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Italian Giant Bibles: The Circulation and Use of the Book at the Time of the Ecclesiastical Reform in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 June 2021

Orietta Da Rold
Affiliation:
University Lecturer, Faculty of English, St John's College, University of Cambridge,
Peter A. Stokes
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
Philip A. Shaw
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer, School of English, University of Leicester,
Rolf H. Bremmer
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Medieval English and, by special appointment, Professor of Frisian at the University of Leiden.
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Summary

Italian Giant Bibles

ITALIAN GIANT BIBLES – Bibbie atlantiche in Italian, Bibles atlantiques or atlantes in French, Reisenbibeln in German – constitute a distinctive group within the Latin Vulgate family, be it in terms of format, text or decoration. These large lectern Bibles contained both the Old and New Testaments in one manuscript that could be divided into two or more volumes.

The Italian Giant Bibles were designed as a manifestation of the religious renewal and the new ecclesiastical unity promoted by the Roman Church in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This movement is commonly called the Gregorian Reform, from the name of Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) who surrounded himself with a group of reformers within the papal court. He adopted measures to strengthen the moral integrity and independence of the clergy and theorised the principles of reform.

Roman reformers elaborated and produced various types of book, which were new both in terms of format and content, to restore the auctoritas of the Roman Church and guard against claims from the emperor and other ecclesiastical principalities. The monumental aspect and the textual uniformity of the Giant Bibles became the emblem of ecclesiastical reform in the eleventh century.

Characteristics of Italian Giant Bibles

This type of biblical manuscript has monumental and very spectacular dimensions: it can be 600 millimetres high and 400 millimetres wide. Nevertheless, striking dimensions are not the only distinguishing features of Italian Giant Bibles. Their uniformity is due to several material and textual elements, namely:

  • – The division of the manuscript's material structure into blocks of quires that hold complete textual units, either a single biblical book (e.g. Job or Psalms) or a group of biblical books (e.g. Octateuch or Prophets);

  • – The use of a standardised Carolingian minuscule font;

  • – A two-column page layout;

  • – Each column of text being between 55 and 60 lines long;

  • – The use of large ornamental initials, placed at the beginning of each biblical book, to punctuate the text divisions of the Bible in an artistic way;

  • – Two monumental initials: F (Frater) at the beginning of Saint Jerome's Epistle, and I (In) at the beginning of Genesis, that take the whole page, to mark the beginning of the manuscript and of the whole biblical text;

  • – The Canon Tables are displayed on four pages, placed between the Old and the New Testaments;

  • – The introduction of biblical books by additional texts: prologues, prefaces, chapters and so on.

Type
Chapter
Information
Writing Europe, 500-1450
Texts and Contexts
, pp. 59 - 82
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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