A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

About us


This catalogue provides descriptions of all known Western medieval manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, and of medieval manuscripts in selected Oxford colleges. It is the result of a project generously funded by the Tolkien Trust.

“Western” denotes manuscripts written in Latin, Greek, and the European vernaculars (including Slavonic languages). “Medieval” denotes manuscripts written before approximately 1500 and includes papyri from the classical period. The distinction between “medieval” and “renaissance” or “early modern” manuscripts naturally varies according to region and subject-matter and is frequently a matter of judgement. We have aimed towards an inclusive treatment.

“Manuscripts” as traditionally understood in the Bodleian include some documentary materials, but the Bodleian’s collections of charters and rolls (i.e. manuscripts whose shelfmarks begin “MS. Ch.” or “MS. Rolls” or “MS. Pedigree Rolls”) are not currently included in this catalogue. For details of finding aids for these materials, see here.

For general information on the Bodleian’s medieval manuscript collections, see here.

The descriptions

MOST OF THE RECORDS IN THIS CATALOGUE DO NOT CONTAIN DETAILED MODERN MANUSCRIPT DESCRIPTIONS. The bulk of the descriptions are summary entries, which were mostly created between 2002 and 2004 for the Library’s previous Electronic Catalogue of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, with funding from the Getty Grant Program. These summaries in turn are based primarily on descriptions in the Quarto and Summary Catalogues (published between 1853 and 1924) as well as on descriptions in O. Pächt and J.J.G. Alexander, Illuminated Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1966-1973) and Irmgard Hutter, Corpus der byzantinischen Miniaturenhandschriften, I: Oxford, Bodleian Library, 3 vols. in 4 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1977-1982), and some other supplementary sources.

These descriptions are linked to reproductions of the original Summary and Quarto catalogue entries, and are designed to be used in conjunction with the original descriptions. They were designed to provide searchable summaries of a manuscript’s content, decoration, material, date and origin rather than a full description. On occasion, however, the records here do provide information on texts, authors, dating and localization which supplement or correct the descriptions given in the original catalogue entries.

For some manuscripts (selected items in MSS. Add., Ashmole, Barlow, Bodl., Canon., E. D. Clarke, D’Orville, Fr., Kennicott, Lat., Montagu, Rawl.), full descriptions of decoration are also provided. These were made possible by generous support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

Detailed modern descriptions are available for manuscripts acquired since 1916. These records have been adapted from typescript descriptions compiled by Library staff throughout the twentieth century, unpublished and previously only for consultation in the Library itself. They relate to manuscripts from the following collections: MSS Broxbourne, Dep., Don., Douce, Dutch, Eng. hist., Eng. misc., Eng. poet., Eng.th., Finch, French, Germ., Gr., Ital., Kennicott, Lat. bib., Lat. class., Lat. hist., Lat. liturg., Lat. misc., Lat.th., Radcliffe Trust, Span., Top.

Detailed descriptions for other collections have been adapted from the following sources:

  • MSS Barocci (selected items): unpublished descriptions by Nigel Wilson, 1970s;
  • MSS. Buchanan: P. Kidd, Medieval Manuscripts from the Collection of T. R. Buchanan in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (2001);
  • MSS. Bywater: unpublished descriptions by Peter Kidd, late 1990s;
  • MSS. Holkham misc.: unpublished draft descriptions by Peter Kidd, late 1990;
  • Christ Church MSS.: Ralph Hanna and David Rundle, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts, to c. 1600, in Christ Church, Oxford (Oxford, 2017).

The bibliographies

The records are linked to a bibliographical database which is hosted on the open-source platform Zotero. This database is based on the library’s card index of bibliographical references (‘Bodley Refs’) which has been maintained since the late nineteenth century. It currently includes all references created after 1992, and references created before that date for all manuscripts except for collections in the alphabetical sequence MSS. Douce A. - MSS. Junius. Further references will be added in due course. The database may also be searched via the Zotero interface.

Using the catalogue

Please bear in mind the limitations of the catalogue.

  1. Since it incorporates the work of Pächt and Alexander, it provides a reliable overview of decoration in the Bodleian’s manuscripts (reflecting the state of knowledge c. 1966-73 ). It reliably records types of decoration (e.g. border, initial) and the names of artists. For some collections it provides a good record of iconography;
  2. It provides a reliable overview of the date, origin, material and language of each manuscript, subject always to the limitations of the catalogues that were drawn on. Records relating to collections that were catalogued some time ago and have not been revised (Ashmole, Canonici, Rawlinson) should be treated with greater caution;
  3. It provides a partial view of the textual content of the collections. The level of detail depends both on the quality of the original printed catalogue descriptions and the quantity of texts in the manuscript. Manuscripts with a small number of well-known texts are typically well described. Manuscripts with a large number of texts, especially lesser-known ones, tend to have more summary and less helpful descriptions (e.g. “Theological treatises”, “Medical treatises”).
  4. Via the Zotero bibliography it provides a sound guide to scholarship on the collections (subject to the limitations of coverage noted above) as recorded by the library’s staff; of course, though, this is not a full record of publications;
  5. For manuscripts acquired before 1916, it provides little information about owners and little codicological detail.

Technical details

The manuscript descriptions and authority files are encoded in XML according to the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The manuscript descriptions conform to a customization used by all the Bodleian’s TEI catalogues. Full documentation for the encoding will be made available in due course. The XML, together with processing software, is stored in a publicly accessible repository. We have not yet determined a licence for the use of this data; please contact us to discuss any use that is not for personal research.

The website was developed by staff at Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services. The XML records are indexed using Solr and displayed using the open-source discovery platform Blacklight.

Future development

Work on the catalogue is ongoing. We are currently: retroconverting published and unpublished descriptions to enrich the catalogue records; and completing the data entry for 'Bodley Refs'.

Version details

The website was launched on 4 August 2017. Detailed version history of the data and code is available in the repository. Major changes are summarized in the release history.