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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lindisfarne 3

Here are some details taken from the initial pages of the Lindisfarne gospels.

This first one says "Jesus Christ, Matthew man." The pictorial symbol for each gospel is named along with the gospel writer. Preceding the text is the vertical cross form of the Chi Rho symbol.

For Luke the pictorial symbol is the calf and here the title is preceded with the Chi Rho symbol and followed by this distinctive form of ampersand which resembles the number 7.

For John the pictorial symbol is the eagle and this time the distinctive characteristic of the rho is almost lost and the symbol now resembles the simpler 'Crist cross'.

While I do not know the earliest instance of the ampersand following a title or list, this pattern was enduring and in children's hornbooks, used for learning letters, the alphabet was preceded by the 'criss-cross' and followed by the 'ampersand'. Children would recite the alphabet as 'criss-cross, a per se a, be per se be, .... and per se and'. Eventually the 'and per se and' became called the 'ampersand' . It was sometimes considered to be the 27th letter.

The chi rho and this alternate ampersand (acually called the Tironian et sign, which I will explain) played important roles in the Lindisfarne gospels so I will write about them at greater length.

Addendum: Since my interpretation of the symbol preceding the name of the gospel writers has been questioned, I will quote here from Michelle Brown,

    If you then look in the lettering itself you can find at the very top left written in letters of gold, a chi-rho, the symbol of Christ, the first two letters of Christ in Greek and then the words lucas and vitulus, the calf, again symbolising the fact that the evangelist and his gospel are representatives of Christ and actually symbolise part of Christ's ministry.
Michelle P. Brown is curator of illuminated manuscripts at the British Library. She has lectured internationally, has taught for the University of London on history, art history and palaeography and is a co-founder of the Research Centre for Illuminated Manuscript Studies at the Courtauld Institute.

She is a member of the Comité International de Paléographie Latine, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, of the Courtauld Institute and of the Institute of English Studies of the University of London, and she is an honorary fellow of the SSI and CLAS. She is a series editor of British Library Studies in Medieval Culture.

Her publications include A Guide to Western Historical Scripts, from Antiquity to 1600, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts, The British Library Guide to Writing and Scripts, The British Library Historical Source-Book for Scribes and The Book of Cerne: Prayer, Patronage and Power in Ninth-Century England.

The Lindisfarne Gospels. Fathom.



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