The Latin Bible in the British Isles

Christian missionaries arrived in the British Isles during the Roman period. Christianity took root in Ireland in the fifth century, developing in isolation after the fall of the Roman Empire until the 600’s, when it was reconciled to the Roman Church. England was officially evangelized in 597, when Pope Gregory I sent a group of missionaries led by Augustine of Canterbury to convert the English. They brought with them a gospel book in the Latin Vulgate (containing the text of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), which is now preserved at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England. Biblical texts brought by missionaries circulated throughout the British Isles, and monasteries began to create their own Latin gospel books based on these imported texts. Elaborate gospel books like the Book of Kells and Codex Amiatinus, produced in Ireland and England during the seventh and eighth centuries, are treasured today as masterpieces of medieval art.

In the mid-tenth century, a priest named Aldred added an Old English translation to the Latin text of the book now known as the Lindisfarne Gospels. This intralinear, word-for-word translation marks the first appearance of biblical text in the English language. The Lindisfarne Gospels were created in the early 700’s at the Lindisfarne monastery in Northumbria, England. This gospel book is the work of a single scribe and artist and was produced in a large format designed for display and reading aloud to an audience. Aldred’s translation may have assisted the Lindisfarne monks, who had fled south in the wake of Viking invasions in the tenth century, with missionary work among the Anglo-Saxons.

Jerome’s Vulgate continued to be copied and recopied throughout the Middle Ages, for worship, devotion, and study. Bibles were produced for religious houses and wealthy laypeople, and portions of biblical text were incorporated into service books for daily worship at cathedrals and monasteries. The Latin Bible was also used as a textbook by students in medieval universities.

Selected resources at L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Lindisfarne Gospels (full-color facsimile, 2002).

Call number: Vault Collection Quarto 091 B47 aL 2002
Accompanying commentaries: Vault Collection Quarto 091 B47 aL 2002 vol. 1-2

Book of Kells (full-color facsimile, 1990).
Another famous gospel book produced in the British Isles during the 8th century.

Call number: Vault Collection Quarto 091 B47k 1990

Vulgate Bible (Latin), France, 13th century.

Besides the biblical text, this illuminated manuscript Bible also contains a table of liturgical readings, a chart showing the harmony of the gospels, and a prologue by Jerome.

Call number: Vault Collection 091 B47L

Peter Lombard. Sententiarum (Sentences). England, 13th century.

Peter Lombard, a 12th-century theologian, was a professor at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris. His Four Books of Sentences was a standard theology textbook for medieval universities across Europe. The Sentences are a compilation of biblical texts and the scriptural commentary of earlier theologians, but the work is arranged in a series of questions covering the whole of Christian doctrine in an attempt to organize the material and reconcile commentators’ differing viewpoints.

Call number: 091 P449 Vault Collection Quarto

Selected online resources

The Lindisfarne Gospels at the British Library
An interactive edition of select portions of the Lindisfarne Gospels, available under the link “Pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon Art.” The site provides both text and audio commentary.

Latin Gospel Book (Germany, ca. 1250) at the Royal Library of Denmark
A fully-digitized example of a medieval bible.

The Dyson Perrins Apocalypse (England, ca. 1255) at the J. Paul Getty Museum
Images from an illustrated manuscript of the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, with commentary.