Librarian’s Pick #7: The Brittany Gospels

Full-page Illustration

The first two folios of MS 194 contain some later additions. Folio 1v exhibits a beautiful yet unfinished full-page illustration:

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 194, fol. 1v

Hanna has described this illustration as the Evangelist John sitting underneath a canopy with a pen in one and a book (his Gospel) in the other hand while an angel with a cross-staff in his hand is leaning towards him (Descriptive Catalogue, p. 281).

The great Francis Wormald identified it as a copy of the Evangelist Matthew from fol. 24 of the late 9th-century Book of Gospels now held in the British Library as MS Cotton Tiberius A.ii (Wormald, English Drawings, no. 52). The Tiberius codex is believed to have once been owned by Otto I (king of Germany and later Holy Roman Emperor), who may have given it to the Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan (d. 939) to mark the occasion of Otto’s marriage to a sister of Athelstan around 930. King Athelstan then gave the volume to Christ Church, Canterbury.

Wormald’s identification thus associates St John’s MS 194 with Canterbury’s Christ Church, that beacon of late Anglo-Saxon learning, where the illustration of the Evangelist Matthew is believed to have been copied into the Gospel book now at St John’s. If this is correct, both volumes must have been in Christ Church in the 10th century, to which the illustration in MS 194 is usually dated.

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