Intricate scenes painted on book edges depicting landscapes, flowers and buildings are the subject of a new exhibition in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.
The exhibition features highlights from the Library’s Bollmann Collection which includes fore-edge paintings executed over 250 years. They were painted on books printed between 1639 and 1895, with a wide variety of subjects – landscapes, mansions, religious buildings, boats, coats of arms, and flowers. Many of the books in the collection are in decorative bindings and the most beautiful of these will be on view in the exhibition alongside the fore-edge paintings.
Entitled “Bound to please: the Elsbeth and Bettina Bollmann Collection of fore-edge paintings and bindings”, the exhibition in the Long Room of the Old Library will run until the end of November and forms part of the Book Of Kells exhibition.
The unusual art of painting on the flat fore-edges of books goes back many centuries but the more subtle art of creating a hidden picture which is only visible when the leaves of the book are fanned appeared in England in the middle of the 17th century. There are three 17th-century fore-edge paintings in the Bollmann Collection, one of them probably executed in 1652 and the other two dated 1685 and 1688.
The art of fore-edge painting was taken up by the firm of Edwards of Halifax in the late 18th century and is often associated with that family. Founded by William Edwards in Halifax, Yorkshire, William was joined in his business by his sons, two of whom opened their own premises in London.
Apart from fore-edge paintings, the Edwards are known for their Etruscan-style bindings, described as such because motifs typical of Etruscan vases were used to decorate them, and for illustrated vellum bindings, on which a drawing on the cover is covered with a thin layer of transparent vellum to protect it. Both of these designs by the Edwards family are represented by several books in the Bollmann Collection. These stunning bindings are among those forming part of this exhibition.
Most fore-edge paintings are not dated and some of them were added to books many years after the books were published. Double fore-edge paintings and triple edge paintings, which are not commonly found, are believed to date from the early 20th century. Books with these paintings are among the highlights of this exhibition.
Helen Shenton, Librarian and College Archivist, commented:
“The Bollmann Collection of fore-edge paintings and bindings is the largest collection of fine bindings acquired by the Library of Trinity College Dublin since the early 19th century. Most of the volumes are decorated with fore-edge paintings and many of them are in fine bindings, making this the most important collection of bindings to be acquired by the Library in over 200 years, since the Quin Collection was received in 1805.
“We are most grateful to Bettina Bollmann for making this donation of exquisite fore-edge paintings and bindings to the Library’s precious Research Collections. We are delighted to showcase highlights in this physical exhibition as well as an online exhibition and videos.”
The books on display in the Trinity exhibition form part of a collection of 52 books which was donated to the Library in 2022 by Bettina Bollmann, who had joined her mother Elsbeth over several decades in assembling the collection.
Most of the volumes are decorated with fore-edge paintings and many of them are in fine bindings, making this the most important collection of bindings to be acquired by the Library in over 200 years, since the Quin Collection was received in 1805.
Pictured in the main image are Principal Librarian, Early Printed Books & Special Collections, Dr Lydia Ferguson and exhibition curator, donor, Bettina Bollmann.
Paw prints, burn marks and a mysterious code … Ireland’s only copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio has all the hall marks of a book that was much used and much loved.
The highly-regarded volume is the centrepiece of a new exhibition in the Library of Trinity College Dublin entitled ‘Shakespeare the Irishman’ marking 400 years since the Bard’s complete works were first published. Both a physical exhibition and online version of the Library exhibition were launched last night in the Old Library [Thurs, April 13th] by Trinity alumna and author Anne Enright.
The first collected edition of William Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623, seven years after his death. Without it, half of his plays would have been lost. Surviving copies of the First Folio are among the most highly-sought after books in the world.
Trinity’s copy was acquired at the auction of the library of the late academic Arthur Browne after his death in 1805. Since then the First Folio has been one of the most cherished items in the Library’s collections.
Helen Shenton, Librarian & College Archivist, commented:
“This exhibition is part of the global celebrations of ‘the book that gave us Shakespeare’ – without the publication of the First Folio we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays. It is important to Trinity and Ireland because we have the only copy of the First Folio on the island. It is the highlight of the extensive Shakespearean material in our Library collections. It’s fantastic that it can be seen in the exhibition here in the Old Library and in its digitised form through the Virtual Trinity Library.”
Andy Murphy, Professor of English and curator of the exhibition, commented:
“This exhibition tells the story of Trinity’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, one of the jewels in the crown of the Library’s collection. While in good condition, it’s clear that it was a much beloved and read volume. Evidence of burn marks, drink stains, paw prints, and mysterious symbols, which have yet to be deciphered, tell us that this is a book that has been used and abused, but always cherished.
“In Ireland, Shakespeare’s plays have always been deeply intertwined with politics. The exhibition explores how his plays were adopted and adapted in Ireland focusing on his centrality to 18th century ascendancy colonial culture; his influence on 19th century Irish nationalists such as Wolfe Tone, James Connolly, and Patrick Pearse and the translation of some of his work into the Irish language in the 20th century.”
The exhibition marks the launch of the Trinity Centre for the Book a new research centre hosted in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute in collaboration with the Library, which will co-ordinate and share research on the rich cultural and social importance of books of all types.
Mark Faulkner, Ussher Assistant Professor in Medieval Literature and Director of the Trinity Centre for the Book, commented:
“As this exhibition demonstrates, Trinity’s Library has an outstanding collection of Shakespearean material; and this excellence is mirrored in its holdings of medieval manuscripts, early printed books and the archives of authors, politicians, thinkers and many others. The new Trinity Centre for the Book will harness these outstanding collections and the university’s significant concentration of experts across its three faculties and the Library to further our understanding of one of society’s most important technologies – the book.”
More about the Trinity Centre for the Book:
The Trinity Centre for the Book, hosted in Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute, in collaboration with the Library, aspires to make Trinity a globally recognised centre for the study, understanding and sharing of the book. The centre will capitalise on Trinity’s outstanding Library collections that span thousands of years, from the Egyptian Books of the Dead to the Library’s rapid response collecting initiative ‘Living in Lockdown’ – a hybrid collection of physical works and born digital submissions. It will also harness the university’s significant concentration of expertise, with more than 150 researchers publishing over 1,000 works on book history over the last ten years. The centre will examine all aspects of the history of the book to broaden our understanding of its rich cultural and social importance. This will include the key role it has played in communicating knowledge and lived experience for millennia, to recent developments in non-alphabetic forms of communication such as emojis and the emergence of AI-driven content generation engines such as ChatGPT. See more here
More about Trinity’s First Folio:
The First Folio is one of the most highly-regarded books in the world. Trinity holds the only copy of the book on the island of Ireland. It formerly belonged to Arthur Browne, who was born in New England into a family with strong Irish connections. He studied at Trinity and settled in Dublin. Browne was a distinguished lawyer and an academic at Trinity, where he was both Prof of Law and Prof of Greek. At the time Trinity had its own seat in the Irish parliament and Browne was MP for Trinity from 1783 until parliament was dissolved in 1800. Trinity’s copy of the volume, while in good condition, includes evidence of its having been well used by readers over the decades with evidence of burn marks; drink stains; paw prints; and annotations. The most intriguing aspect of Trinity’s copy is a page that includes a set of inscriptions on one of its blank pages. These are yet to be deciphered, but are most likely shorthand symbols. Trinity purchased the book at the sale of Browne’s books in the wake of his death in 1805 paying £26 11s 6d for the volume.
The Library of Trinity College Dublin is the only library on the island of Ireland that enjoys UK Legal Deposit status which entitles it to receive a copy of every item published in Ireland and the UK. It has enjoyed this status since 1801, enabling the Library to build an unparalleled record of our intellectual and cultural heritage for the benefit of students, researchers and visitors from near and far.
In 2013 these powers were extended from printed publications to include non-print (electronic) legal deposit, allowing readers to access websites, e-books, and online journals, creating an unprecedented collection of digital and online publishing which captures contemporary living. The commitment to electronic legal deposit has also provided access to the UK Web Archive, which holds millions of websites and over 100 curated collections including Brexit and the global Covid-19 pandemic, to name but a few.
Ranging from the most contemporary electronic collections to 19th century print collections, the impact of both print and non-print legal deposit for the island of Ireland has been significant.
In 2016, marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, the Library of Trinity College Dublin collaborated with the Bodleian Library and British Library to archive websites from both the Irish and UK web domains as they reflected on this pivotal moment in modern Irish history in the 1916 Web Archiving Project.
The Library of Trinity College Dublin has one of the most significant collections of Northern Irish publications published on the island of Ireland, including books, pamphlets and local history, especially relevant as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement also this week.
By the 1930s, the number of newly published books banned in Ireland each year was between 100-150, denying the Irish public the right to important Irish and international literature. Under Legal Deposit, the Library of Trinity College Dublin continued to receive these books and was able to provide access, albeit under very restricted conditions.
Legal Deposit enabled the collection of books by women authors from the 19th century onwards, both from Ireland and the UK. This helped to counteract collection bias and improved representation.
Commenting on its significance, Librarian & College Archivist, Helen Shenton said:
“Today, the Library of Trinity College Dublin together with our five legal deposit libraries in the UK, celebrate 10-years of digital collecting, which has enabled the creation of a seventh, transnational digital library for the benefit of all. It is also an opportunity to look back on the significant impact Legal Deposit has had over centuries, building an unparalleled record of our intellectual and cultural heritage.”
About Legal Deposit Libraries
There are six legal deposit libraries across in Ireland and the UK. They are:
The legal deposit libraries work together to ensure the long-term preservation of Irish and UK publications. They ensure that publications are held securely and that they can be discovered and accessed by readers. For further details on the 10th anniversary celebrations on digital collecting see British Library announcement.
An Post issued two stamps featuring illustrations from the Book of Kells this week. The brightly coloured stamps show the profile of the lion, a reoccurring image in the manuscript, symbolising Christ and the resurrection.
Unveiling the stamps at Trinity College Dublin, Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, Jack Chambers, said:“The stamps feature some of our most recognisable and iconic heritage images. As we approach St Patrick’s day, that global celebration of Irish culture, these stamps will carry these beautiful details from the Book of Kells to every corner of the globe.”
Librarian & College Archivist at the Library of Trinity College Dublin, Helen Shenton added: “We are delighted these exquisite images from the Book of Kells will feature in An Post’s Stamp for Ireland series marking St Patrick’s Day. The Book of Kells is an iconic symbol of Irish identity worldwide and it is very fitting that such beautifully illustrated stamps communicate with those living in Ireland and abroad.”
Details of stamp imagery
W – international rate stamp features a detail from the Book of Kells folio 124r (detail of profile lion.) The Physiologus, a 4th-century Greek text describing animals and their symbolic qualities, was a source of inspiration for the Irish monks working on the Book of Kells. According to the Physiologus the lion cub was born dead, but on the third day was revived by the father lion breathing on its face. This was a potent analogy for the resurrection of Christ three days after his crucifixion.
N – national rate stamp features a detail from the Book of Kells folio 114v (detail of profile lion.) The detail of the profile of the lion’s head is taken from a page of display text introducing the passage in which Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives and foretells his abandonment by his disciples and his resurrection. The border of this folio is filled with snakes and dominating it all is the striking profile head of the lion, symbol of Christ and his resurrection.
The First Day Cover envelope features a more sedate image from the manuscript and shows a domestic cat chasing a rat, which has managed to snatch a communion host into its mouth. Cats were kept as pets during the time the Book of Kells was created and the monks may have kept them to help preserve the food stores in the monastery
On St Brigid’s Day Trinity College Dublin installed four new sculptures in its Old Library to honour the scholarship of four trailblazing women.
The women represented are the scientist Rosalind Franklin, the folklorist, dramatist and theatre-founder Augusta Gregory, the mathematician Ada Lovelace and the pioneering women’s rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.
The new sculptures, the first to be commissioned in more than a century, will be displayed among the 40 marble sculpture-busts that line Trinity’s historic Long Room, which were hitherto all of men. The current artworks represent men throughout history, from Homer and Shakespeare to Dean Jonathan Swift, Sir Rowan Hamilton and Wolfe Tone.
The new sculptures were launched by Trinity’s Chancellor Dr Mary McAleese at a ceremony in the Long Room.
Their addition represents a first step toward a better representation of our diversity in all of Trinity’s public spaces.
Rowan Gillespie’s sculpture of Mary Wollstonecraft was modelled in wax, 3-d-scanned, milled in Carrara marble and then carved and fine finished. Rowan is known for his work in bronze and this is the first time he carved in marble since his student years.
Maudie Brady’s sculpture of Ada Lovelace was modelled originally in clay, then 3-d scanned and carved from a block of statuary Carrara marble by computer-programming, and, finished by hand. Maudie thought it would be apt for Lovelace, as a mathematician and, effectively, the first ‘computer programmer’ to be represented using techniques enabled by computer programmes and algorithms, book-ended by modelling initially in clay, and, finishing the marble sculpture by hand.
Guy Reid’s sculpture of Augusta Gregory was hand-carved in lime wood. Guy’s practice is focused singularly on portraiture, and is inspired by medieval, coloured wooden sculptures, resulting in painted depictions of family and friends, alongside special commissions.
Vera Klute’s sculpture has been created in three sections with classical and contemporary techniques. The portrait is made with cast Parian (a type of porcelain) Jesmonite, marble, and Swarovski crystals, the latter making direct references to Franklin’s use of x-ray crystallography to research the structure of DNA. The helix of the socle is a visual nod to Franklin’s contribution to the discovery of the helical form of DNA.
Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton and also Chair of the Artist Selection Panel welcomed the College community, sculptors and invited guests to the packed launch event:
“On this auspicious day, St Brigid’s Day, we celebrate women’s scholarship with these sculptures in the Long Room of the Old Library. Their individual contributions to knowledge and to society will now be permanently honoured in this cathedral of learning at the heart of Trinity.”
Provost Dr Linda Doyle stressed the historic significance of the occasion:
“While it is important to respect tradition, it is also important to break tradition. The addition of these sculptures of women has been a long time coming. I want to thank everyone involved in the creation and installation of these beautiful pieces. Sculptures are an iconic feature of Trinity’s Long Room, and I hope that the inclusion of these four outstanding women is the furthering of a collective recognition of the incredible contribution of women across many fields.”
In an uplifting inauguration, Chancellor poignantly quoted the 18th century Irish poet Antaine Ó Raifteirí in her speech:
“Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dul chun síneadh, Is tar eis na féile Bríde ardóigh mé mo sheol”.
“Spring is coming. The days are lengthening and after Brigid’s feast day, I will raise my sail. We are the lucky generation to be here to see the springtide. To see Brigid’s sail raised to catch the wind, to see great women given the respect and recognition they deserve. Congratulations to all those who have helped open the floodgates which will one day see full justice done to the work and talent of women everywhere.”
The four women being honoured were chosen in 2020 from more than 500 nominations by students, staff, and alumni covering a wide field of ground-breaking individuals who contributed significantly to scholarship and culture across history.
In 2021, after an extensive national and international shortlisting process, nine artists were invited and supported financially to submit maquettes (preliminary models) of at least two of the nominated women, from which the four artists were chosen.
An ‘In Conversation’ event with the artists and Trinity champions of the scholars also took place in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Institute the following day on 2nd February 2023 (more information here).
More about the portrait candidates:
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft was a pioneering women’s rights advocate, and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), often considered a foundational text for women’s rights movements. Radical for her time, she argued that all humans have the faculties of rational thought and reason. She also argued that women must be allowed to be educated and to contribute equally to society, stating in A Vindication, “my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue.”
Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was the author of an 1843 monograph on Charles Babbage’s design for the first analytical engine (general-purpose computer). To her translation of Menabrea’s report of a presentation made by Babbage in Turin she added her famous Notes, highlighting the potential and flexibility of an analytical engine compared to a calculator. These Notes included an algorithm for computing Bernouilli numbers and presaged computer-generated music, a century before Alan Turing proved that such achievements required properties now intrinsic to computers, which Babbage’s design possessed. Ada Lovelace’s unique contribution was to publish the first recognition of the capacity of a computer to make logical deductions about both numerical and non-numerical objects.
Augusta Gregory (1852 -1932)
Lady Gregory became one of the most significant intellectual and creative powerhouses of the Irish Literary Revival. Her work as a writer, dramatist, theatre-founder, champion of the Irish language, translator, folklorist, and social commentator helped define and give voice to the tenets of cultural nationalism in the years leading up to, and after, the establishment of the Irish Free State. Today, scholars look to Augusta Gregory’s ground-breaking work for its artistry, for insights into the country’s complex revolutionary period and to explore the role of language and literature in defining Irish identity as distinct, self-determining, and heroic, both nationally and internationally.
Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) Rosalind Franklin’s scientific discoveries have benefited humanity in several ways. As a fundamental experimentalist, excelling in X-ray crystallography, and despite a career cut short by premature death at the age of 37, she made two seminal contributions: her impeccable analysis generated key measurements for one of the most transformative advances of the 20th century, uncovering the structure of DNA. Her later work had an equally pivotal impact on revealing the structure of RNA viruses, including early work on the Polio virus. Discoveries in both areas contributed to the awarding of Nobel prizes after her death, though not to her (they cannot be awarded posthumously). While her name is often connected with missing out on a Nobel prize, her legacy is of much greater significance.
2022 will be a year to remember for the Library of Trinity College Dublin. The monumental task of decanting the Library collections commenced last Spring as part of the Old Library Redevelopment Project.
All of the Library’s Research Collections housed in the Old Library are being transferred to special storage. This means removing 350,000 Early Printed books and a total of 700,000 collection items as part of the Library collections. Readers will continue to have access to all material in an Interim Research Collections Study Centre during the lifetime of the building conservation project.
The decant, led by the Library team, is a massive operation, with more than 50 Library staff assisted by over 25 project assistants. Significant care and consideration goes into moving a collection of this scale and the dedication of the Library team is impressive.
This is one of the largest decants of a heritage building in Ireland. As part of the decant process, each book is carefully cleaned with a specialised vacuum, measured, electronically tagged and linked to an online catalogue record, before being safely relocated to a climate-controlled storage facility.
Minister of State for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan visited the Old Library in October to see at close quarters the monumental task.
The Old Library Redevelopment Project is a transformative undertaking and is ensuring this 18th century Old Library building and its collections are conserved for the next century.
The Library of Trinity College Dublin and Trinity Centre for the Book Research Seminar will host the Consortium of European Research Libraries (CERL) Annual Seminar on Tuesday October 4, 2022 (9:30am – 5pm), at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute. Ten years since digitisation was last the subject of a CERL Seminar, we wish to bring people together to discuss the varied challenges research libraries face in the planning and realising of internal and collaborative programmes of digitisation for cultural heritage materials.
Speakers from various international and Irish libraries will comment on the state of the art of digitisation and the role of research libraries therein, presenting a variety of recent and ongoing projects. These include the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Folger Shakespeare Library, John Rylands Library, and the libraries of the National University of Ireland Galway and Royal Irish Academy. Through the seminar we hope to instigate a community-focused discussion to problematise the maturing field of cultural heritage digitisation.
The full programme is available here for the event Registration is open to all. Please register before September 26 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A very warm welcome to all returning students, academics, researchers and staff.
Library Supports & Services
We have a new orientation guide which is a result of students’ questions about the Library; a special thank you to the Global Student Ambassadors who were so generous with sharing their top tips in this new Getting to know your Library video.
We in the Library kickstarted the new academic year with in-person student orientation programmes. They included tours for postgraduates, mature and Trinity Access Programme students.
Sensory Library tours are also taking place this week as part of Trinity’s Autism orientation programme, and we look forward to welcoming incoming first year undergraduate students with the wonderful S2S Mentor team. Keep an eye out for new sensory furniture and spaces as part of the TCD Sense project.
This semester’s Library HITS (Helpful Information for Trinity Students/Staff) are starting next week and the first module will focus on skills for postgraduate and returning students. The interdisciplinary taster sessions co-delivered with Student Learning & Development are relevant for all students and cover everything from essay writing, academic integrity and critical thinking to publishing and promoting your research.
If you have any queries, Library staff are here to assist you with virtual consultations, skills workshops and a range of services. Please email Library@tcd.ie and a Library staff member will get back to you, or contact your Subject Librarian directly.
A refurbishment project of the Library entrances will start in the coming months. It will involve the installation of new access control gates at the entrances of the Berkeley, Lecky, John Stearne and Hamilton Libraries, providing automated access to the Library using the physical ID card and Trinity Live App. The aim is to give seamless access for staff and students, while improving security for Library collections and enhancing the spaces. All information on the project will be available on the Library website.
Virtual Trinity Library
In June 2022 the Library released the digitised version of the one of the world’s finest manuscripts, the Book of St Albans by the 13th century scribe, historian and artist Matthew Paris. The Book of St Albans received conservation attention, cataloguing updates, and was fully digitised, as part of the Virtual Trinity Library’s ‘Manuscripts for Medieval Studies’ project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The digitised version is being used by students of the M. Phil in Medieval Studies. Its launch received extensive media coverage in the Irish Central, Irish Times and Irish Independent.
Discover more at European Researchers’ Night on September 30th and join the Library and those involved in the research theme ‘Manuscript, Print and Book Cultures’ for a range of activities on Trinity’s outstanding Library collections.
Old Library Redevelopment Project
The Old Library Redevelopment Project is progressing apace with the decant of the collections from the Old Library, involving the gargantuan task of transferring 350,000 early printed books as part of a total 700,000 items.
Access to all the Library’s Research Collections and its staff expertise will continue throughout the lifetime of the Old Library Redevelopment Project (OLRP).
The Joint Research Collections Reading Room is currently housed in the East Pavilion of the Old Library. In 2023 it will transfer to an Interim Research Collections Study Centre in the basement of the Ussher Library. You will find up-to-date information on the Old Library Redevelopment: Update for Readers section of the Library website.
The Old Library and Long Room remain open and accessible to you and visitors for the next year. The restoration and construction phase will require its closure from the end of 2023.
The Book of Kells Interim Exhibition will ensure that the 9th century manuscript remains on view throughout. Subject to planning permission, the plan for the Interim Exhibition is to restore the historic Printing House to display the Book of Kells and erect a temporary pavilion in New Square to host a temporary exhibition for the three years of the Old Library’s closure.
Join us on Culture Night, 23rd September, when the Conservation team will be giving talks on the conservation process as part of the Old Library Redevelopment Project.
Please enjoy the Long Room, often called the ‘most beautiful room in Ireland’, this year – as a reminder, every member of Trinity’s community is welcome to visit for free, but it is important to book ahead, for more details email BookofKells@tcd.ie. The Library will also be organising tours for staff and students in the coming months with more information to follow.
Finally, the 87th IFLA World Library and Information Congress was held in Ireland for the first time at the Dublin Convention Centre in July. I was honoured to give a keynote presentation on intertwined digital and cultural heritage, and the former Chancellor Mary Robinson gave an outstanding keynote address on ‘Climate Justice’ to the 2000+ delegates at the opening ceremony. Her challenges to us all were stark, simple and clear, and highly recommended viewing, as we figure out our collective and individual responses to the environmental crises.
With warmest good wishes for the forthcoming semester,
The Library of Trinity College Dublin makes a 13th century masterpiece globally accessible
One of the most finely illustrated medieval manuscripts, Matthew Paris’s Book of St Albans has been digitised by the Library of Trinity College Dublin for the first time. The 13th century masterpiece features 54 individual works of medieval art and has fascinated readers across the centuries, from royalty to renaissance scholars.
The precious manuscript survived the chaos and trauma of the dissolution of the monasteries and came to Trinity College Dublin in 1661.
Created by the renowned scribe, the Benedictine monk, Matthew Paris of St Albans Abbey in England, the manuscript chronicles the life of St Alban, the first Christian martyr in England. It also outlines the construction of St Albans cathedral.
The monastery at St Albans was one of the most important in the country. It was a major site of pilgrimage receiving many pilgrims from Ireland.
The book was held in St Albans Abbey for 300 years until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539.
All other precious manuscripts by Matthew Paris are held in the British Library, and the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Chetham’s Library Manchester.
The Book of St Albans was a high-status book, viewed by King Henry VI. Written in Latin it also contains Anglo-Norman French which made it accessible to a wider secular audience including educated noble women.
It was borrowed by noble ladies of the period, including the King’s sister-in-law Countess of Cornwall, Sanchia of Provence, and others.
The content at times gruesome, include illustrations featuring the decapitation of St Alban and his executioner whose eyes literally pop out of his head at the point of execution.
The artwork consisting of mostly framed narrative scenes, is a tinted drawing technique where outlined drawings are highlighted with coloured washes from a limited palette. This technique was distinctly English, dating back to Anglo Saxon art of the 10th century.
From St Albans Abbey, it came into the ownership of the Elizabethan Royal adviser and astronomer, John Dee, following which it was sold to James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, and subsequently came to Trinity with his library in 1661. It has remained in the Library of Trinity College Dublin for over 350 years.
For the first time, this manuscript is now fully digitised and available online, a process which has been undertaken through the Virtual Trinity Library initiative as part of its Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York.
The Book of St Albans has been fully digitised ahead of the feast day of St Alban, tomorrow Wednesday, 22nd June.
Commenting on its significance, Librarian & College Archivist, Helen Shenton said:
“The Library of Trinity College Dublin is delighted to make this medieval masterpiece accessible to a global audience. For the first time in history, this exquisite manuscript by one of the world’s most famous medieval artists and chroniclers, Matthew Paris may be viewed digitally revealing its beautiful artistry in full colour. As part of the Virtual Trinity Library’s Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project it contributes to teaching and research at Trinity College Dublin and has fostered collaboration with other universities and libraries.”
Virtual Trinity Library is a digitisation initiative of the Library of Trinity College Dublin’s most valued collections. It will conserve, catalogue, curate, digitise and research these unique collections of national importance, making them accessible to a global audience, from schoolchildren to scholars.
Manuscripts Curator, Estelle Gittins said: “This astonishing manuscript contains some of the most incredible medieval art, it is a window into an elaborate world of saints, kings and knights, but also sailors, builders and bell ringers. Before now the only way to study all of the images in this important manuscript was to consult the rare, black and white, 1924 facsimile edition,it is so exciting that this can now be viewed and enjoyed by everyone at the click of a button.”
Virtual Trinity Library’sManuscripts for Medieval Studies project which was philanthropically supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, has focussed on 16 medieval manuscripts of international research significance. The manuscripts are used for teaching on the Trinity M. Phil in Medieval Studies course. The selection demonstrates the breadth and variety of the Library’s collections of source material for the study of the art, history, culture, language and literature of the medieval period, and the history of the book in particular.
Other works digitised as part of this project include the highly decorated 12th century manuscript, the Winchcombe Psalter and surviving manuscripts of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury and Salisbury Cathedral, medieval music from Britain and Ireland, and a rare 15th-century life of St Thomas Becket.
The Library of Trinity College, Dublin is delighted to announce that as part of an ongoing Virtual Trinity Library project, over one hundred images of Cuala Press prints are now available to view online on Trinity College Dublin’s Digital Collections platform.