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Medieval Manuscripts

The medieval manuscripts

Detail from the Regensburg Lectionary, Germany, 13th Century.The collection of medieval manuscripts is one of the finest in Oxford outside the Bodleian Library. It includes the 13th century Lectionary produced for the convent of Dominican Nuns zum heiligen Kreuz, Regensburg (MS 49) and the 15th century French book of hours (MS 39), exquisitely illuminated with miniatures by the Master of the Duke of Bedford.

The collection consists of seventy-one Western, five Greek and thirteen Oriental manuscripts, together with a number of fragments.  The focus is almost exclusively on what could broadly be described as "liturgical books", and, most frequently, quite lovely ones with ornate painted decoration. These were books used as tools for divine service on a daily basis in the medieval church.

Thus, the collection includes missals (with the daily order of the mass), breviaries (with the readings for the full Christian year) and lectionaries (groups of devotional readings for various occasions). The collection is also rich in books of hours, the most common surviving medieval book; such volumes contain readings for individual private devotion laid out in a sequence which corresponds to the daily monastic round of prayer.

They were given by Victorian benefactors who were influenced by the ideals of John Keble and the Oxford Movement and associated with the College.  Included are the bequests of Rev. Charles Edward Brooke, who had inherited the liturgical books and manuscripts collected by his brother Sir Thomas Brooke, one of the great bibliophiles of the 19th century, and of Rev. Dr Henry Parry Liddon, one of the founder members of Keble College.

The history of the collection is fully described by Malcolm Parkes in the introduction to his catalogue:  The medieval manuscripts of Keble College Oxford: a descriptive catalogue with summary descriptions of the Greek and Oriental manuscripts.  London: Scolar Press, 1979.

Manuscript 69Detail from Book of Hours, France 15th CenturyDetail from Italian Breviary, fifteenth century