Coxe MS. 2 Gospels, with prefaces, capitula, etc., in Latin
illuminated manuscript on parchment

[England, late 11th century]


Wadham Gospels, c.1080

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This Gospel Book is arguably the most important, and certainly the earliest, of the College's manuscripts. It is of truly national importance mainly for its decoration, of different types and in different techniques, representing the transition from a native Anglo-Saxon style to an Anglo-Norman/Romanesque style that evolved after the Norman Conquest.

The Gospel of Matthew is introduced by a red ink-drawn portrait of the Evangelist sitting with a scroll of parchment in one hand, his pen in the other, and his ink-pot set into the side of his seat; the facing page has a gold and multi-coloured foliate frame, enclosing the start of the text written in gold. The start of the Gospel of Luke has an 'historiated initial', a type of decoration imported from Normandy, in which the initial letter encloses a recognisable person or scene, in this case an angel (perhaps the archangel Michael) trampling on a dragon. The start of the preface to John's gospel has an almost-full-page initial 'B' in gold, with panels of blue and red, interlace, dragons' heads, a 'lion mask', and foliage. John's Gospel itself opens with a full-page image of the Three Maries at the Tomb (when the Holy Women visit the tomb of Christ they find an angel sitting on the empty tomb and the guard soldiers asleep), all within a typically Anglo-Saxon foliate frame. Other parts of the text are introduced by large initials with foliage decoration, elegantly drawn with a pen in red ink.

The manuscript was given to the College in 1625 by William Boswell, scholar (1613) and Fellow (1622), together with Coxe MS. 1.

Text kindly provided, especially for this exhibition, by Peter Kidd