Dr Leonardo Costantini reports on his work on unidentified fragments of manuscripts in the Ripon Cathedral Library Collection.

Thanks to the generous short-term post-doctoral fellowship grant I received from the Brotherton Library and the Leeds Humanities Research Institute, I have had the opportunity to undertake an investigation of a rich and unexplored treasure held in Special Collections, the so-called Ripon Fragments which are still in situ. This project represents a new phase of my ongoing work on these fragments, begun in 2015-2017 when I catalogued ca. 65 detached leaves which belong to the Ripon Cathedral Library.  A resource with images will be available in 2019.

During my Brotherton Fellowship, I have been able to study a selection of the abundant uncatalogued fragments in the bindings of early printed texts from Ripon Cathedral, which are preserved in Special Collections at the Brotherton Library. My experience has been most exciting as I had the opportunity to literally leaf through some remarkable findings that exemplify the copious production of books in Yorkshire and Northern England during the Middle Ages.

Although I had to narrow down the focus of my enquiry to a small portion of this vast material, from a preliminary analysis I have confirmed the pattern which emerged when cataloguing the Ripon Fragments which are already known. Their dates range from the 10th to the late 16th centuries.  Most of the fragments are in Latin and come from texts produced in Britain.  However there are a few examples written in a script used in Italy around the 14th century, and a couple produced in 15th century France. The kind of texts these fragments preserve is different: alongside antiphonals, liturgic writings, theological treatises (e.g. Petrus Lombardus, Bartholomew of Exeter, Thomas Aquinas), and texts concerning Medieval law and local British history, there are pieces from the late-antique writer Palladius (Opus Agriculturae, book four), as well as fragments written in Middle-English and Old-French.

medieval manuscript
Fragment from the binding of Isidore’s ‘Etymologiae’ or ‘Praeclarissimvm opus Diui Isidori Hyspalensis Episcopi, quod Ethimologiarum intitulatur…’ Image credit Leeds University Library.

The most remarkable – and memorable – finding is, perhaps, a quire created with composite leaves, dating from the 10th to the first half of the 12th century, which contains liturgic texts.  These include a Bible with scholia, i.e. comments and annotations written in a smaller form next to the main text just like our notes on a textbook, and a collection of lives of the saints. This quire was employed as the cover of an early-printed edition of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologiae. It illustrates exemplarily the skills of Medieval copyists in producing the most legible and elegant script, the minuscule script, which was later adopted by the humanists.  This represents the ancestor of the minuscule that we still use.

medieval manuscript
Fragment from the binding of Isidore’s ‘Etymologiae’ or ‘Praeclarissimvm opus Diui Isidori Hyspalensis Episcopi, quod Ethimologiarum intitulatur…’ Image credit University of Leeds Library.

This research could have significant impact not only on medieval and classical literature, through finding unknown manuscript evidence, but also on monastic history and medieval and early-modern book production.  It shows how the dismemberment and reuse of these texts was prompted by the intervention of wealthy 16th/17th century humanists, such as the Dean of Ripon Anthony Higgin, who were able to access a remarkable amount of manuscripts written or circulated in Ripon and North Yorkshire.

This research would have been impossible without the help and encouragement of Emilia Jamroziak, Joanne Fitton, Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis, and Ruth Burton.