Manuscripts

Christ Church has an extensive collection of manuscripts, ranging from early Greek through medieval to modern examples. A catalogue was published in 1867 (G.W. Kitchin, Catalogus Codicum Manuscriptorum qui in Bibliotheca Aedis Christi apud Oxonienses Adservantur ). An annotated copy, kept in the College library, has addenda in card-index form. C. H. Hoole, in his Account of some Greek Manuscripts Contained in the Library of Christ Church, Oxford (1895), called attention to the outstanding Latin, English, Hebrew, Arabic and Welsh manuscripts as well.

As cataloguing practices developed and became more detailed, Kitchin’s work came to look overly succinct and old-fashioned, so, the Library is pleased to announce the publication of the first in its new series of manuscript catalogues. The volume is the Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford by Ralph Hanna and David Rundle. The catalogue is lavishly illustrated and contains full codicological, textual and historical descriptions of the medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the Western collection.

The Greek manuscripts came with the bequest of Archbishop Wake in 1737; they were probably brought from Mount Athos about 1724, but how the Archbishop acquired them is unknown. In all there are eighty-six, dating from the nineth to the eighteenth century, and include patristic writings and Biblical texts.

There are about sixty Latin manuscripts, the earliest of the twelfth century, of varying provenances, mainly of theological, liturgical and legal interest. They include two fifteenth-century ones of Virgil, presented by John Moore in 1766; seven vellum manuscripts of the Vulgate (five dating from the fourteenth century); two French fifteenth-century Books of Hours; an interesting fifteenth-century Corpus Juris Angliae, beginning with Magna Carta and ending with the Statute De Wardis. A lectionary, finely illuminated, made for Thomas Wolsey and dated 1528 was possibly presented by him; it is the companion of the Gospels at Magdalen College. A fourteenth-fifteenth century copy of Ralph Higden's Polychronicon was given by Samuel Burton in 1595. In the separate library bequeathed by Richard Allestree in 1681, is a thirteenth-century manuscript of the sermons of St. Bernard. A later group of some interest includes some notes on Isaac Newton's Principia, mathematical tables and Institutiones Astronomicae by David Gregory (1661-1708), presented by his son, also David, Dean from 1756 to 1767.

The Oriental manuscripts include seventeen in Hebrew (though Dean Fell bequeathed twenty-eight in 1687), there is one on vellum containing the Halacoth, dated 1410, and two seventeenth-century works on the Cabala. Among the twenty-nine Arabic manuscripts are four Korans, the oldest of 1441, two fragmentary portions of the Arabian Nights and a version of the Gospels.

There are three French manuscripts, one a fourteenth-century New Testament, and two in Italian, one a Palladio, Antichità di Roma, 1596. The two Welsh manuscripts contain for the most part poems in praise of members of the Salusbury family by William Cynwal (d. 1587 or 1588).

Manuscripts in English probably form a more important group. Some, such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales of c. 1420, Lydgate's translation of Dares Phrygius, and three early Wycliffite translations of the Bible are of literary interest, but the majority have historical value. There is the sixteenth-century manuscript of George Cavendish's Life of Wolsey, probably used as copy for the first published edition, but pride of place historically must go to the extensive papers of William Wake (1657-1737) covering not only the English ecclesiastical and political world of his time but also a wide range of contacts with Europe and missionary enterprises overseas.

Another important group is the collection of manuscript music, mainly of the later sixteenth and earlier seventeenth century; a full detailed catalogue is available online.

Two smaller groups worthy of mention are, firstly, the papers of Thomas Gaisford (1779-1855), Dean from 1831 until his death, of interest not only for the history of Greek scholarship but also for his letters to a pupil, Fynes Clinton, which reveal his business activities. There are also the manuscripts of H.J. White (1859-1934), Dean 1920-34. These cover his work on the Vulgate.

An increasing number of manuscripts are also included in Digital Library, providing an interactive web application supporting descriptive material and bibliography, plus a viewing environment of digitized images.