Lambeth Bible

Synagoga with prophets. The hand of God lifts her veil.

Ecclesia with apostles

The Lambeth Bible is a 12th Century illuminated manuscript (probable date 1150-1170), one among the finest surviving giant bibles from Romanesque England. It exists in two volumes. The first volume isin the Lambeth Palace Library (MS3) and covers Genesis to Job, presenting 328 pages of vellum, each measuring 518 x 353 mm. Originally this first volume was paired with another (MS4) in the Lambeth Palace Library, but in 1924 it was realised that the correct pairing was with a second incomplete volume now held in the Maidstone Museum & Art Gallery (MS P.5).

Romanesque painting. Lambeth Bible, Canterbury, 1150-1170, London, Lambeth Palace Library, ms. 3, fol. 198: Tree of Jesse, featuring two roundels with Ecclesia et Synagoga.

The Bible shows the influence of Byzantine style on Romanesque manuscript painting. The subject of the above-illustrated folio is the Genealogy of Christ expressed via the Tree of Jesse, referring to the opening of Isaiah 11: "And there shall come forth a Rod out of the tree of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots..." From the recumbent Jesse a tree leads upwards through the blue-clad figure of Mary to the half-figure of Christ at the top, who is surrounded by seven doves to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 40:2). In the top left roundel, two apostles support a crowned female figure representing Ecclesia. Top right, the veil is lifted up from the figure of Synagoga, who is supported by two prophets (Moses, with his horns of light, on the right). In the bottom two roundels are four prophets pointing upwards to the Redeemer: one is Isaiah who holds a scroll with his prophecy (Isaiah 11); other prophets occupy the roundels at the four corners of the page. In the two middle roundels flanking Mary are the four virtues of Mercy, Truth, Justice and Peace, spoken of in Psalm 85: "Mercy and Truth are met together; Righteousness and Peace have kissed." Mercy holds a vase, and Justice holds her scales. In St Jerome's commentary, Mercy represents the Gentiles and Truth represents the Jews; their meeting refers to the union of Jew and Gentile, Old and New Testament. This page is an example of the figured diagram, expressing a series of complex theological doctrines.

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