Vercelli Book

Vercelli Book

Probably southeastern England (United Kingdom) — Late 10th century

Vercelli Book

MS CXVII Biblioteca Capitolare di Vercelli (Vercelli, Italy)
  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Vercelli Book

The Vercelli Book is compilation of Old English texts that was created in the late-10th century and is named after its repository in the Capitulary Library of Vercelli, Italy. After lying hidden for centuries, the codex was rediscovered in 1822 by Friedrich Bluhme. It is counted among the four oldest surviving codices of Old English poetry and prose. Although the manuscript itself dates to the 10th century, some of the texts are much older. As such, it is regarded as one of the most important documents to survive from before the Norman conquest of 1066. Meticulously written in Anglo-Saxon square miniscule, it comprises a miscellany of religious texts written for private devotional use and has no obvious chronological or formal structure with verse items randomly intermixed with prose.

The Vercelli Book

Following his postdoctoral work in Göttingen, the German lawyer and legal historian Friedreich Bluhme (1797–1874) was on a research trip in 1822 to study the holdings and history of Italian libraries when he discovered an Anglo-Saxon manuscript. Adorned by only a pair of zoomorphic initials, the 10th century manuscript that became known as the Vercelli Book has nevertheless proved to be one of the oldest and most precious sources of Old English to survive to the present.

An Unusual Florilegium

Florilegium is a word from medieval Latin indicating a compilation of excerpts from other works. It literally translates as “a gathering of flowers”: as flos (flower) and legere (to gather). Although they are normally assembled systematically, the Vercelli Book is seemingly without structure, despite how neatly and elegantly it was written by a single well-practiced hand. It is possible that the texts were arranged according to the scribe’s own interest in penitential and eschatological themes; the glorification of an ascetic lifestyle seems to be a consistent theme as well. Nonetheless, the scribe remains unknown, which is consistent with the Anglo-Saxon tradition of anonymous religious writing. The codex contains 23 prose homilies and a prose vita of Saint Guthlac, which are interspersed with six poems: Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles, Soul and Body, Dream of the Rood, Elene, and a fragment of homiletic poem.

An Anglo-Saxon Manuscript in Italy

It is not known for how many centuries the manuscript lay hidden among the holdings of the Capitulary Library. The only logical explanation for it being there is the existence of a hospice specifically catering to English pilgrims, which was founded by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri (d. 1227), Bishop of Vercelli and former papal legate to the Kingdom of England between 1216 and 1218. Thus, the manuscript was likely acquired by Bicchieri, who brought it back with him to Italy. How or when it came into the library remains a mystery and it is one of the few Anglo-Saxon manuscripts found outside of modern Britain.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Vercelli Codex
The Vercelli Book of Old English Poetry
Codex Vercellensis
Il Libro di Vercelli
Size / Format
136 folios / 31.0 × 20.0 cm
Date
Late 10th century
Style
Language
Script
Insular Minuscule; Roman Rustic Capitals; Anglo-Saxon minuscule
Illustrations
2 zoomorphic initials; 1 marginalia
Content
23 homilies in prose; 6 poems, including Andreas, The Fates of the Apostles by Cynewulf, Soul and Body I, Dream of the Rood, and Elene by Cynewulf
Previous Owners
Jacopo Guala Bicchieri

Available facsimile editions:
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Vercelli Book

Commentary: 1 volume by Celia Sisam
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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