The Wycliffite Bibles in the Library of Trinity College Dublin

In the later half of the fourteenth century a group of Oxford scholars, associated with the theologian John Wycliffe (c.1330-84), set out to translate the Bible from Latin into English. This Bible, known as the Wycliffite Bible, was banned by the hierarchy in the early 1400s and for the next 125 years anyone caught owning such a Bible could, in theory, be condemned for heresy. Despite these restrictions, the Wycliffite Bible was one of the most extensive productions of the Middle Ages, of which there are over 250 extant manuscripts. The Library of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) holds nine of these manuscripts.

The nine manuscripts in TCD offer some insight into the various stages of production. The first attempt at the Wycliffite Bible, for example, was a direct translation from the Latin and it reads rather awkwardly, more like a word-for-word translation because the Oxford scholars were keen to demonstrate that the English version was as trustworthy as the Latin text from which it came. It is usually referred to as the Early Version (EV). Towards the end of the fourteenth century, a later group of scholars decided it was time to improve upon this Early Version so that the English would read more fluently. Both the EV and LV version of the Wycliffite Bible can be found in the Trinity collection.

To talk about 250 manuscripts is a bit misleading because it indicates only the number of manuscripts that contain the Bible in whole or in part; it does not indicate the survival of so many complete Bibles. For example, MS 66 begins with Genesis, but concludes with the introduction to the Psalms. Mary Dove holds that its sister manuscript or the second volume of the same Bible, which begins with Proverbs and ends with Revelations, is London, British Library MS Additional 15580. It would be interesting to know how the manuscripts came to be separated and what became of the missing Book of Psalms.

Some manuscripts contain extra bits of information that illustrate the use that was made of the Bibles. For example, MS 75 is one of a hundred manuscripts to contain a set of tables setting out the sections of the Bible which are to be read at Mass each Sunday. [See images of ff. 9 & 100 below].

TCD MS 75, folio 9 r

Each table is laid out in a series of columns that lists the Sunday or feast day, the chapter of the relevant Bible passage, a letter of the alphabet to mark the passage in the main Bible, and the opening and closing words of the Gospel passage. If we compare the images of folios 9 [image above] and 100 [image below] from MS 75, we see that the ‘a’ in the margin of f. 100 occurs beside the words ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [marked with a red arrow].

TCD MS 75, folio 100r

This corresponds with the entry for ‘holy rode day’ on f. 9 of the table [green arrow], which indicates that the Gospel for that feast day is taken from John 14, where it will be highlighted in the main part of the Bible by the letter ‘a’ in the margin. We can also see that the opening words in the table correspond with those marked on f. 100, ‘be not ȝour hertes destorbled’ [blue arrow], which conclude with the closing lines of the Gospel passage ‘I schal do it’ [black arrow]. This kind of table opens up the debate on who were the actual readers and owners of the Wycliffite Bibles. Were these tables indicative of an enthusiastic lay readership, preparing the readings before or after the liturgical service as the translators intended? Do they suggest, on the other hand, that the Bible remained in the hands of the less Latinate clergy who were glad to access the Bible in English rather than Latin?

The Wycliffite Bible manuscripts in Trinity provide a valuable insight into the changing attitudes to religion among certain sectors of society in the lead up to the Reformation.

Further Reading:

Christopher de Hamel, The Book. A History of the Bible. Phaidon, 2001. Chapter 7 (pp. 166-90).

Mary Dove. The First English Bible: The Text and Context of the Wycliffite Versions. CUP, 2007.

Matti Peikola. ‘Tables of Lections in Manuscripts of the Wycliffite Bible’ in Form and Function in the Late Medieval Bible. Eds Eyal Poleg and Laura Light. Library of the Written Word 27; The Manuscript World 4. (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 351-78.

John Scattergood and Guido Latré, ‘Dublin, Trinity College Library MS 75: A Lollard Bible and Some Protestant Owners’, in Manuscripts and Ghosts: Essays on the Transmission of Medieval and Early Renaissance Literature. Four Courts Press, 2006. (pp. 163–80.)

Elizabeth Solopova. The Wycliffite Bible: Origin, History and Interpretation. Brill, 2016.

Dr. Niamh Pattwell, University College Dublin.

Dr. Pattwell is currently working on a volume of the Index of Middle English Prose for Trinity College Dublin with Prof. V.J. Scattergood.

Link to IMEP volumes:



Books of the Dead brought back to life

The Conservation Department has begun a campaign to conserve and rehouse some of the visually impressive papyri known as the Book of the Dead (TCD MSS 1658-1676) from the extensive collection of papyri housed in the Library of Trinity College Dublin. This collection was donated in 1838 by Edward King, viscount of Kingsborough.
The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is a funerary text containing a canon of spells and instructions, often accompanied by pictorial representations or ‘vignettes’, placed within the tomb to assist the deceased’s soul on the journey into the afterlife.
The first item undertaken by Conservation is MS 1664 (fig. 1), which displays a vignette of the judgement of Osiris, one of the greatest challenges a soul must undertake in order to pass into the netherworld and achieve immortality.

Fig. 1. Overall view of MS 1664 on paper supprts and wooden strainer in reflected light.

Fig. 1. Overall view of MS 1664 on paper supprts and wooden strainer in reflected light.

MS 1664 is attributed to ‘Te-saf daughter of Tepar’, who is represented as a figure in fine clothes between the twin goddesses of Maat (fig. 2). Te -saf must profess her good character to the god, Osiris (seated left), and his assessors (seated in the frieze above the scene). After her successful protestation of innocence, her heart is weighed against a feather – the symbol of Maat, the divine principle of cosmic order – to confirm her testimony and worthiness; however, this part of the scene is missing. The ibis-headed god, Thoth, stands before Osiris ready to record the outcome of Te-saf’s judgement and, if she is successful, assist her in the rest of her journey.

Fig. 2. Detail of MS 1664 showing Te-saf between the twin goddesses of Maat who are identified by the feathers over their heads.

Fig. 2. Detail of MS 1664 showing Te-saf between the twin goddesses of Maat who are identified by the feathers over their heads.

The Ancient Egyptians wrote on papyrus, a precursor to paper. Papyrus sheets are made up of two layers of strips cut from the inner stem of the Cyperus papyrus plant. One layer is composed of vertically aligned strips and the second layer is composed of horizontally aligned strips. These strips are arranged in position after having been thoroughly soaked in water and then dried under pressure. Individual sheets are then pasted together and trimmed to form scrolls.
The accessibility of the Egyptian papyri collection has been limited over the past few years due to condition issues. In 1848, the papyri scrolls were adhered to two paper supports, and tensioned around rigid wooden panels within glazed wooden frames. Although the paper was of high quality, prolonged and direct contact with the wooden support has contributed to the acidic degradation of the paper and subsequently, the papyrus. Furthermore, over time, as the temperature and relative humidity change, the papyri fibres expand and shrink and the naturally occurring salt content migrates and crystalizes within the layers. The build-up of internal stresses within the papyrus eventually results in layers cracking and lifting

Fig.3 Detail of delaminating papyrus along the top edge of MS 1664 in raking light.

Fig.3 Detail of delaminating papyrus along the top edge of MS 1664 in raking light.

In the case of MS 1664, a surface coating was also applied at some point, most likely during the nineteenth-century mounting process, that has since yellowed and partially solvated resulting in tidelines. All of these factors contribute to rendering the papyrus too fragile to be safely handled.
The initial investigation of MS 1664 has involved documenting the structure of the papyrus as well as its frame and supports. High-quality photo-documentation has been completed with Digital Resources Imaging Services and a sample of the surface coating has also been analysed by Trinity’s Centre for Microscopy and Analysis. The coating is believed to be a natural resin with some other unknown additives. Such coatings were not uncommon for mounters in the nineteenth century and the ingredients were often kept secret and thus, rarely published.
All of this information will be collated to ensure the papyri fragments will be preserved in a chemically and physically stable state.
Stabilization of the delaminated papyrus is a major aspect of the conservation programme. This requires careful examination under the stereo microscope. Gentle humidification with a nanomister – a device that generates a very fine aqueous mist – is used to make lifting sections more flexible. Under magnification, a very small brush is used to administer a purified wheat starch paste, a similar adhesive to that used by the ancient Egyptians to join sheets in a scroll. The paste is left to sit for a few seconds to further humidify the papyrus fibres before they are gently pressed back down into place.
The paper supports have also been cleaned. The next step will be to remove the papyrus and its paper supports from their acidic wooden strainer and re-tension them over an archival honeycomb board. These new structures will be temporarily replaced into their old frames while they await a new storage environment.
Fig. 4. Samuel H. Kress Fellow, Lauren Buttle, MAC, consolidating delaminated papyrus on MS 1664.

Fig. 4. Samuel H. Kress Fellow, Lauren Buttle, MAC, consolidating delaminated papyrus on MS 1664.

In addition to being able to stabilise the papyri collection, the research associated with this project has revealed connections between the fragment discussed here and a fragment owned by the Bristol Museum in the UK. These have been confirmed as belonging to the same book by renowned Egyptologist, Dr. Irmtraut Munro. The Conservation Department will continue to investigate this and other possible connections as well as the possibility of virtually re-uniting these fragments.

This project is made possible with generous support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Lauren Buttle MAC
Samuel H. Kress Fellow, Papyrus Conservation
Glucksman Conservation Department
The Library at Trinity College Dublin

Brian Boydell: A Centenary Display

Brian Boydell 1917-2000

Brian Boydell 1917-2000

Born in Dublin on 17th March 1917, Brian Boydell became one of the most influential figures in Irish cultural life from the 1940s until his death on 8th November 2000. After studies at Heidelberg, Cambridge, and London, Boydell embarked on a multi-faceted career as composer, conductor, singer, teacher, broadcaster, academic researcher and writer. For many years he represented the interests of creative artists on the Arts Council. He was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Dublin (Trinity College) in 1962, and developed the School of Music to the point that it became a fully-fledged academic department in 1974.

Brian Boydell: A terrible beauty, op. 59

Brian Boydell: A terrible beauty, op. 59

Notwithstanding his date of birth (St Patrick’s Day), in his approach to composition Boydell believed that self-conscious reliance on folk music idioms to denote Irishness was a cul-de-sac; instead national character would emerge naturally from the composer’s engagement with the cultural environment in which he lived.

Map of Dublin Music Venues c.1790

Map of Dublin Music Venues c.1790

To mark the centenary of his birth a selection of items from the Boydell archive (TCD MS 11128) is on display in the Long Room until the end of July, and a special conference will be held in the Trinity Long Room Hub and the Royal Irish Academy of Music on 23-24 June. As well as several of Boydell’s compositions, the display includes items which represent his musicological research, his participation in the Arts Council and Aosdána, his career as a performer and director of ensembles, and his deep immersion in the life of the College.

An online exhibition, in collaboration with The Google Cultural Institute will follow.

Roy Stanley






Seachtain na Gaeilge 2017 sa Seomra Fada

TCD MS 10878/L/2/1 Cré na Cille (An chéad eagrán, 1949)

TCD MS 10878/L/2/1
Cré na Cille (An chéad eagrán, 1949)

Beidh taispeántas beag lámhscríbhinní Chré na Cille le Máirtín Ó Cadhain le feiceáil sa Seomra Fada, Leabharlann Choláiste na Tríonóide, ar feadh Seachtain na Gaeilge 2017 (1-17ú Márta). Tá cóip phearsanta Chré na Cille an gCadhnach le fheiceáil – an chéad eagrán atá i gceist – agus an leabhar lán le ceartúcháin i lámh an gCadhanach. Foilsíodh an dara chló i 1965. Seans go raibh sé i gceist go gcuirfí na h-athraithe sin isteach sa dara chló, ach níor cuireadh.

Chomh maith leis an leabhar, tá dréacht-leathanaigh ceartaithe ó Chré na Cille i lámh an gCadhanach. Is féidir na héagsúlachtaí téacsúil idir an t-eagrán a foilsíodh agus an dréacht a fheicéail, agus mar sin is féidir a stíl scríbhneoireachta a thabhairt faoi deara.

Buailaigí isteach!

Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin

Translating a Hebrew Prophet into Greek: TCD MS 29 and its author.

On a recent visit to Trinity College Library, Dublin, I consulted TCD MS 29, briefly described as ‘Liber Danielis Prophetae, Graece, (Book of the Prophet Daniel, in Greek) a modern version dedicated to Queen Elizabeth’, but with no identification of its author. Examining the manuscript more closely, both the distinctive Greek hand and its content enabled me to identify it as one of only two surviving copies of the English Hebraist Hugh Broughton’s (1549-1612) translation of the Book of Daniel into Greek, which he composed in the 1580s. Both TCD MS 29 and the other extant copy (British Library, Royal MS 1 A IX are autograph but TCD MS 29 appears to be a fairer copy, with fewer corrections.

TCD MS 29, folio 1r

TCD MS 29, folio 1r

Broughton is best known today for translating the Bible into English. However, many important and influential nobles and statesmen were interested in Broughton’s Greek rendering of the book of Daniel: as well as being dedicated to Queen Elizabeth, Broughton presented a copy to William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Henry Hastings, 3rd earl of Huntingdon, admired the work so much that he asked Broughton to undertake a Greek translation of the entire Hebrew Bible!

Broughton’s project generated such interest because one of the most valuable tools for understanding the Old Testament was an ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint, translated from the Hebrew by Greek-speaking Jews in Alexandria around the third century BCE. Biblical scholars had long noticed that the New Testament tended to cite the Old Testament through this Septuagint translation, rather than by a direct translation of the original Hebrew. In the eyes of many early moderns, including Broughton, this New Testament stamp of authority meant that the Septuagint was important in bridging the gap between the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, and a crucial aid in the comprehension of both texts.

However, the Septuagint itself was problematic, diverting extensively from the Hebrew Bible. This was an especial problem for the book of Daniel, and was compounded by the book’s inherent difficulty, jumping between Hebrew and Aramaic and veiling its most important prophecies in its most difficult prose. As such, to scholars like Broughton it seemed that in many of the places where the Hebrew Bible was most challenging the Septuagint was least helpful. In this respect, Broughton’s Greek translation of Daniel, which drew on the vocabulary, style and lexical features of Septuagint Greek while attending more closely to the Hebrew original, was intended to provide a valuable hermeneutic tool for biblical exegesis.

Despite the initial excitement it provoked, Broughton’s work never lived up to the hopes men like Cecil had for it. Instead, a series of bitter confessional controversies, beginning in the late 1580s, reduced him to an object of ridicule, and forced him into near-permanent exile. A disappointingly small number of his papers and letters have survived to modernity. Those that do remain are scattered, partial and often anonymous, although we can now add TCD MS 29 to that slim corpus.

Kirsten Macfarlane, Lincoln College, Oxford