BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]
BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]
BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]
BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]
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BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]

BIBLE, Ezechiel, in Latin, manuscript on vellum [northern Italy, 5th century]

The oldest known manuscript of Ezechiel 20 in Latin and the oldest western manuscript in private hands: an exceptional survival of the highest historical importance with unbroken provenance from the great libraries of Reichenau, Constance Cathedral and Donaueschingen. 'Without qualification, this is a piece of the most important biblical manuscript that one could ever conceive owning' (C. de Hamel).

Six fragments forming part of a single leaf, c.170 x 150mm overall, blind-ruled for two columns (of three) of 18 lines (of 23) written in brown ink in a superb classical uncial hand, marginalia in a 5th-century small quarter-uncial with many ligatures, sketch of a branching stem in corner of recto (recovered from a binding and consequently defective and glue-stained, some wormholes and cuts, vellum worn and transparent, text very faded but perfectly legible). Inserted between glass sheets. Fitted red morocco box gilt.

The present fragments were recovered from the binding of Donaueschingen MS. 191 (and subsequently renamed MS. B.I.3) by the German Benedictine palaeographer Alban Dold (1882-1960). The central piece was recovered in 1909 and the five surrounding pieces were found in the same binding in 1920.

(1) Written in an important but unidentified scriptorium in northern Italy in the 5th century: the marginalia show that it was used liturgically, making it a testament to one of the earliest records of Christian worship.

(2) Benedictine Abbey of Reichenau, Constance: Paul Lehmann (see Lehmann, Mittelalt. Bibliothekskataloge, p.256) and others suggest that the parent codex may be the 'Liber prophetarum quem Hiltiger de Italia adduxit' mentioned in a Reichenau list of books acquired during the abbacy of Erlebald (823-838). The famed library of Reichenau on Lake Constance must be counted among the richest in Carolingian Europe.

(3) Constance Cathedral: a number of manuscripts were transferred to Constance in the late 13th century (Lehmann, Mittelalt. Bibliothekskataloge, p.188). Ours is likely the 'Item VI libri biblie in uno volumine de litera multum antiqua' in the Constance catalogue of 1343. Presumably by the middle of the 15th century it was cut up and used as binder's waste, since the six fragments of the present leaf were used in Donaueschingen MS.191, a splendid 9th-century Sacramentary written probably at Reichenau and still in its medieval Constance Cathedral binding. The majority of the Constance Cathedral manuscripts were sold to Weingarten Abbey in 1630, but the Sacramentary with the present fragments was retained by the Cathedral until it was sold to:

(4) Baron Joseph Maria Christoph von Lassberg (1770-1855), the noted German antiquary and collector. He collected a library of upwards of 12,000 books and 273 manuscripts. He sold his library in 1853 to:

(5) The Fürstliche Fürstenbergische Hofbibliothek, Donaueschingen: its MS. 191, and subsequently, once the fragments were recovered, MS. B.I. 3. The grand library of the Prince Fürstenberg at Donaueschingen was one of the finest in private hands. The earliest recorded member of the family to collect books was Graf Wolfgang von Fürstenberg (1465-1509) who purchased manuscripts on his diplomatic travels in the service of the Emperor Maximilian I. It was he who bought the castle at Donaueschingen in 1488, a fortress built beside the source of the Danube, and who entertained the Emperor there with a feast and carnival in 1499. The main line of the Fürstenberg hereditary princes became extinct in 1804 when Prince Karl Egon II (1796-1854) from the Bohemian branch of the family became its head. Both Karl Egon II and his son, Karl Egon III (1820-1892) were keen collectors: in 1853 Karl Egon III purchased the collection of Joseph, Freiherr von Lassberg (see above), a collection so vast that he had to move the local government offices elsewhere and convert the whole of the building into a Library.

(6) Sotheby's, Donaueschingen: Twenty Western Illuminated Manuscripts, 21 June 1982, lot 1, bought by:

(7) Winsor T. Savery, Houston, Texas.

(8) Schøyen Collection, MS 46.

Fragments of this manuscript have also been found in 26 different manuscripts in Fulda, Darmstadt, Stuttgart, and the Benedictine monastery of St Paul in Carinthia. Forty-six folios survive from the parent codex, wholly or in part, and some only in offset, detached from bindings and mostly kept under glass. Among these are Darmstadt, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Ms. 3140 and Ms. 895 (offset); Fulda, Landesbibliothek Ms. Aa 1 a; Sankt Paul im Lavanttal, Stiftsbibliothek (without number); Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek HB II.20; HB II.54; HB VII.1; VII.8; VII.12; VII.25; VII.28-30; VII.39; VII.45; VII.64; XI.30; XIV.14-15.

Following the expansion of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Latin became increasingly used as a lingua franca in place of Greek, first in North Africa and then in Spain, England, Gaul and Germany. A huge panoply of translations of the Bible appeared, frequently inaccurate and not controlled by any ecclesiastical authority. These came to be known under the common rubric 'Vetus Latina', or 'Old Latin', a collective term for this diverse group of Latin biblical texts. This flood of versions came to an end in the 4th century as the Old Latin was superseded by the Vulgate translation of St Jerome, and subsequently interest in its manuscript tradition waned. Consequently no complete manuscript of the Bible in the Old Latin version survives, and it has to be assembled from fragmentary manuscripts, liturgical books, and patristic quotations in sermons, letters and other texts. The Benedictine Pierre Sabatier (1682-1742) edited a collection of material then known in Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones etc. (1739-49). Sabatier prints in one column the fullest continuous text he could find for a passage, and beside it the Vulgate, together with variants from other Old Latin sources in an apparatus. In the early twentieth century Abbot Joseph Denk started collecting all citations to the Latin Bible from patristic writings. Denk’s collection, comprising many hundreds of thousands of files, was deposited at St Boniface Abbey in Beuron (Germany). The collection is the foundation of a project to edit and collate all the ancient Latin versions of the Bible currently being undertaken by the Vetus Latina Institute at the abbey itself.

The present fragment comprises Ezechiel 20:34-39 and 20:43-47. B. Fischer (Vetus Latina, 1949, pp. 11-34), lists over 450 manuscripts with parts of the text. There are no other manuscripts or even fragments of Ezechiel as early as the present leaf with the possible exception of the fifth-century undertext of the palimpsest at Würzburg (Univ. Bibl., whose text begins only in chapter 24. This is the oldest surviving witness of Ezechiel 20.

According to E. A. Lowe, the script is an ‘expert uncial of the finest and oldest type: the tail of 'C' is short; the first stroke of 'M' is almost straight; ligatures are numerous at line-ends’. The marginalia are in a fifth-century quarter-uncial with many ligatures while abbreviations include d = ‘dicunt’, = ‘que’, and the normal forms of Nomina Sacra; omitted 'm' is marked after the vowel by a horizontal stroke with dot below. The writing is exact, and formed with great beauty and precision of stroke. We also witness an example of the early practice of writing text in narrow columns. All in all, the quality of the writing embodies all the characteristics of the greatest uncial scripts of the early Christian west, designed to signal authority and permanence.

P. Lehmann, Die Konstanz-Weingartener Propheten-Fragmente, Leiden, 1912 (Scato de Vries, ed., Codices Graeci et Latini photographice depicti, Supplementum, IX); present fragment discussed pp. I-IV, pl.48 (only the central piece was then known).

P. Lehmann, Mittelalterliche Bibliothekskataloge, Deutschland und der Schweiz, I, Munich, 1918, p.186.

A. Dold, 'Konstanzer altlateinische Propheten- und Evangelienbruchstücke', Texte und Arbeiten, I, 1923, pp.7-9, pls. 1, 3 and 4.

E.A. Lowe, 'A Handlist of Half-Uncial Manuscripts', Miscellanea Francesco Ehrle, VI, 1924, p.42.

B. Fischer, Verzeichnis der Sigel. Vetus Latina, Die Reste der Altlateinischen Bibel, Freiburg, 1949, p.21, no 175.

E.A. Lowe, Codices Latini antiquiores. A palaeographical guide to Latin manuscripts prior to the ninth century, X, Oxford, 1963, p.4, no 1174.

E. Dekkers, Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 1961, no 1965.

R. Gryson, Altlateinische Handschriften, I, Freiburg, 1999, pp.267-269.

E.F. Rhodes, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the 'Biblia Hebraica', Cambridge, 2014, pl.40.
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Eugenio Donadoni
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