Panizzi Lectures 2014

The Giant Bibles of Twelfth-Century England

A series of three lectures by Christopher de Hamel

The great Latin Bibles, in huge multiple volumes, are by far the largest and most spectacular manuscripts commissioned in England in the 12th century, decorated with magnificent illuminated pictures. The lectures will consider the purpose of such books and why they were suddenly so fashionable and also why they passed out of fashion in England during the second half of the 12th century.

Lecture One: The Bury Bible

Monday 27 October 2014

18.15 - 19.30

The first lecture will consider the purpose of such books and why they were suddenly so fashionable. It will look principally at the Bible of Bury St Edmunds Abbey, now in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The manuscript was commissioned in the time of Anselm, abbot of Bury 1121-48. A chronicle of the abbey records that the cost for it was found by Hervey, brother of Talbot the prior, and that the manuscript was incomparably decorated by the hand of Master Hugo. The work is usually dated to around 1130. Hugo is the earliest professional artist in England whose name is known. 

This lecture will discuss what we can tell about Hugo and his work, from close examination of the manuscript itself. It will look at the larger questions of where exemplars and materials were found for the Bible, and at the phenomenal expense of such undertakings.

Lecture Two: The Winchester Bible

Thursday 30 October 2014

18.15 - 19.30

The Winchester Bible is still in the cathedral where it was commissioned, doubtless by Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester 1129-71. It too was illuminated by professional painters, who apparently also worked on frescoes in Spain. This year the manuscript is being rebound in preparation for exhibition in New York and eventual installation in a new display gallery in Winchester Cathedral. 

The lecture will take advantage of its disbinding to make new observations about its production, and to suggest new dates for the different phases of the work, undertaken in parallel with a second (but lesser) giant Bible from Winchester, now in the Bodleian Library, MS Auct. E. Infra 1 and 2. These two Bibles were constantly changed and upgraded during production, which came to an abrupt end on the death of Henry of Blois on 8 August 1171. They were then taken up again a decade later, the Bodleian Bible was finally completed, and the two sets were corrected against each other. The Winchester volumes, however, were eventually abandoned a second time and were wrapped up still unfinished.

Lecture Three: The Lambeth Bible

Monday 3 November 2014

18.15 - 19.30

One volume of the vast Lambeth Bible has been in the library of Lambeth Palace since its foundation in 1610. The long-lost second volume is owned by All Saints’ Church in Maidstone and is on permanent deposit at the Maidstone Museum. Despite its fame and quality of illumination, nothing has been hitherto known about the Bible’s original owner or patron.  

This lecture will propose that it was commissioned around 1148 for Faversham Abbey by King Stephen, king of England 1135-54, elder brother of Henry of Blois and protagonist with the Empress Matilda in the civil war of the 12th century. This involves analysis of the unusual iconography of the miniatures, rich in dynastic imagery, and an investigation of the earlier career of the principal artist in the production of manuscripts in a professional scriptorium at Avesnes Abbey in Flanders.

The lectures are not ticketed and seats will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. For further details see

Monday, October 27, 2014 - 18:15 to Monday, November 3, 2014 - 19:30
Conference Centre, British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1 2DB