Single-volume Paris Bible
Complete text of Vulgate, incl. prologues, index, and list of difficult words. Written by a single scribe in a typical university hand. Running titles in red and blue, small illuminated initials throughout, some decoration cut out. S. XVI binding of calfskin over wooden boards.

This beautiful thirteenth-century Parisian manuscript, part of the Downside Abbey library collections, contains the entire Bible in one portable volume known as a vademecum (‘go-with-me’) Bible. Such books were popular amongst thirteenth-century mendicant preachers who traveled widely across Western Europe to preach to the laity. Having a Bible in one volume enabled these preachers to compose sermons on the go for any occasion. The parchment used was exceptionally well produced and extremely thin, meaning more folios could be bound in a single book, which weighed significantly less than a coarser production.

Vademecum Bibles contained only the words of Scripture, without any gloss. The pages are laid out in two densely-packed columns of 48 lines each, allowing for a large amount of biblical text on a single folio: Many pages of this bible fit over 600 words from Ecclesiastes compared to our glossed Bible which presents only 35 words of the biblical text on one folio. As the first portable single-volume Bibles written in a compact script and illustrated sparingly, manuscripts like this one are the direct ancestors of the standard format of Bible still in use today.

This bible forms part of our Bibles of Downside exhibition which will be open to the public in early 2020. To read about the launch of the exhibition in conjunction with our partners at the University of Bristol, click here.