Buried Treasure: Early Fragments in Later Books

We have heard a lot lately about Worcester manuscript F.174, written by the scribe known as the Tremulous Hand, which was found pasted into the binding of a later book, and skilfully recovered by Sir Thomas Phillipps in 1837. Although a remarkable text, F.174 is far from being the only manuscript fragment(s) to be found hidden away in such a manner. Before people valued books and documents for their heritage, old or redundant ones were frequently chopped up and used for a variety of useful purposes – to strengthen the bindings of newer books, to make kites (parchment aeroplanes), or even to start fires with. It was a practice that continued up to the 17th Century, by which time most people’s attitudes towards library administration and conservation had changed somewhat!

In this blog, we shall explore just  few of the fascinating items that have turned up in the library over the years.

  1. Fragment of printed musical and liturgical work, c. 1450 – 1550, forming the flyleaf to a theological work of 1611. Liturgical works in Latin became unfashionable in England after the Reformation in the first half of the 16th Century.

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

  1. Fragment of Book of Ecclesiasticus, c. 11th or early 12th century. This biblical book was excised from the Protestant canon of sacred texts. Perhaps the bible that this fragment was once part of also fell victim to changing fashions after the Reformation.

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

  1. Anglo-Saxon Gospel Table, 10th century. This can be found inside the front cover 14th century theology work. The Deer’s heads indicate that the table was written at Worcester Cathedral Priory. The gold illumination retains its lustre, but the silver has sadly tarnished into a dull grey colour.

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

  1. Jerome’s Commentary on St Matthew’s Gospel, Visigothic Spain, 7th Century. Notice the lack of punctuation and spaces between the words, following the Roman tradition. This is one of several fragments recovered from a 12th century theological work. The fact that this Spanish fragment has ended up in Worcester is perhaps evidence of a trans-continental trade in books between different monasteries during the Anglo-Saxon period.

Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

This is just a small selection of the lost treasures that have been later recovered in Worcester Cathedral Library – we hope to bring you some more soon!

Tom Hopkins


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