The Bury Bible

The Bury Bible

Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds (Cambridge, United Kindom) — ca. 1135

A grand 12th century English Bible from the hand of Master Hugo that blends the Byzantine, Romanesque, and early Gothic styles

  1. The Bury Bible is named after Bury St Edmunds Abbey in England, where it was stored for centuries

  2. The brother of the Abbey’s prior commissioned Master Hugo (fl. ca. 1130-50) with the work

  3. 6 miniatures and 42 historiated and decorative initials adorn the Bible’s surviving volume

The Bury Bible

MS 002I Parker Library in the Corpus Christi College (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
The Bury Bible

One of the most important Bibles to be created in the 12th century is also one of the most influential: the Bury Bible, created by Master Hugo ca. 1135 for Bury St Edmunds Abbey went on to influence artists across England in the decades to follow. The massive tome is the surviving first volume of a two-volume Bible and contains most of the text of the Old Testament. It is a prime specimen of 12th century art, when new artistic styles were blending with older ones. Thus, Byzantine, Romanesque, and even influence with the new Gothic style are mixed together into an exemplary codex.

The Bury Bible

This 12th century tome is one of the most famous of the books in the Parker Library and the surviving half of a two-volume Bible. Although it was once was a single codex, it is now bound in three volumes (2I, 2II, 2III): 2I contains ff. 1r-121v with the prologue of St. Jerome and the books from Genesis to Joshua; 2II contains ff. 122r-241v with the books from Judges to Isaiah; 2III contains ff. 242r-357v with the books from Jeremiah to Job. The surviving volume thus contained the books of the Old Testament from Genesis to Job, while the missing second volume contained the remainder of the Bible. It can be identified with a Bible commissioned by Hervey, the sacrist, for his brother, Talbot, prior of Bury St Edmunds Abbey ca. 1135-8, which was illuminated ca. 1135 by Master Hugo (fl. ca. 1130-50). After the dissolution of Bury St Edmunds Abbey in 1539 during the Reformation, in 1575 the Bible eventually came into the hands of Matthew Parker (1504-75), the Archbishop of Canterbury and namesake of the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge due to the priceless collection of manuscript that he bequeathed to the university after his death.

The Work of Master Hugo

The miniatures and some of the illuminated initials are painted on separate pieces of vellum stuck to the page, and the description of the Bible in the Gesta Sacristarum attests that master Hugo 'was unable to find any suitable calf-hide in these parts' and had to purchase parchment from Ireland. Master Hugo was influenced by Byzantine painting and, according to the Fitzwilliam Museum, "the magnificent color patterns of his paintings, the startlingly new Byzantine draperies and the deep-staring eyes of Moses, Aaron and the Jews suggest that he had travelled at least to southern Italy and probably also to Cyprus, Byzantium, and even the Holy Land." Master Hugo is also credited with creating the bronze doors for the western entry of the Abbey church, a large bell, a carved crucifix including figure of the Virgin Mary and Saint John for the Monk’s Choir. He is also believed to be the artist responsible for creating the so-called Cloister Cross, a complex Romanesque altar cross made of walrus ivory in The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A Stylistic Blend

Six large miniatures, some full-page, preface some of the books, whereas the others have historiated or ornamental initials, 42 initial in all survive. Six of the large pictures have been removed from the book and are lost. Master Hugo’s Byzantine style is mixed with Romanesque figures, Gothic script, and some early artistic influences from the Gothic style. Thus, the Bury Bible is a wonderful reflection of 12th century art, which was a transitionary period producing gorgeous hybrids of old and new artistic styles. It is a prime example of the very large luxury Bibles made in the 12th century for monastic houses. The faces are modelled with shading in green and grey, and the folds are divided into sections reflecting the position of the limbs. This has been called the 'damp-fold' style and influenced many other artists working in England in the period c. 1140-70 at Canterbury, Winchester, and elsewhere.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Die Bury Bibel
Size / Format
714 pages / 52.5 × 35.0 cm
Date
ca. 1135
Style
Script
Gothic Textura Rotunda
Illustrations
6 full-page illustrative frontispieces, in addition a large number of historiated main initials, colored and decorated smaller initials throughout
Content
Old Testament from Genesis to Job of the formerly complete, two-volume Bible
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Matthew Parker

Available facsimile editions:
The Bury Bible
Boydell & Brewer – Woodbridge, 2001
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Bury Bible

Boydell & Brewer – Woodbridge, 2001

Publisher: Boydell & Brewer – Woodbridge, 2001
Commentary: 1 volume by Rodney M. Thomson
Language: English
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.
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