Fans of medieval manuscripts have something new to browse, as one of the works written and illustrated by Matthew Paris has been digitised by the Library of Trinity College Dublin for the first time. The Book of St Albans features 54 individual works of medieval art and has fascinated readers across the centuries.
Created by the renowned scribe, the Benedictine monk Matthew Paris (c.1200 – 1259) 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 book was held in St Albans Abbey for 300 years until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539. The manuscript eventually came to Trinity College Dublin in 1661. 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 artwork consisting of mostly framed narrative scenes, is a tinted drawing technique where outlined drawings are highlighted with coloured washes from a limited palate. This technique was distinctly English, dating back to the 10th century. The content at times is gruesome, and includes illustrations featuring the decapitation of St Alban and his executioner whose eyes literally pop out of his head at the point of execution.
“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,” comments Estelle Gittins, Manuscripts Curator at Trinity College Dublin. “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.”
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 Library of Trinity College Dublin is delighted to make this medieval masterpiece accessible to a global audience,” says Helen Shentonm Librarian and College Archivist. “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.
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.