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  • The Earliest Books of Canterbury Cathedral: Manuscripts and Fragments to c. 1200
  • Alexander Andrée (bio)
The Earliest Books of Canterbury Cathedral: Manuscripts and Fragments to c. 1200. By Richard Gameson. London: The Bibliographical Society and The British Library. 2008. 414 pp. £60. ISBN 978 0 948170 166 (Bib. Soc.); 978 0 7123 5008 2 (BL).

Of the many thousand books that prior to the Reformation adorned the shelves of St Augustine's Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral Priory in Canterbury, there is left but a remnant. As a result of the Dissolution of the monasteries, many manuscripts were scattered and found their way into collections elsewhere; some had a knife taken to them and were re-used for everything from forming wrappers for account books to stuffing scarecrows. Liturgical texts, being witnesses to the old faith, suffered most. Nevertheless, together with four complete manuscript books, some thirty-eight pre-thirteenth-century fragments of the latter category have been salvaged and are today kept in Canterbury Cathedral Library. Earlier mentioned, but not studied extensively, in N. R. Ker's Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, 5 vols (Oxford, 1969-2002), II, 265-30, this small but intrinsically interesting collection has finally received a proper catalogue. On 414 pages, including photographic reproductions in colour, Richard Gameson provides detailed descriptions of the forty-odd items up to c. 1200 in the collection. At first sight, though, the title seems somewhat misleading: one had perhaps expected a catalogue and study of the surviving pre-thirteenth-century manuscripts from the medieval library of Christ Church, Canterbury (listed by Ker in Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books (London, 1964), pp. 29-48; supplement by A. G. Watson (London, 1987), pp. 10-13). Instead, readily explained by the author in the preface, it is the earliest manuscripts in the modern library of Canterbury Cathedral that are treated.

Despite its modest proportions, as explained by the author in his Introduction, the collection should not be overlooked as it presents a unique opportunity to glean important information of the early history of the book in eastern Kent and Canter-bury, as well as subsequent use and re-use of older volumes in the later Middle Ages, and early modern attitudes towards medieval books. For instance, many of the items preserved in the collection were probably owned in Canterbury or eastern Kent from a very early date, and some were evidently produced there. The collection, furthermore, gives eloquent evidence of the exchange that existed between the centres of Christ Church, St Augustine's, and Rochester on the one hand, and between these major Kentish foundations and the Continent on the other. Manuscripts in larger collections are rarely so homogeneous in their origin and provenance. Notes, additions, and corrections in many of the manuscripts testify to their use throughout the centuries; some were evidently read and appreciated over two hundred years (nos 6 and 9). Less evident traces of use (though as interesting) are found in the 'reconditioning' of earlier manuscripts by the end of the Middle Ages; one such example is provided in no. 17, a collection of sermons by Augustine, written c. 1100, which through the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was foliated, its sermons numbered (and cross-referenced), and running titles added, and was thus equipped for use both as a reference text but also for the lectio divina.

In the last part of his Introduction (pp. 38-47), Gameson traces the post-medieval history of a number of items from the collection. The fate of some items is truly fascinating. No. 15, for instance, Lanfranc's gloss on the Pauline Epistles (the oldest version of the text to survive, copied possibly directly from the original sent from [End Page 208] Bec at the behest of Lanfranc himself), written at St Augustine's Abbey and partly datable after 1076, returned to Canterbury only in 1979 after having been in the possession of a great many of the most notable book-collectors and antiquarians in British history.

Through its contents the collection gives us an immediate view of the literary tastes cultivated in the region: apart from books used in the liturgical milieu of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1744-8581
Print ISSN
0024-2160
Pages
pp. 208-210
Launched on MUSE
2009-07-24
Open Access
No
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