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

St John's College MS 61



Language(s): Latin with Middle English marginal identifications added later

Fols. 2v–103:
Incipit: Omnibvs animantibus adam primus vocabula indidit appellans unicuique nomen ex presenti institutione
Explicit: ab adam usque nunc in filios inobedientie debachatvr
The Bestiary,

a text of the ‘second family’; see M. R. James, The Bestiary, Roxburghe Club (Oxford, 1928), a volume which reproduces CUL, MS Ii.iv.26, a copy defective at the end, in full. James’s introduction remains the most important contribution to the subject; see his description of the second family text, listing the MSS with their contents, and meticulous analysis of the text and its sources (13–22, 28–34).

Textually, this copy appears most closely related to BodL, MS Ashmole 1511, ; it lacks Ashmole’s quotation from Genesis at the head and its intercalated materials from ps.-Hugh of St Victor’s ‘Aviarium’ in the section on birds; see the facsimile, ed. Xenia Muratova et al., Bestiarium: fac-simile du manuscrit du bestiaire Ashmole 1511 …, 2 vols. (Paris, 1984), , including a full French translation of the Ashmole text. The only approximation of a modern edited text is Migne’s reproduction of PS.-HUGH OF ST VICTOR, De bestiis 3 at PL 177:83–136., But Migne’s text is compromised by its reliance, for some portions, on cross-references to De bestiis 2, which in fact presents a pure Physiologus derivative, not the expanded version here. For the explicit, the ‘lapides igniferi’, not included in PL 177, see James, 49.

Owing to missing leaves, some of them already gone when the MS was foliated, our MS lacks materials equivalent to Ashmole fols. 25v/1–28/24 (= CUL fols. 19/9–20v/3), 30v/3–31/13 (= CUL 22v/22–23v/18), 37v/12ff. (the Ashmole text diverges here = CUL 30v/2–31/1), and 95/13–27 (= CUL 63/5–63v/1).

Physical Description

I am grateful to Pamela Rups of Western Michigan University for confirming some observations about the book.
Secundo Folio: oues (fol. 3)
Form: codex
Support: Vellum (HSOS/HFFH).
Extent: Fols. i + 103 + ii (numbered fols. ii–iii).
Dimensions (leaf): 293 × 210 mm.
Dimensions (written): 205–10 × 133 mm.
Foliation: There is a foliation of s. xiii or xiv, centred in the upper margins, in which fols. 4–71 = i–lxxiiij; the numeration shows only three missing leaves after fol. 23, not the five actually gone, suggesting that some vandalization of the MS was very early. In addition, fol. 86 has a contemporary folio number in the lower corner xlviii (i.e., a foliation beginning at the head of quire 8?), and a similar number has been partly pared away on fol. 87 (xl⟨ ⟩).


12 28(–2, a stub, probably without text) 38 48(–3, –8) 58(–1, –2, –3, –4, all stubs; –8) 68(–1) 78(–3, a stub) 8–118 ,128(–1, a stub) 138(–7, –8) 148 1510. Two catchwords supplied later (fols. 25v [not originally a final leaf], 93v). Seven quire signatures, roman numerals on the final leaves, supplied later and identifying quires 3–12 as ii–xi, with fol. 93v erroneously signed xii (for correct ‘xiii’).


Fol. 5 is cut in two across the lower middle of the leaf, perhaps an abortive effort to remove the miniature at the foot of the page.


Written in long lines, 24 lines to the page. Prickings occasionally show in the gutter; bounded and ruled in lead and black ink.


Written in large transitional protogothic bookhand/gothic textura of an s. xii mien, above top line. Punctuation by point and occasional punctus elevatus.


No headings. At the head of the text, a 7-line high gold letter on blue and red grounds, with diapering and orange and white vine infills.

At chapter incipits 3-line high similar letters, in gold leaf on blue, red, violet, or some combination.

Some decorative red and green line-fillers.

In addition, elaborate illumination: most chapters up to fol. 69v have an illustration of the animal subject, generally depicted on a gold ground, about ninety in all; many of these have English identifications in the margins, s. xv ex.

Florence McCulloch, Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill, NC, 1960) argues (36) that the illustrations most resemble in their iconography James’s copy, CUL, MS Ii.iv.26. W. B. Yapp’s classification of ‘second family’ MSS, ‘A New Look at English Bestiaries’, Medium Ævum 54 (1985), 1–19, corresponds to no textual or iconographic feature, although it is potentially useful in indicating artists who drew from life, rather than pattern-books.

In addition to the chapter illustrations, five full-page paintings survive:

Fol. 1v: the Creation, in four cartoons: God creating the birds and beasts, God taking Eve from Adam’s side, the fall, and the expulsion.

Fol. 2: Adam (confusingly in a gown of the same colours as the creator God on the facing page) naming the beasts.

Fol. 3v: three illustrations of the lion.

Fol. 68: the salamander tree, a dead (?sleeping) man under a tree filled with snakes poisoning the fruit.

Fol. 103v: the ‘lapides igniferi’, a man and a woman attracted by their stones and then embracing in fire; at the page foot the medieval ex-libris, painted within two dragons and a tendril/interlace.

Other full-page illustrations, on the basis of the analogous Ashmole and CUL MSS, were on leaves now removed: two pages of illustrations of dogs, after fol. 23; eagles flying towards the sun, after fol. 35; the whale mistaken for an island, after fol. 72; and Isidore composing his book, after fol. 85.

See AT, no. 146 (17) and plate vii (fols. 3v, 103v); Morgan, no. 42 (90) and 12, 23, with dating c.1220, plate 146 (fol. 3v) and 8 (fol. 45v); Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Réveils et Prodiges: le gothique fantastique (Paris, 1960), 130–1, pl. 19c; George C. Druce, ‘The Medieval Bestiaries and their influence on Ecclesiastical Decorative Art—II’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association NS 26 (1920), 35–79 (passim and plates II/1, VII/2); and ‘The Elephant in Medieval Legend and Art’, Archaeological journal 76 (1919), 1–73 at 35–6, 44, and plate v/2; M. R. James, The Bestiary (1928). 18–19 and plates 17–18 (fols. 6v and 103v).


Dark brown leather over millboards, s. xvii, gold stamped rectangular border with floral sprays at the corners on both boards; gold leaf and flower designs on the spine. Sewn on five thongs. Black ink ‘61’ on the leading edges. Pastedowns and endleaves modern marbled paper, a College bookplate on the front paste-down. At the front, one marbled paper flyleaf, at the rear, one modern paper flyleaf and another marbled paper one (ii-iii).


Origin: s. xiii in. ; England York

Provenance and Acquisition

‘Liber sancte Trin | ⟨IT⟩AT⟨I⟩S EBO(?).⟨ ⟩C⟨//⟩’, i.e. ‘Trinitatis Eborac’ (now much defaced, in the illumination, fol. 103v), the sole surviving book from this alien priory (OSB) (Ker, MLGB 218).

A table of contents, not fully completed (fol. 1, s. xiii ex.).

An old shelfmark ‘D.4’ (fol. 1v, s. xvii?).

‘De Naturjs Animantium’, s. xvii; ‘This volume contains 103 folios now in 1816, about ten having been cut out at some former period by me P. B.’ (fol. 1, upper margin, the last four words in faded pencil).

‘Liber Collegij Diui Johannis Baptistae Oxon ex dono Domini Gulielmi Paddei Militis et Collegii olim Convictoris 1634’ (fol. 3, 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.

Digital Images

Digital Bodleian (full digital facsimile)


    J. J. G. Alexander and Elźbieta Temple, Illuminated Manuscripts in Oxford College Libraries, the University Archives and the Taylor Institution (Oxford, 1985).
    Jurgis Baltrusaitis, Réveils et Prodiges: le gothique fantastique (Paris, 1960).
    George C. Druce, ‘The Medieval Bestiaries and their influence on Ecclesiastical Decorative Art—II’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association NS 26 (1920), 35–79.
    George C. Druce, ‘The Elephant in Medieval Legend and Art’, Archaeological journal 76 (1919), 1–73.
    M. R. James, The Bestiary, Roxburghe Club (Oxford, 1928).
    M. R. James, The Bestiary, History NS 16 (1931), 1–11.
    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).
    Florence McCulloch, Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill, NC, 1960).
    Jacques-Paul Migne (ed.), Patrologia Latina 177 (Paris, 1854).
    Xenia Muratova et al. (eds.), Bestiarium: fac-simile du manuscrit du bestiaire Ashmole 1511 …, 2 vols. (Paris, 1984).
    Helen Renshaw, ‘The illustrations of the Latin Bestiary, with special reference to the MS. 61 in St John’s College, Oxford’ (MA thesis, University of Manchester, 1971).
    T. Sborbone, ‘La tradizione manoscritta del Physiologus Latina’, Athenaeum NS 27 (1949), 266–80.
    W. B. Yapp, ‘A New Look at English Bestiaries’, Medium Ævum 54 (1985), 1–19.

Funding of Cataloguing

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

Last Substantive Revision

2022-01: First online publication

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