The biggest book I’ve ever met

Chindasuinth, Visigothic King of Spain (r. 642-653) in El Escorial, MS d-I-2

I’ve been in Spain this week on one of my exotic research trips to visit manuscripts. My time has been spent in suburban Madrid, nestled in the rocky hills of the countryside. The days have been spent at the exquisite Real Biblioteca del Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

I dealt with two manuscripts this week, El Escorial d-I-2 and e-I-12. Shelfmarks are so exiciting. They are both manuscripts of a collection of documents pertaining to canon law (a ‘canonical collection’) called, unsurprisingly, Collectio Hispana, from the recension called the Juliana, which was compiled before 675. Both date to the 900s — someone has even dated d-I-2 to 976, but I’ve not yet read the arguments why/how.

What concerns us here is El Escorial d-I-2. e-I-12 is an interesting mansucript, but, frankly, not nearly so large as d-I-2 (which is henceforth ‘Vigilanus‘ as per the catalogue entry).

Vigilanus is made up of 429 parchment pages measuring 455 x 325 mm. An A3 piece of paper (approx. twice a sheet of letter-size North American paper) is 432 x 279 mm.

That seems so much less big than it is. ‘It was this tall and this fat‘, as I gestured over Skype last night — that worked better.

It’s nice, heavy parchment, too.

And the cover is wood overlaid with leather.

It’s a beast to lift, as I discovered when I finished with it and moved on to e-I-12. I’m sure the thing weighs as much as I do! If not, maybe only 100 lbs. I eased it off its book rest and got it onto the table where I just slid it along to safe place, out of the way. Then I gingerly, easily picked up e-I-12 (it’s about average, by my standards: 370 x 235, only 323 folios, some of which are quite thin, others of which have suffered the violence of the knife).

Scattered throughout this fine specimen of Iberian craftsmanship are images of bishops and church councils and the like. As I went through it on my first day, suddenly, confronting me crosswise on the page (fol. 300v) was none other than Papa Leo himself!

I’d show you a picture but I can’t.*

To give you a feel for Vigilanus‘ art, here’s a picture of the Third Council of Toledo (AD 589), from fol. 145:

All that to say: I saw  book. It was big and beautiful.

*I have a picture on a CD; I think it’s in black & white, and this computer has no CD drive in it, anyway — plus I’m not sure of the terms of use of the images. Everything was in Spanish.

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