Mass Production, Clandestine Circulation? Wycliffite Bibles in Oxford Libraries
Colloquium: Vernacular Scriptures in Late-medieval Manuscript Culture
We are organising a one-day colloquium on 7 May 2011 in Christ Church, Oxford. Researchers and students are welcome.
Registration here; closing date 28 April
The Wycliffite Bible is the first complete scriptural translation into English, produced in the second half of the fourteenth century, probably in Oxford, by followers of John Wyclif. In all its versions it is extant in c. 250 manuscripts, a much larger number than any other Middle English text; yet it was banned from circulation by Archbishop Arundel in 1407, and the prohibition remained in force till the 1530s. Where, how and by whom those manuscripts were made, remain entirely obscure, and very little is known about their medieval ownership and use. Hitherto studies of the translation have concentrated on its origins, and on the discernment of revisions from an early literal rendering to a more idiomatic later version, in both enquiries using only a small number of copies. Little attention has been paid to the majority of the manuscripts, and what they may reveal.
The Wycliffite Bible is the most widely extant medieval vernacular translation of scripture. However, the very number of its surviving copies has paradoxically made it almost invisible in European studies of Vulgate renderings – these are likely to concentrate on other traditions where a smaller number of copies can be studied in detail. The present project aims to put the medieval English Bible back into the picture.
Current and future work
The project has two phases: the current one-year pilot and a subsequent three-year larger-scale investigation. The pilot project is a study of a select group of the manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible in the Bodleian Library which aims to develop and test methods for their examination and description. The subsequent project will investigate in close detail all copies of the Bible currently in Oxford collections (a representative group since none reached their present home in the medieval period) in order to elicit more evidence about their production and circulation. The study will cover paleographic, codicological and linguistic aspects of the manuscripts, as well as their provenance and textual content. The project will publish a monograph, describing the findings on the production, ownership and use of the Bible in the 14th and 15th centuries, and detailed descriptions of the manuscripts of the Bible in the Oxford collections and a select group of important manuscripts outside Oxford. These will be supplemented by an online archive of about 280 images, illustrating scribal hands and important codicological and textual features found in the manuscripts. Many of the manuscripts are written in a rather formal approximation of a bookhand, without immediately obvious idiosyncrasies. The photographic archive will place the comparison of a large number of copies on much firmer ground, and should allow for the identification of scribes who worked on the Bibles. This study of a substantial group of manuscripts (nearly a third of those extant) will aim to lay down guidelines for a complete catalogue, and make its completion a much more straightforward task.
Project team and funders
The study is undertaken by Dr Elizabeth Solopova. The project is currently funded by the John Fell Fund (Principal Investigators Dr Mishtooni Bose and Dr Kantik Ghosh) and has been awarded a three-year funding by the Leverhulme Trust from September 2011 (Principal Investigator Professor Anne Hudson). The image archive, a searchable online database, will be developed by the Research Technologies Service at Oxford University Computing Services and published by the Oxford Digital Library of the Bodleian Libraries.