18.11.03, Solopova, Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible

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Eyal Poleg

The Medieval Review 18.11.03

Solopova, Elizabeth . Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible in the Bodleian and Oxford College Libraries. Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies . Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016. pp. xix, 308. ISBN: 978-1-78138-298-1 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Eyal Poleg
Queen Mary University of London

Scholars of the Wycliffite Bible will soon be unable to begin their essays by lamenting the lack of attention to this unique class of Middle English manuscripts, and we owe much of this to the work of Elizabeth Solopova. In 2016 alone her indefatigable exploration of the Wycliffite Bible led to the publication of three major contributions to anyone interested in the study of the Bible and in English religious culture more generally: an article placing a Wycliffite Bible in Barking Abbey; a companion to the Wycliffite Bible; [1] and the manuscript catalogue under review. Together they introduce both general and specialised readers to the ideal, practice and material evidence of the Wycliffite Bible. The current catalogue is the first dedicated to the Wycliffite Bible, and surveys the evidence from Oxford, both in the Bodleian Library and the Colleges. This is Solopova's home turf, but, as noted in the introduction, "these 64 complete or partial copies and fragments constitute an arbitrary selection that gives a representative view of the whole corpus" (2). The catalogue indeed surveys a wide range of books, from full Bibles, through Old and New Testaments, to individual biblical books, summaries and fragments.

The task facing Solopova was immense. The amount of materials in each book is staggering, and--as noted in the introduction--the emphasis on production, traditionally employed by scholars, is ill suited to understand most extant manuscripts. Whereas the initial stages of compilation were aimed at a full Bible (as evident in two manuscripts catalogued here: Bodley 959 and Douce 369), the vast majority of surviving books are not full Bibles. New Testaments in full or in part comprise more than half of the manuscripts surveyed in the catalogue.

The catalogue begins with a useful introduction to the Wycliffite Bible (1-31), addressing biblical books, liturgical addenda, presentation of the biblical text, codicology, patronage and ownership. The liturgical addenda (most of which were of use for preachers as well) open up a lengthy discussion of tables of lections, the most common addenda to the Wycliffite Bible. These tables enabled readers to identify the relevant biblical lessons according to the Use of Salisbury. Solopova follows Matti Peikola's seminal work, [2] while slightly modifying his terminology. She then explores, through a similar typology, Old Testament Lectionaries, which provide biblical readings in full, rather than biblical references. This addendum was particularly useful in manuscripts containing the New Testament alone, enabling readers to follow the readings of the Church calendar in full.

The discussion of patronage and ownership implicitly engages with recent debates on the orthodoxy of the Wycliffite Bible and the lack of evidence linking surviving manuscripts with heterodoxy. Solopova provides the now well-known evidence for orthodox ownership. Attempting to balance the picture, Solopova suggests heterodox readership evidenced in readers' marks made near contentious verses (such as those discussing poverty, images or priestly corruption). This, however, is less conclusive, as these same verses were also used within orthodox discourse, or in anti-Lollard polemics. In the appendix on book ownership (295) only orthodox owners appear: monks, canons, friars and a fishmonger.

The introduction is followed by an explanation of the form of entries (32-36) and the bulk of the book is taken by the catalogue itself (37-282). Much like Solopova's 2013 catalogue of Latin Liturgical Psalters in the Bodleian Library, the entries comprise very brief records of origins and date, the latter typically the first quarter of the fifteenth century. More information about how the date was determined (script, liturgical information or explicit evidence) would have been of use to the less-experienced reader. This is followed by a lengthier "text" section, which also contains evidence of use and layout. This section varies greatly between entries. Some entries list all contents and rubrics (e.g. Bodl. 277, spanning nine pages), and others do not (the section for Bodl. 959, one of the more intriguing and heavily researched early Wycliffite Bibles, comprises a single page). Information is also provided on decoration, physical description (material, script, foliation, collation, etc.), provenance and bibliography. Unique to this catalogue is a discussion of dialect for each manuscript, which, as explicated on pp. 33-35, tests M. L. Samuel's hypothesis on the standardisation of the language of the Wycliffite Bible.

A catalogue dedicated to the Wycliffite Bible provides a unique opportunity to think about the typologie of the genre. This is evident in attention to details such as the partial appearance of marginal letters that subdivide the biblical chapters, or the unique layout of specific biblical texts, primarily the Psalms and the Song of Songs. These provide very useful means of analysing the manuscripts separately and collectively. They add greatly to our understanding of the manuscript culture of the Wycliffite Bible, although a more explicit and systematic treatment of such criteria remains a desideratum. The entries are arranged in alphabetical order. The catalogue is accompanied by 16 plates for key manuscripts. Although the criteria for their selection is unclear, these provide useful illustration for the high-level production of some of these manuscripts.

The catalogue is followed by seven short appendices and a brief index:

1. "The contents of the Wycliffite Bible," describing the order of books and incipits of Prologues for both the Early and Late Versions.

2. "Manuscripts containing the Earlier Version or combining the Earlier and Later Versions."

3. "The contents of manuscripts," listing (somehow inseparably) manuscripts with calendars, tables of lections, lectionaries, capitula lists, book-lists, the General Prologue, or the gospel harmony Oon of Foure, as well as pandects and Psalters.

4. "The origin and provenance of manuscripts," arranged geographically for creation or late medieval/early modern use.

5. "Types of medieval owners," arranged by religious orders (with one entry for "Finshmonger"[?]). This presents only manuscripts with clear ownership marks, rather than those evidenced in Calendars or later annotations.

6. "Presentation of text," with four criteria: manuscripts written in Anglicana, in Secretary, ruled in a single column, and written on paper. Only eight manuscript are written in Anglicana; 13 in single-column (four of which written in secretary as well); and a single manuscript on paper and in secretary (a later copy). This reveals the uniformity of the Wycliffite Bible, with the vast majority of manuscripts adhering to a standard layout, written in two columns, on parchment, and in a script described as an "informal approximation of textura" (25).

7. "Rubrics to gospels and their prologues (collation)," enumerating the various rubrics by manuscript.

The catalogue is a welcome side-output of a much wider research project. Led by Solopova and Anne Hudson, it ambitiously aims at a new edition of the Wycliffe Bible. The Catalogue is published both as a hardback and digitally, the latter especially useful for mining information in new ways. Although the catalogue feels rushed at times, it will become an invaluable tool for anyone interested in the study of the Wycliffite Bible, and will surely be joined by deeper analyses and other tools that will further our understanding of this--now less understudied-- class of manuscripts.



1. Elizabeth Solopova (ed.), The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation (Leiden: Brill, 2016).

2. "'First is writen a clause of the bigynnynge therof': The Table of Lections in Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible" in Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible, ed. Eyal Poleg and Laura Light (Leiden: Brill 2013), 351-378.

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