Science and Learning

On this page, you can learn more about medieval manuscripts in St John’s College Library relating to science and learning. The collection includes a number of encyclopedias in addition to texts on astronomy, architecture, computus, grammar, philosophy, and mathematics.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 5, fol. 5r

MS 5

MS 5 contains a copy of an encyclopedic text known as Etymologiae sive de universo, written by Hrabanus Maurus (d. 856). This manuscript was produced in England in the twelfth century. MS 5 is notable for its elaborate scheme of decoration, including the impressive initial shown here. See also MS 88.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 17, fol. 7v

MS 17

MS 17 is a computistical miscellany produced in England (Thorney, Cambridgeshire) in 1110(?), but with some later additions. Computus is the calculation of the date of Easter. MS 17 is notable for including various decorative figures, diagrams, tables, and maps.

The manuscript is fully digitized here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 18, fol. 1r

MS 18

MS 18, which was produced in England c.1425–1450, contains a copy of Roland of Lisbon’s Reductorium physiognomie. Roland of Lisbon was a fifteenth-century physician and astrologer. MS 18 is notable for its painted frontispiece, shown here, which depicts the influences of the Zodiac.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 40, fol. 1r

MS 40

MS 40 contains a copy of Al-Battani’s De scientia astrorum, also known as De motu stellarum or Opus astronomicum. Al-Battani (d.929) was a Syrian astronomer and mathematician. This manuscript was produced in Italy at the end of the fifteenth century.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 51, fol. 1r

MS 51

MS 51 contains a copy of Alexander Nequam’s De naturis rerum (‘On the Natures of Things’). This scientific manual is notable for containing an early account of the directional properties of magnets. MS 51 was produced in England at the turn of the thirteenth century.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 66B, front board

MS 66B

MS 66B is a copy of De architectura, a treatise on architecture written by the Roman architect Vitruvius (d. c. 20 BCE). This manuscript was produced in England early in the fourteenth century. It survives in a seventeenth-century binding, stamped with the arms of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 88, fol. 4r

MS 88

MS 88 is a copy of an encyclopedic text known as Etymologiae sive de universo, written by the Benedictine monk and theologian Hrabanus Maurus (d. 856). This manuscript was produced in England early in the twelfth century, and it was once owned by Chichester cathedral. See also MS 5.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 142, fol. 1r

MS 142

MS 142 contains a copy of Petrarch’s De vita solitaria, a philosophical treatise on the ideal of the solitary life. Petrarch (d. 1374) was an Italian humanist scholar and poet. MS 142 was produced in England in the fifteenth century. Somewhat unusually, the text is written on both vellum and paper.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 154, fol. 2r

MS 154

MS 154 was produced in England in the eleventh century. It is a broadly contemporary copy of grammatical works by Ælfric of Eynsham (d. c. 1010) and his namesake, Ælfric Bata, who would also appear to have been his pupil. Two of our blog posts have focused on this extraordinary manuscript (2016, 2020).

The manuscript is fully digitized here.

Oxford, St John’s College, MS 205, fol. 1r

MS 205

MS 205 contains various works written by astronomer John of Sacro Bosco (d. c 1256). It includes his famous Tractatus de sphera, a treatise on astronomy. This manuscript was produced in England during the fifteenth century, and it contains a number of diagrams.

A full catalogue entry is available here.

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