo, who travelled with his father into the East, where he came to the court of the great Kublai Khan. His travelogue is full of wondrous stories and represents the first detailed description of China, India, Japan, and other parts of Asia. This Bible, discovered in 17th century China, allegedly once belonged to the famous Venetian, but historians have not been able to confirm this. Nonetheless, it is an extremely rare specimen of a European manuscript that was brought to China in the Middle Ages.

Bible of Marco Polo

This is a truly fascinating Bible that has travelled as far and as wide as its namesake, Marco Polo (1254–1324), whose travelogue telling of his time at the court of Kublai Khan (1215–94) is the most famous in history. Polo does not seem to be a particularly devout man, no more so than any other member of the medieval laity, whose biblical knowledge is greatly exaggerated in the modern mind. Like most people, he simply saw people as Christian and non-Christian, and did not seem to be particularly interested in or judgmental of pagan beliefs. According to Philippe Couplet (1623–1693), a Jesuit missionary from Flanders who spend many years in China, he found this Bible in the home of a wealthy resident of Cham Xo, in Nanking Province who claimed the tattered codex (which was restored in the early 21st century) had belonged to his family for 400 years, since the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). Upon his return to Europe, Couplet presented the Bible to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici (1642–1723), telling him this pocket Bible made its way to China at the end of the 13th century with Marco Polo. This would mean that it was the only surviving manuscript brought to China between the 13th and 14th centuries by a Latin. Although it makes a good story, there is no tangible evidence that the Bible had actually been owned by Marco Polo. Scholarship indicates the work may have actually been given to the Mongol Emperor of China by a Franciscan missionary sometime in the 13th or 14th century. Nonetheless, the story and the connection to Marco Polo have endured, adding to the charm of this incredible codex, a true unicum!

Codicology

Alternative Titles
La Bibbia di Marco Polo
Bibel des Marco Polo
Style

Available facsimile editions:
Bible of Marco Polo  – Pluteo 3, capsula 1 – Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Florence, Italy)
Istituto dell'Enciclopedia Italiana - Treccani – Rome, 2012
Facsimile Editions

#1 Bibbia di Marco Polo

Commentary: Language: Italian, Chinese
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€€€€ (over 10,000€)
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