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Carol Ballard - The Ripon Bible - Ripon Cathedral

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Carol Ballard – The Ripon Bible

The Ripon Bible spent more than 350 years in the Cathedral Library before being transferred in 1985 to the Brotherton Library at Leeds University.

December 22, 2022

Article written by Carol Ballard

The bible is a thirteenth century illuminated manuscript which was part of the collection of books bequeathed to Ripon Cathedral by Dean Anthony Higgin in 1624. It is believed to have been made in Oxford. 

Like many other bibles written in the middle of the thirteenth century, it is smaller than earlier bibles, making it easier to carry. It has 524 pages, and to fit all the text into a single volume there are many abbreviations. The text is written on both sides of the parchment pages, in two columns. There is a running title at the top of each page, and chapter numbers at the side of the text. 

The Ripon Bible is written in Latin. An unusual feature is that there are two versions of each Psalm, one derived from the Greek version and the other from the Hebrew version. 

Each book begins with an illuminated initial letter, showing a biblical scene or person, set on a gold background. Some are embellished with strange animals and birds, while others have ornate flourishes. There are other decorated letters too, mainly in pinks and blues, and in places different sections of text are highlighted by ornate red and blue initials. 

The image shown is of the first page of Genesis, with the initial letter ‘I’ decorated and running down the whole length of the page. This is a common image in thirteenth century bibles. 

Running Title 

Preachers, students and teachers of theology needed to be able to find their way around the bible quickly. The running title at the top of each page showed which book of the bible you were reading. Here, NES is an abbreviation for Genesis – it just uses three letters from the middle of the name. 

Chapter numbers 

Like the running titles, the chapter numbers helped people to find the passage they wanted quickly. Here, II indicates the beginning of Chapter 2 of Genesis. 

Illuminated initial letter 

The initial I which starts the words In principio (in the beginning’) contains seven medallions, which together illustrate the seven days of Creation. 

The Ripon Bible Running Title