To mark the feast day of Saint Bede (672-735 AD) at the end of May, this month’s blog post turns to another fascinating manuscript in the Cathedral’s collection – a copy of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiasticam Gentis Anglorum, commonly translated as Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Written on vellum in Latin during the tenth century, the manuscript is the oldest book in the Cathedral’s library collections – though the binding, made from calf-skin, is believed to date later from the sixteenth century. As shown in the image below, the binding still retains a chaining staple at the bottom of the back cover.

Bede was, and remains, one of the most important historians and theologians of his age. He lived much of his life at the monastery at Jarrow in northern England, part of what was then the kingdom of Northumbria. His Ecclesiastical History, completed in 731 AD, chronicles the religious and political events of Roman Britain through to contemporary events in the eighth century.

  Several scribes are believed to have worked on the Winchester Bede, though sadly, the identities of these scribes are unknown. Likewise, the geographical origin of the manuscript is not known to us, although it is likely it was at Winchester from the fourteenth century onward. The manuscript itself is relatively plain and unadorned compared to others in the collection, although we find some traces of rubrication (the process of marking some of the text in red) and decorated initials, such as the example shown here, which appears at the opening to the first folio.

Please note, this object is not currently on display.