The Vercelli Book

The Codex Vercellensis, prostate or Vercelli Book, as it is known in the Anglo-Saxon world and now also in Italy, is a manuscript dating back to the end of the 10th century, containing miscellaneous religious works, in verse and prose. It is preserved in Vercelli, in the library of S. Eusebio Cathedral under the shelfmark Codex CVII; it is made up of 136 folios of thin parchment, with a dimension of about 31×20 cm, well preserved, each of them containing between 23 and 32 lines. In the opinion of many scholars, the manuscript was written by a single scribe, who has been particularly diligent and meticulous in using the writing of that period, the Anglo-Saxon square minuscule. The Vercelli Book contains 23 homilies in prose and 6 poetic works following the Anglo-Saxon alliterative metrics. Most probably this miscellaneous work was created to make a precious spiritual florilegium, useful for meditation and prayer. The presence of the manuscript in Vercelli has been known since the beginning of the 12th century, but how the codex was moved from England to Vercelli during the 11th century is still unclear: the most accepted hypothesis is that the manuscript might be a gift by an English pilgrim, grateful for the hospitality received in Vercelli during his trip to Rome. The Vercelli Book manuscript preserves another very important Old English poem, Elene, which is thematically linked to the Dream of the Rood (it recounts the finding of the True Cross by St. Elene, mother of the emperor Constantine) and is the work of the Anglo-Saxon poet Cynewulf, as proved by the signature at the end of the poem bearing his name in runic characters.

Vercelli, October 20 2011
[slickr-flickr tag=”vercelli” type=”gallery”]

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