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Emerson Richards,  a PhD student at Indiana University, recently spent several months at the Library as John Rylands Research Institute  Lilly Library Doctoral Exchange Fellow, studying medieval manuscripts. She writes:

M. R. James states of the Ottonian Gospel Book (Manchester, John Rylands Library, Latin Ms. 98) that it was ‘presumably written for either Otto II (955-983) or Otto III (983-1002)’ (176), though he did not detect evident suggesting for which of the Holy Roman Emperors the gilded, purple-leafed book, executed in a precise Carolingian minuscule, was created. Current scholarly opinion dates the manuscript to the end of Otto III’s reign, c.996-1002.


Frontispiece to Matthew, Ottonian Gospel Book, c.1000. Latin MS 98, f. 16r.

Neither James nor Frank Taylor, who updated James’s A Descriptive Catalogue of the Latin Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library at Manchester in 1980,* mention the two binding fragments in the front and back of the book.

The two binding fragments are only about 200 mm tall by less than 10 mm wide. Each strip accommodates only one or two consecutive letters, which have been pasted between the early modern (paper) and the medieval (parchment) fly leaves. The front fragment has been effectively pasted down to the paper, whereas, the way the rear fragment is incorporated by sewing allows for the ‘recto’ and ‘verso’ to be examined. Both fragments were cut from vertical strips of text and utilized in an inverse orientation to function, presumably as re-enforcement when the manuscript was rebound. Taylor remarks that the watermark, a fleur-de-lis, is similar to Heawood, ‘Nos. 1673, 1679 (Dutch, 1690s)’ (34).

The fragments themselves, Michelle Brown suggests in personal correspondence, are probably twelfth-century, evidenced by an ff and trailing s, which may indicate that these strips are from a legal text under Bolognese influence, but they are certainly English. They utilize uncial ds and ms, the h on the rear fragment shows a well-defined serif on the ascender, as are single compartment, and a single q bears a bar abbreviation. The front fragment appears to display a symbol a barred cross, closer to the original top of the fragment. The clearest section of text is on the verso of the rear fragment; here we see several consecutive letters, such as ad and et.

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Further examination of the fragments and the paper may yield a better understanding of the history of this book and its rebinding. The fragments are of most interest to codicology and provenance studies, rather than paleography.

* James, M. R., A Descriptive Catalogue of the Latin Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library at Manchester, ed. Frank Taylor (Munich, 1980), 34, 176.