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

St John's College MS 5

Hrabanus Maurus, Etymologiae sive de universo


Language(s): Latin

Fols. 1ra–182va:
Rubric: || ⟨ ⟩ABANI MAURI Magun⟨ ⟩ ad gloriosum regem lu⟨ ⟩ im in libro ethimologia⟨ ⟩
Incipit: excellentissimo et omni ⟨ ⟩ dignissimo ludouico regi ⟨ ⟩ us uilissimus seruorum dei ... eterne beatitudinis in cristo […]
Rubric: [fols. 4vb–5ra, the text] Incipit liber primus ethimologiarum domni RABANI Maguntiacensis archiepiscopi […] |
Incipit: Primum apud hebreos dei nomen ely dicitur quod alii deum
Explicit: quia sancte trinitatis unum uelle una potestas una cooperatio est
Final rubric: Domni RABANI MAURI maguntiacensis archiepiscopi ethymologiarum uicesimus secundus liber explicit
HRABANUS MAURUS, Etymologiae sive de universo

Usually called De universo (Stegmüller, RB 7020 [5:7–9]), ed. PL 111:9–614. At the head, the epistle to Louis the Pious, with damaged incipit, is followed (fol. 1vb) by the preface addressed to bishop Haymo of Halberstadt and a table of contents for the 22 books, with that for book 1 repeated at the end (fols. 2va–4vb). Most of fol. 182va and the whole second column are blank. Owing to lost leaves, the text lacks PL cols. 177 C3–184 A9, 190 C2–197 A2, 526 C7–529 D2, 555 B3–558 B8.

On fol. 148rb, for example, a red triangle in the margin offers an alternative reading introduced by ‘aliter’, and there are numerous corrections. William Schipper, ‘Annotated Copies of Rabanus Maurus’s De rerum naturis’, English Manuscript Studies 6 (1997), 1–23 at 1–6, identifies several English copies with analogous corrections and argues that all are dependant upon a St Albans book of the 1140s, BL, MS Royal 12 G.xiv. This, as Schipper claims, may well have been the archetype of our MS, but, if so, on loan to Reading and very soon after it was copied (pace Schipper 6).

Such adjustments apparently go back very far in the textual tradition; see Erwin Panofsky, ‘Hercules Agricola: A Further Complication in the Problem of the Illustrated Hrabanus Manuscripts’, in Douglas Fraser et al. (eds.), Essays Presented to Rudolf Wittkower on his Sixty-fifth Birthday, 2 vols. (London: Phaidon, 1967), 2:20–8.

Schipper reproduces several leaves from our MS; see his plates 2a (fol. 126rb) (5), 4a (fol. 104ra) (8), and 6b (fol. 36ra) (12).

Added text:

Fol. 182vb:

‘C? caelo rex adveniet pro secla futurus | Stillicet vt carne presens vt dividit orbem | Vnde deum cernent incredulus atque fidelis’

Not in Walther; in secretary, s. xv/xvi.

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: -tri haimoni
Form: codex
Support: Vellum (HSOS/HFFH).
Extent: Fols. iii + 182 + ii (numbered fols. iv–v).
Dimensions (leaf): 405 × 295 mm.


1–510 610(–3, –4, –7, –8) 7–1610 1710 (–1, –10) 1810 1910(–9, –10, both probably blank and now stubs after fol. 182). Regular catchwords early (the last at fol. 66v). Quires 6–8 are accurately signed with capital roman numerals on the last verso; thereafter quires signed in brown crayon by lettering pages from the first verso to the fifth recto a to h (from fol. 117, each quire identified with an arbitrary sign +, / /, o, / / /, etc.).


A large piece of fol. 1ra cut away for the initial capital.


In double columns, each 272 × 90 mm. , with 13 mm between columns, in 44 lines to the column. Prickings frequently survive, especially in the gutter; bounded and ruled in black and brown ink.


Written in protogothic bookhand, the tops of minims often spatulate or paddle-like, as in mid-century hands, but mark of abbreviation usually flat, as in the late twelfth century. Punctuation by point and punctus elevatus.


Headings in red.

Large painted capitals at the opening of each book.

On f. 5ra, a 15-line high ‘P’, with descender down whole page, of gold leaf on violet ground with vines, flowers, and dragons; the first three words of the text in uncial 3-line gold capitals on a slate-blue ground.

For the other books, 6-line champes of blue and violet on gold leaf grounds or (for 1 especially) a gold leaf letter on violet ground.

Many initials repeat the dragon, vine, and flower motif, or use other animal shapes.

At chapter headings, alternating 3- or 4-line slaty blue or red lombards on restrained flourishing of the other colour; alternate 1-line lombards of the same to break up the text. Through the first three books, up to fol. 30 (the end of quire 3), the alternation includes red capitals on green and green on red.

Running titles in red provide book numbers.

At least three initials, all grouped around quire 4, approach a historiated form: (a) for book 4 (fol. 30rb), probably Isaac meeting Rachel at the well (in orange, violet, slate blue); (b) for book 5 (fol. 37rb), God enthroned holding the sun and moon; (c) for book 6 (fol. 40va) God coming to Adam at his creation.

On fol. 30, instructions for the rubricator, written vertically along the leading edge, where they should have been fully cut off, still survive.

See AT no. 134 (16), dated c.1200, and plate vii (fols. 40va and 55vb).


Modern replacement; the upper third of the spine now lost and the lower board almost totally detached. Sewn on five thongs. At the front, a marbled paper leaf a modern paper flyleaf, a vellum flyleaf; at the rear, a modern paper flyleaf and another marbled paper one (iv–v). Fol. iii may have been an earlier pastedown and has holes and verdigris from a chain staple in Watson’s position 6.


Origin: , s. xii3/4 ; England

Provenance and Acquisition

‘hic est liber sancte Marie de Rading Qui eum celauerit uel fraudem de eo fecerit anathema sit’ (on a vellum label pasted to fol. iiiv, s. xiii in.) (Ker, MLGB 157). Identifiable as the Reading copy noted at Registrum R.11.3 (126, 268).

‘Liber Clementis Burdett’ (partially erased, fol. 182v; repeated in an s. xx note, fol. iv). On Clement Burdett, a mid to late sixteenth-century Berkshire vicar, see the extensive biographical accounts and discussion of his role as collector of Reading Abbey books, with discussion of their dispersal, Liddell, 51–3, Coates, 131–41.

‘Iohannes Stonor’ plus a mark, ‘Liber Iohannis Stonor’ (on the label pasted to fol. iiiv, above the Reading ex-libris; and fol. 182v, upper margin respectively).

The old shelfmark ‘Abac: ij: No 78’ (fol. iiiv, erased).

‘Liber Collegij Divi Ioannis Baptistae Oxon’ Ex dono Magistri Ioannis Stonor Generosi de North Stoke in Comitatu Oxon’ 1609’ (fol. 1, upper margin).

Record Sources

Ralph Hanna, A descriptive catalogue of the western medieval manuscripts of St. John's College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact St John's College Library.


    Alan Coates, English Medieval Books: The Reading Abbey Collections from Foundation to Dispersal (Oxford, 1999).
    N. R. Ker, Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books. Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks. 2nd edn. (London, 1964), extended by Andrew G. Watson, MLGB: Supplement to the Second Edition. RHS Guides and Handbooks 15 (1987).
    J. R. L[iddell], 'Some Notes on the Library of Reading Abbey'. Bodleian Quarterly Record 8, 86 (1935) 47–54
    Jacques-Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Latina 111 (Paris, 1852).
    Erwin Panofsky, ‘Hercules Agricola: A Further Complication in the Problem of the Illustrated Hrabanus Manuscripts’, in Douglas Fraser et al. (eds.), Essays Presented to Rudolf Wittkower on his Sixty-fifth Birthday, 2 vols. (London: Phaidon, 1967), 2:20–8.
    Richard H. and Mary A. Rouse and R. A. B. Mynors (eds.), Registrum Anglie de libris doctorum et auctorum veterum. Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues 2 (London, 1991).
    William Schipper, ‘Annotated Copies of Rabanus Maurus’s De rerum naturis’, English Manuscript Studies 6 (1997), 1–23 at 1–6
    Friederich Stegmüller, Repertorium Biblicum Medii Aevi, 11 vols. (Madrid, 1950–80).
    Hans Walther, Initia carminum ac versuum Medii Aevi posterioris Latinorum, 2nd edn (Göttingen, 1969).
    Andrew G. Watson, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Medieval Manuscripts of All Souls College Oxford (Oxford, 1997).

Funding of Cataloguing

Conversion of the printed catalogue to TEI funded by the Thompson Family Charitable Trust

Last Substantive Revision

2021-09: First online publication

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