Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wait, is that a Table of Contents?

I am fairly certain that it is a bad thing that the appearance of a table of contents is the first thing that I noticed in a centuries old codex, but I just can't help it. So yes, this is going to be more about the technical aspects of the gospels and the techniques used to construct them rather than their contextual significance. There are also a wide variety of very familiar tropes in books that we all know, such as chapter headings (in the forms of the images of the evangilists, elegantly painted with their usual symbols in a wide range of colors), prefaces concerning the authors work (f.90, Argumentum for St. Marcus), and quick reference guides for the reader "on-the-go" (f. 208, selected readings from St. Jon).
Also important ot note that Eadfrith decided to use
arches to symbolize the gospels promoting
the idea that the gospels and thus the evangelists
 were the support that hold up the religion.
Very cool symbolism if I do say so myself.
I don't know why I found this so interesting, as I'm sure there are earlier examples of this in similar codices, but the initial appearance of the Gospels does not seem to lend itself to the practicality of a table of contents. The lavish illuminations in the interior and the exterior being as decorated as it is would seem to lead one to believe that it is a decorative piece of art rather than a piece of literature. However it is not nearly as lavish as it seems, as the majority of the illuminations are made using cheaper dying materials and the amount of gold inlay is actually fairly minimal for a display codex. The Lindisfarne Gospels, as beautiful and lavish as they are, are also practical. The ink as well as the illuminations are of lower quality than certain other regions were used to *coughcoughbyzantinecough* as the ink itself is a dark brown to blackish color that is closer to an ink made of charcoal rather than something like oak galls or precious materials like gold *coughbyzantinecough* that is more typical of display manuscripts. The large size lends me to suspect that this was used as a display manuscript for teaching the gospels, but the relative plainness of the images and straightforward nature of the texts and the "table of contents" lend me to believe that this was also a book used for reading aloud and on the the go. It is an example of medieval book makers providing a synthesis of beauty and practicality in one book.
St. Marc f.93v
The British Library brings up a solid point
about the Lindisfarne Gospels that is on this
page and that is that the lion is surprisingly
accurate compared to the other medieval
illuminations of the animal. The coloration
is surprisingly accurate, to which the library
supposes that the artist had actually seen
a lion before.
Asides from the wings of course.
The chapter headings of each book serve not only as a visual reminder to the reader(and probably the listeners) of what the symbols of these saints are, but they also serve as a manifestation of the physical nature of these men. The early Christian church was very concerned with ensuring that their followers and converts were very well aware that this is something very real and documented by non-members. Personally, I believe that this "realness" is part of what contributed to the rise of Christendom. Many of the pagans living on the edges of Christianity worshiped vast pantheons of deities where there were the major gods and the minor gods or even unidentifiable entities, so it's not that far fetched to say that a Norseman in Denmark finds some similarites between Odin and Thor Odinson and the Christian God and Jesus? Or even more so, pagans who worship nature and the natural world in general, where everything is connected, that ties directly into the Christian gospels with it's emphasis on non-harming and devotion to your "family" (as a culture, not as true family).
These images serve as the centerpiece for the Catholic tradition, especially the early Catholic tradition, as the means for expansion and conversion.

Argumentum for Marcus f.90
Note that underneath the Latin script Eadfirth has
included the English translations in the local script
so that any regional religious leaders could just pick
up his copy of the gospels and start teaching to his
congregation on the go.
Also: Diminution in the lettering of Marcus.

Though it was normal at the time for commentary to be written in the margins of the book as the author was going, but in the Lindisfarne gospels, Eadfrith has the brilliant foresight to include it from the get go. He's included a beautifully inscribed piece of art as the start for his argument (because let's face it, if the presidential debates opened up with an art contest, the US presidency would be a very different place) and goes on to identify who Marc was and what he did to deserve as much praise as he gets. Though it may seem like less of an argument to the modern eye, the reader needs to step into Eadfrith's shoes for a moment and realize that he was speaking to a group of people who have never heard of something as bizarre as communion or Israel. This argumentum is meant to be a quick reference guide to typical arguments posed by critics and querulous converts alike. It answers basic biographical questions and a handful of the philosophical nature, but it is mainly for defending fairly basic questions about who Marc was and what e said and what his master preached. Imagine if the questions the modern Christian church faced had such a quick and handy guide.


  1. I don’t think you are the only one who is surprised at the idea of a table of contents in a manuscript. I thought it just got straight into the book, but it looks like this is not the case. It almost screams, “you are meant to read this” at the audience and gives a nice little shove to the section needed. What is striking is that illumination is fairly neat on the table of contents adding another layer of “read me”. So on top of the manuscript being fairly pretty, it gets the message across about the Gospels. This Gospel shows about the illuminations are not only for the wealthy, but for someone well off in the population. The cheaper ink and the less amount of gold could make it a lot easier to afford. So the Lindisfarne Gospels are cheap, for everyone to read, and even has a preface (an argument). That is something amazing! It’s like the modern day novel that everyone can read and enjoy (especially when it has illustration). Looking at manuscripts is like looking back in time to see the history and how we changed in innovation at the time. A table of contents might not have been included in every book had it not started at the time of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

  2. The notion of the “lavishness” of the Lindisfarne gospels, through the use of lower quality dyes, ink, etc., was particularly interesting to me. The Lindisfarne gospels are extremely ornate, with the carpet pages, decorative script, and ornamental celtic traditional imagery infused within the gospel. Which begs the question to be asked, why did they use lower quality materials? The sheer detail of the piece answers this. Page after page, the script, carpet pages, and evangelist portraits showcase how important detail was to this gospel. The intricate use of detail throughout this gospel perhaps makes the piece more pompous than one would think. It substitutes the detail in place for the materials being used in a sense. I also think that the notion that the gold inlay is also brought up is a contributing factor to the material being used. As a more decorative gospel, one would think that they would spare no expense in trying to show off through the use of gold. But instead, the gospel redeems itself with the ornateness alone. This perhaps echos the more practicality of this book, showcasing the beauty and the text as something to be regarded as sacred, which was the real goal. This gospel was more or less supposed to be a way in which to impress non-christians, and a way to urge them to convert. To me, if I was living back in this time, I would have deemed this gospel lavish to the utmost extent. I feel like in no way does the material aspect of “lavishness” affect the gospel though, as it is still a prime example of illuminated manuscript craftsmanship.