Vercelli Book

The book no one could read. The manuscript of the mysteries. The text that creates bridges and connections between the pagan and the Christian world.

By Fondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

Vercelli Book (Late 10th Century) by English scriptoriumFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

The Vercelli Book is a manuscript in parchment written towards the end of the 10th Century, preserved in the Capitulary Library, containing homilies in prose and poems in the Anglo-Saxon language.

Vercelli Book, detail Haet (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

Its importance lies in its content, because, together with the other three contemporary manuscripts preserved in the United Kingdom (Codex Exoniensis in the Cathedral Chapter Library of Exeter, Cotton Vitellius in the British Library of London and Junius XI in the Bodleian Library of Oxford), it contains about the 90% of the whole poetic production in Old English. Actually, 11 of the 23 homilies are exclusively attested in the Vercelli Book and they constitute therefore a very precious linguistic and cultural document.

Vercelli Book, detail (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

The volume was explicitly mentioned for the first time in an inventory of 1602. Here the canon Giovanni Francesco Leone defined it Liber Gothicus, sive Longobardus. In 1748 Giuseppe Bianchini mentioned it as Liber ignotae linguae. At the end of the eighteenth century Luigi Lanzi identified the language for the first time, citing it as an unknown Anglosannic or Longobardic book. In 1822 Friedrich Blume, a German jurist, transcribed part of the text.

Vercelli Book, runes (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

The greater part of the works are anonymous, except I Fati degli Apostoli and Elena in which the runes are arranged to form the poet Cynewulf's signature, considered one of the most prominent figures in the Christian poetry in Old English.

Vercelli Book, musical notation (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

It is still unclear why the Vercelli Book is located in Vercelli. A possible theory concerns the donation from a high-ranking pilgrim coming from the North, because there were a lot of structures in Vercelli devoted to receive the pilgrims. The habit to give manuscripts to the churches is an old tradition and it is a priests’ custom to have manuscripts useful for the meditation and the exercise of their functions.

Vercelli Book, Mendaleo (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

Vercelli Book, The dream of the Rood (Last 10th Century) by ItalyFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

Filling of the Cross (1000) by Lombard workshopFondazione Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare

In the end, it’s important not to forget the figure of the bishop Leone of Vercelli: a man of great culture connected to the Cross of the Cathedral but also an important bibliophile who has given and glossed several manuscripts preserved in the Capitulary Library.

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