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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lindisfarne Gospels 2

Let me state clearly that this series is done from the perspective of an amateur. My Junia series was composed in the same spirit.

I will leave issues of Anglo-Saxon script and font for a bit and continue with a few of the more decorative features of the Latin text. However, those interested in the Anglo-Saxon glosses should view the text of John's and Luke's gospels which Anonymous contributed in the comment zone of the previous post.

In looking at the illuminated pages I was immediately delighted to note that letters were not always represented in linear fashion but occasionally in a blocked arrangment. How funky is that? I am all for non-linear where possible.

This image, taken from the initial page of Matthew's gospel, is my favourite. It says "Chri(sti) filii David philii Abraham."

Actually I have no idea why the Greek letter phi appears for the second 'filii' - any ideas? Of course, Christ's name is written with a chi throughout but using the Greek chi symbol for Christ within a Latin text is a typical feature of a medieval manuscript. I will provide illustations for more of the nomina sacra in a later post.

Here are a couple of other examples that demonstrate the fanciful nature of the script. The second image says "quidem multi conati sunt ordina..."

And in the last image, the 's' at the beginning of the second line mimics the shape of the chi at the beginning of the preceding line. This says "Chri(sti) fili(i) d(e)i sicut scribtum est..." This is significant because throughout the manuscript the initial letter of a line is used to advantage to create rhythm and shape on every page.
Now if you look carefully at the 'm' in the second line, it resembles three vertical bars tied by a crossbar. Possibly the letter at the end of the first line in the second image is this same letter turned on its side.

Addendum: Regarding the Greek phi and the fanciful 'm', I found this comment on the British Library site.
"The distinctive display script takes elements from many different cultures. There are Roman capitals, Greek characters and angular letters recalling Germanic runes."



At Thu Mar 01, 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...


You commented on the non-linearity in the illuminations. But this is not unusual at all in that time. The origin of many diacritics is that letters were conventionally written one over (or under) the other. This is the source of the umlaut mark (originally an e), the tilde (originally an n or m), and the cedilla (originally a z, hence the name, lit. little z).

At Thu Mar 01, 01:18:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...


Yes, I have seen that also in Greek manuscripts, that two vowels were written this way as a ligature or the vowel on top of the consonant.

I am sure it is not all that uncommon. Thanks for reminding me.

At Thu Mar 01, 01:41:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Did anyone notice that phi has a syllabic value of 'fi'?

At Thu Mar 01, 05:22:00 PM, Blogger Joe said...

I am so totally unsophisticated in this discipline!

But I have to admit that this post was both interesting and fun!

At Thu Mar 01, 06:11:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

I am unsophisticated to this also. It's playtime.


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