Vellum Bifolium from Augustine’s “Homilies on John”

November 27, 2018 in International Congress on Medieval Studies, Manuscript Studies, Uncategorized

Recycled and Reclaimed
Large-Format Vellum Bifolium
from a Discarded Medieval Copy
of Saint Augustine’s Sermons
on the Gospel of Saint John
In Double Columns of 47 Lines

Measuring at most circa 384 mm high × 523 mm wide
< text block circa 274 × 180 mm, with columns circa 80 mm wide and intercolumn circa 20 mm >

Now in a Private Collection

[Published on 28 November 2018, with updates, continuing our series of Blogposts on Manuscript Studies, for which see the Contents List]

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio IIr detail with title and initial for Sermon XCVI. Private Collection, reproduced by permission. Photograph by Mildred Budny.


In this case, ‘it’ concerns a detached and reclaimed medieval manuscript fragment, in the form of a bifolium written on vellum.  The fragment comprises a large piece of animal skin perfect for reusing, once the original religious text supposedly no longer mattered.  Exigencies then claiming attention on site — wherever that site owning that volume would have been and whatever conditions prevailed — permitted the dispersal and reclamation of parts of the manuscript for altogether new purposes.

Long story short.  The reused state left some traces upon the original artefact, comprising fold-lines, stains, wear-and-tear, added inscriptions, and more.  But another, subsequent, stage of reclamation and reuse — in the pursuit of sales from old bits of written materials of whatever kind — has removed the reused wrapper from its former volume and led to its transfer, on its own, to a new owner, via commerce on the internet, but without the extra volume of post-medieval materials for which “Our” bifolium had served for some time as the outer cover or wrapper.


The Bifolium came into our view recently, with the occasion for examining some original written materials at an informal session arranged by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence, gathering collectors, scholars, teachers, and students.  About the occasion, see our Report.

"Having a Look". Manuscript Consultation Session, By Appointment, at the 2018 Congress. Photography by Mildred Budny, organizer extraordinare.

“Having a Look”. Manuscript Consultation Session, By Appointment, at the 2018 Congress. Photography by Mildred Budny, organizer extraordinare.

Two Sides to Every Story

The Bifolium has an outside and an inside, according with the 2 sides of its original animal skin and the folding of the skin into a pair of leaves to carry the text laid out in double columns, each of 47 lines.  The marks of damage over some time from the reuse as a binding cover or wrapper make manifest which side was outermost in that reuse.  The identifiable original text and its sequence, as attested in other extant copies and in editions of the text, demonstrate that the outside of the wrapper and the outside of the bifolium in its original orientation in its manuscript placed the same side of the skin outermost.

Accordingly, for convenience, here we identify the first leaf of the bifolium, textually speaking, as “Folio I” and the second leaf as “Folio II”, with the recognition that originally there must have stood other leaves of the text in between them.   We cite the pair of columns per page as columns a and b respectively, proceeding from left to right.

Outside of the Bifolium:  Folios II verso / I recto

Outside of Augustine Homilies Bifolium. Folios IIv/Ir outstretched. Photograph by Mildred Budny.

Conjoint Folios II verso / Folio I recto

Inside of the Bifolium:  Folios I verso / II recto

Augustine Homily Bifolium opened to inside with Folios II verso and I recto, with scale. Private collection. Photograph by Mildred Budny.

Conjoint Folios I verso / II recto

The Original Text

Despite some abrasion and wear in the reuse, along with a few adhering remnants of bright white paper from the former pastedowns, the original text on the bifolium is almost entirely decipherable.  It is an advantage that the original script is precisely written, with distinctly differentiated letter-forms and only a few abbreviations, in the interests of efficient legibility.

So what is the text?

Let us take the “easy” or — anyway “easier” — route, which focuses first upon the rubricated titles, inscribed in bright red pigment (probably made of vegetal rather than metallic materials), ending one section or chapter of text and leading to the next.

The 2 titles on “Our” bifolium stand on only one side of the bifolium, but on two (non-consecutive) pages, as its Folio Iv column b and Folio IIr column a (= “Folios Ivb and IIra”).  Namely on the inside of the bifolium.  Here:

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folios I verso column b and II recto column a: Homily titles and Opening Initials. Private collection, reproduced by permission. Photography by Mildred Budny.

These 2 sets of titles extend for 5 and 4 lines respectively.  In each case the title is followed by an enlarged initial which opens the text of the Homily in question:  C in red for Cum and I in blue for In.  Their opening titles declare these texts to represent Homilies XCIV and XCVI respectively, preceded — as the concluding titles designate — by Homilies XVIII and XVV respectively.

So:  portions of Homilies XCIII–XVIV stand on one leaf of the bifolium, and portions of Homilies XCV–XCVI on the other.

On Folio Ivb, the prominent initial C (for Cum) appears in red pigment inset within 4 lines of the text.  In contrast, on Folio IIra, the initial I (for In) stands alongside the column of text, descends for 13 lines of text, and appears in bright blue pigment.  The quality of the blue pigment (probably expensive) and the attention to enlivening visual embellishment elevates this manuscript into a stature of careful, formal layout and presentation designed for clarity of reading.

A Copy Intended for Reading Aloud?

Such signs, including the imposing format of the text, might indicate an original manuscript with intentions for lection not necessarily only private. Another blogpost describes that process and such signs concerning a large-format late-medieval Lectern Bible manuscript: A New Leaf from ‘Otto Ege Manuscript 14’.

That “Our” Homily fragment carries no manifest marks for lection nor annotations of any kind appears to signal that any such intentions — if pertinent at all — received no such use in practice.  In other words, the text on the bifolium looks like a rather clean, mayhap neglected copy.  Perhaps no wonder it was destined for the scrap heap?

Whose Composition?

The rubricated titles on the bifolium make no mention of an author.  Presumably the concise titles could easily have gotten away with that ‘omission’ because the original manuscript in full should, at its opening and perhaps also its conclusion, have presented his (or her) identity, as well as the overall title of the full set of texts.  Thus a reader approaching the manuscript in its original state would have been able to have an orientation well established within the volume itself.

That was then.  This is now.

Back To Front

Given the reduced set of material evidence, we readers and beholders now must confront the detached bifolium on its own, orphaned as it is, and must try (if we care) to perform some informed ‘reverse engineering’ or ‘DNA analysis’, shall we say, in order to determine the consanguinity with any and all leaves of its former manuscript, or to reconstruct the design and implementation (core text included) which led to its construction and accomplishment.

Fortunately, identification of the portions of text on the bifolium can be found among multiple resources, given the enormous prestige and proliferation of this author’s oeuvre — including this set of Homilies.  Worth stating that not all those resources are equal in value, partly because some of the more up-to-date scholarly resources depend upon payment of subscription before access is permitted, and some freely available because copyright obligations are no longer valid present editions, translations, or evaluations long out-of-date and superseded by subsequent scholarship.

Aware that not all of us have access to those privileged, costly resources, I principally focus here, for ease of your access, on readily available links.  For some other blogposts, where the details of the text called for such effort, I have made sure (and at cost, not freely available to me) to consult some resources that impact the assessment of the text, its specific readings, its potential impact on the transmission trajectory, and other factors with bearing upon the evaluation of the newly discovered fragment in question. For example: Another Witness to the Cistercian Statutes of 1257.  But this current case might not (or not yet) call for such detailed treatment.

And so, now to “Our” Homily Bifolium, its texts, and its author.

Whose Text?

Identifying the text reveals its structure and its continuity — as well as its gaps, which occur before, in between, and following the pair of leaves in the bifolium.  Customarily, in our blogposts (see their Contents List), we present the conclusions all in their reconstructed textual order, but, this time, we choose to show the identifications in the sequence as we found them, starting with the rubricated titles, ever useful as guides for locating their relevant texts.

The First Verso = Folio Iv and Its Title

Augustine Homilies Bifolium, Folio I verso. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

Folio I verso. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

Starting with the prominent cues, as in the title concluding one text and opening the next, plus the enlarged initial, it is relatively easy (given, for example, resources available on the internet, whether freely or by subscription) to identify the text on this page.

Explicit omelia xciij.  Incipit xciiii ab eo quod ait. hec autem vobis ab initio non dixi. hec vobis secundum enim. usque. de iudicio autem. quia princeps huius mundi iam iudicatus est.

“[Here] ends Homily XCIII.  [Here] begins [Homily] XCIV, from which it says: ‘Haec autem vobis ab initio non dixi, qui vobiscum eram’ [= John 16:5] up to ‘de iudicio autem quia principes huius mundi [+ iam] iudicatus est.’ [ = John 16:11].”

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio I verso column b: Rubricated Title concluding Homily XCIII and opening Homily XCIV, with its opening Initial I for 'In'. Private collection, reproduced by permission. Photography by Mildred Budny.

Augustine of Hippo and John the Evangelist

The text on each folio pertains to a consecutive pair of Patristic Sermons, or Homilies, devoted to the Gospel of John the Evangelist by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE).

This extraordinarily prolific and influential author has already figured in our blogposts reporting newly discovered and recovered manuscript fragments (see our Manuscript Studies Blog Contents List).

Fictive Portrait of Saint Augustine of Hippo as a Author before his Text. Fresch, 6th Century CE, Rome, Lateran. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Fictive Portrait of Saint Augustine of Hippo as a Author before his Text(s). He holds a Scroll in One Hand and Gestures before a Page of Text Placed upon a Lectern Beside Him. Fresco, 6th Century CE, Rome, Lateran. Image in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Augustine’s 97 Homilies on the Gospel of John, with portions of Homilies 93–96.

1.  Editions in Latin (of varying quality)

Some Latin editions of this work are freely available; others by payment or subscription.  Some editions appear in the company of other works by, and presumed to be by, Augustine.

  • Augustinus, In Iohannis evangelium tractatus CXXIV, edited by Radobodus Willems.  Corpus Christianorum Series Latina, 36 (Turnhout, 1954; 2nd edition, 1990), described here.
  • Augustine’s writings as a whole:  Patrologia Latina, Series Prima: Volumes 32–47

2.  Translations into Vernaculars (ditto)

English translations for the full series of Augustine’s Homilies on John include some freely available online, as here:

The Text on “Our” Fragment

Each folio carries the end of one Homily and the beginning of the next. The identifiable text establishes which folio came first in the textual sequence and, moreover, makes it manifest that some leaves, now lost (or lost track of), formerly stood between the leaves of this bifolium.

The extant span embraces these portions.

Folio Ir – v:  The end of Homily XCIII and the beginning of Homily XCIV

  • Tractatus 93, commenting on John 16:1–4
    The span on the leaf:
    Tractatus 93:2 (/ . . . [de?] alibus [sic] dicitur multi principes iudaeorum) – 93:4 (fidem non potuit),
    beginning mid-phrase and completing the Homily
  • Tractatus 94, commenting on John 16:5–7
    The span on the leaf:
    Tractatus 94:1 (Cum Dominus . . .  perrectu-[/rus haec dixit . . . ],
    opening the Homily and breaking off mid-word within its first Section or Chapt

[Gap between XCIV:1 (-rus haec dixit) and XCV:4 (missus est foras)]

However, the text on the 2 leaves of the bifolium is not continuous, so that some leaves must formerly have intervened between them.

Folio II r–v:  The end of Homily XCV and the beginning of Homily XCVI

  • Tractatus 95 commenting on John 16:8–11
    The span on the leaf:
    Tractatus 95:4 ([Nunc principes mundi huius] / missus est foras . . . de superborum supplicio terrenda est angelorum), completing the Homily in its concluding Section or Chapter
  • Tractatus 96 commenting on John 16:12–13
    The span on the leaf:
    Tractatus 96, 1 (In isto sancto Evangelii capitulo. . . . veritatis docebit), extending through its next Sections (with a continuation directly from Section 2 into Section 3 at the transition from recto to verso – Section 2 (quis non tanto apostolo crederet) / Section 3 (Sed id quoque) and continuing directly onto the verso (vos omnem veritatem sic ubique . . . ), carrying the Homily from its opening to near the end of Chapter 3

Folio I verso both concludes the long text of Augustine’s Homily XCIII or Tractatus 93 and moves into the beginning of the long text of his Homily XCIV or Tractatus 94, with the transitional 5-line rubricated title positioned in column b23–27 and the opening text launched in column b28.

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio I verso column b: Rubricated Title concluding Homily XCIII and opening Homily XCIV, with its opening Initial I for 'In'. Private collection, reproduced by permission. Photography by Mildred Budny.

The Next Extant Recto:  Folio II recto

Folio IIr concludes the long text of Augustine’s Homily XCV/95 with the words est angelorum, then turns to the title which ends this Homily and introduces the next, Homily XCVI/96, which begins:  In isto sancti Evangelii capitolo . . .

With some damage, the title reads:  Explicit [o]melia xcv.  Incipit xcvi de eo quod [. . . ] habeo vos [om]nem veritate[m].

Thus it crisply specifies the span of the Gospel text under consideration, identifiable as John 16:12–13; see Ioannes 16 Biblia Sacra Vulgata (VULGATE).

12 Adhuc multa habeo vobis dicere, sed non potestis portare modo.

13 Cum autem venerit ille Spiritus veritatis, docebit vos omnem veritatem: non enim loquetur a semetipso, sed quaecumque audiet loquetur, et quae ventura sunt annuntiabit vobis.

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio IIr detail with title and initial for Sermon XCVI. Private Collection, reproduced by permission. Photograph by Mildred Budny.

The homily corresponds to Augustine’s Tractatus 96.  With the text remaining within the edition’s Section or Chapter 1, the page concludes (column b) with the phrase Cum autem venerit ille spiritus veritatis docebit / vos omnem veritatem . . . . Quia etsi non eis [? fidelium sacra/[-menta produntur . . . ] near the end of Chapter or Section 3.

A translation appears, for example, freely here:  Augustine’s Sermon 96 on the New Testament (translated by R.G. MacMullen, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume 6 (Buffalo, New York, 1888), revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio II recto. Private collection, reproduced by permission.

Folio II recto. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

The First Recto = Folio I recto > I verso

Working backward from the textual span on folio I verso to its recto, it is a straightforward process (once the text has been identified) to establish where the text begins.

Augustine Homilies Bifolium, Folio I recto. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

Folio I recto. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

Folio II verso

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio II verso. Private collection, reproduced by permission.

The Title and Docketing for the Reuse:
The Parish Church at Büdingen and Accounts for a Garden at Isenburg

Augustine Homilies Bifolium Folio I recto top with Docketing Inscription. Private Collection, reproduced by permission.

The docketing indicates that the remnant has come apparently from Büdingen, in Hesse, Germany.

Where, For a Time

Historic Center of Büdingen. Photograph by Steschke, via Creative Commons.

Historic Center of Büdingen. Photograph by Steschke, via Creative Commons.

The docketing also mentions Isenburg (as Ysenburg), “which makes sense as they were closely connected”.
“My impression, after consulting what books I have, is that it’s Low Countries, mid-XV century.  In other words, too late to be of textual importance.  Others’ mileage may vary, but probably not by much.  The docket inscriptions are not all that hard, as long as one can figure out the oddities of the hand.

Centered in the upper margin over column a on Folio Ir, the title, or running title, for that former volume specifies its contents.  The inscription identifies the volume formerly covered by “our” medieval bifolium as ROTVL (“Account Book”), Number 6, entitled

ROTVL 6 Nen'[?] geradie gãrtem

According to the title and description (or ‘Docketing’) which — according to its positioning in the intercolumn between the subsequent fold-lines — adorned its back, or spine, that former volume contained items concerning the records for a garden-plot in Isenburg (Ysenburg), which was owned, or worked on, or on behalf of, the parish-church at Büdingen.  As said:

Die na
[.]re gerode
te garten finden
[en?] Pfarkirchen
zu Büdingen
[ . . . ]

Presumably the intermediate volume, for which “Our” Bifolium provided the covering wrapper, constituted an “Account-Book” (Rotul) of a garden plot in Isenburg, for which the plot was owned or worked by or on behalf of the parish-church at Büdingen.  The present owner observes:  “But I won’t guarantee that translation, as my transcription is shaky, and my German is rusty!”

The owner also provides further information about the provenance, with the observation that this bifolium comes from the same lot of material (dispersed in stages to different locations) as the astrology text examined in an earlier blogpost — “namely some of the dregs of a sale of material from the castle of Büdingen many decades ago”. (See also Castle of Buedingen.)


We thank the owner of the bifolium for permission to reproduce and publish it.


Do you recognize the script, scribe, or manuscript?  Do you know of other leaves from the same book, by the same scribe, or from the same center of production?

We offer these images for further examination and, it may be, recognition.

'Inside' of the Reclaimed Homily Bifolium

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