– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

#mss2017 is open!

This year 308 people visited St Cross Church for Oxford Open Doors, 9-10 September 12-4pm both days. Here’s what they saw… and what you can see too, by making an appointment to visit between now and mid-December.

Watch this space for more public exhibition opening hours advertised later in the term, but individual and group visitors are very welcome almost any time by appointment. Visiting hours are normally Mon-Fri 10-1 and 2-5; appointments aren’t meant to be exclusive, it’s just that the exhibition and reading room are in the same space and we need to plan ahead to ensure that visitors and researchers are here at different times. Please come!

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Many thanks to our Oxford Preservation Trust volunteers on both days – they staffed the front desk throughout, welcoming visitors and freeing staff to circulate and answer questions about the building, the conversion project, and the exhibition.

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20+ medieval manuscripts on show, and all these people are doing the puzzle… it’s a good one, based on one of the manuscript images. Come and try it!

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Start here – in fact the 1588 charter with the curtain is mounted permanently and isn’t part of the current exhibition, but it does fit nicely with its neighbour…

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Case 1. College Archives D.4.1 Statutes of Dervorguilla. 1282, in Latin, on parchment. First Statutes of Balliol College, with seal of Dervorguilla de Balliol, Lady of Galloway, co-founder with her husband John de Balliol (d.1269) of the College.  Shown in new mount and box, with enlarged images of both sides of Dervorguilla’s personal seal.

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Case 2. College Archives Membership 1.1. First Latin Register of College Meeting Minutes 1514-1682, in Latin and English, on paper. Earliest surviving records of Balliol College’s Governing Body. Open at entries for the early 1560s, mostly concerning elections of Fellows at this stage rather than a full range of College business. Shown with images of damage and historic repairs to the last page of the volume, and illuminated medieval liturgical music manuscript reused (upside down) as binding waste.

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Case 3.

L: MS 349. 15th century collection of nine texts related to the office of priesthood, in Latin, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby in 1768. Closed to show the only medieval binding in Balliol’s manuscript collection. Displayed with images of the text inside.

R: MS 350. 12th, 13th & 14th centuries, 3 medieval treatises on English law, including Herefordshire section of Domesday. Victorian vellum binding, in Latin and Anglo-Norman French, on parchment. Bequeathed to Balliol by Dr George Coningesby.

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Case 4. MS 263 14th-15th century copy of texts on poetic and rhetorical composition, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown. Displayed upside down to show extensive water damage and loss to upper outer corners of the first 100 folios. Currently in unusable condition.

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Case 5. MS 238E ca.1445. 5th volume of medieval encyclopedia, Fons Memorabilium Universi, compiled by Dominicus Bandini de Arecio, in Latin, on parchment. Conserved and rebound ?early 2000s. Copy commissioned and given to Balliol by William Gray, student at Balliol ca.1430 and later Bishop of Ely (d.1478).

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Case 6.  MS 148 2nd half 13th century. ‘Bernardi opuscula’, collection of short texts by 12th century Cistercian theologian and reformer Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478).

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Case 7. MS 253 13th century. ‘Logica vetus’ and other texts by Aristotle, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Provenance unknown; late medieval Balliol ownership inscription.

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Case 8. MS 12. Ca. 1475. Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae (History of the Jewish People), in Latin, on parchment. Printed at Lübeck by Lukas Brandis, ca. 1475. Rebound several times, conserved 2010-11. Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478). Not a manuscript! But hand finished and decorated throughout, and mistaken for a manuscript by more than one early cataloguer. It also has a shelfmark as an early printed book, Arch.C.1.6.

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And now to the chancel step for a case dedicated to the special issues of using and looking after tiny books…

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Case 9.

L: MS 367. 11th century Antidotarium – medical recipes and remedies, in Latin, on parchment. Victorian binding. Probably given to the College by Sir John Conroy, 1st Bt, Fellow of Balliol 1890.

R: MS 348. 13th century Vulgate Bible, in Latin, on very thin parchment. ‘Pocket Bible.’ Rebound 1720s. In Balliol by the 17th century; provenance unknown.

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Case 9. cont.

L: MS 451. 1480s. Book of Hours (Use of Rome), perhaps from Ghent or Bruges, in Latin on parchment. Early 19th century binding by by C. Kalthoeber of London. Given to Balliol by the Rev. EF Synge.

R: MS 378 Undated. Prayers to the Virgin Mary, in Ethiopic (Ge’ez), on parchment. Original wooden boards without cover. From the personal library of the Rev. Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol 1870-1893, other provenance unknown. This is not western or (as far as we know) medieva, but it’s Balliol’s smallest manuscript codex, and a link to the non-western manuscripts in the collection, most of which are as yet much under-studied.

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Case 10. MS 396 Early 14th century. Five leaves of a noted Sarum Breviary, one of the liturgical books used for the Daily Office, in Latin, on parchment. These leaves were found in and removed from the binding of an ‘old dilapidated’ College account book in 1898, by George Parker of the Bodleian Library.

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And back to the nave for a case full of medieval title deeds…

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Case 11. College Archives E.1. 1320s-1350s. Title deeds relating to property and an advowson at Long Benton (Much/Mickle Benton) near Newcastle, given to Balliol College by Sir Philip Somerville in 1340, in Latin, on parchment, with seals.

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Case 12. MS 116, later 13th century. Commentary by Eustratius, an early 12th century bishop of Niceaea, on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. At Balliol by the late 14th century; provenance unknown.

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Case 13. MS 277, late 13th century. Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Meteorology, trans. Moerbeke, and Ethics, trans. Grosseteste, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. May have been at Balliol in the 14th century, alienated and returned in the 15th; given by Mr Robert Rok (Rook).

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Case 14. MS 384 15th century.  English Book of Hours according to the Use of Sarum, in Latin, on parchment. 18th century binding. At Balliol since the 18th century; provenance unknown.

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Case 15. MS 210 1st half 13th century. Several texts by C12-13 University theologians, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s. Given to the College by Roger Whelpdale, sometime Fellow of Balliol and Bishop of Carlisle in 1419-20 (d. 1423).

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Case 16. MS 173A 12th and 13th century. Two collections of short texts bound together, on medieval music theory, in Latin, on parchment. Rebound 1720s.  Given to Balliol by William Gray, Bishop of Ely (d. 1478).

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Case 17.  College Archives B.22.1, the oldest document in Balliol College’s archives, is an undated charter of ca. 1200, recording a grant of the Church of St. Lawrence-Jewry, London, with rents etc., from Robert, Abbot of St. Sauve, Montreuil, to John de St. Lawrence, with others.

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Case 18. MS 354 Early 16th century. Commonplace book of London grocer Richard Hill, in English, Latin and French, on paper. Medieval song or carol texts, literary extracts, poems, religious and spiritual texts, notes on farming and trade, recipes, proverbs, etc. Original limp parchment cover.  Provenance unknown.

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Case 19. MS 240 12th and 14th centuries. Miscellany of religious texts, in Latin, on parchment.  Conserved and rebound by Andrew Honey, 1990s. From the priory of Monks Kirby (Warwickshire). Given to the College by Richard Bole, Archdeacon of Ely (d.1477).

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In addition to a wealth of original manuscripts exhibited, there are also several forms of supplementary material – here, a display on loan from OCC with more details about their work for the colleges’ collections – and Balliol items used for three of the four illustrations: B.22.1 above, MS 12 above, and Robert Browning’s DCL gown (awarded 1882). On the right visitors can touch and feel samples of just a few of the materials they use for repairs, e.g. papers and tissue, fabric and thread, parchment and leather.

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At levels both lower and higher than the exhibition cases are more images from Balliol’s manuscript, for sheer enjoyment. Above, a much enlarged opening of MS 451, the 15th century Book of Hours; below, two  miniatures from MS 383, a much-studied high-status 15th century copy of Ovid’s Heroides ina French verse translation.ood17-32ood17-33ood17-34

The corridors around the sides of the church not only provide access to wall memorials and stained glass but also offer an unusual insight – windows into the climate-controlled repositories where the archives, manuscripts, and early printed books are stored.

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With several hundred visitors in a few hours, there is always a queue for the loo during Open Doors – but even here one can enjoy more details of illuminated initials from Balliol manuscripts.

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Some of the more than 300 Open Doors 2017 visitors enjoying the building, the manuscripts and a challenging custom jigsaw, based on an image from one of the manuscripts on display.

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