What are Illuminated Manuscripts?

This entry is part 25 of 27 in the series What are New Testament Manuscripts?

Illuminated manuscripts are manuscripts with pictures that, originally, were intended to make the text more understandable. In places where literacy was low, illuminated manuscripts could help non-readers understand the Bible (or other texts) more easily. In later times, illumination came to mean decorated, regardless of whether the decorations were related to the text.

Lindisfarne Gospels

  • Contains: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  • Date: early A.D. 700’s
  • Language: Latin
  • Written by: Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne
  • Written at: Island of Lindisfarne, off north-east British coast
  • Currently at: British Library, London, England
  • Features: Some manuscript have Carpet Pages, which resemble Islamic prayer rugs
  • Link: View online at British Library
  • Lindisfarne Gospels, early A.D. 700's
  • Lindisfarne Gospels, early A.D. 700's

Book of Kells

  • Contains: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John (end of John is missing)
  • Length: 680 pages (340 folios)
  • Date: A.D. 800-900
  • Language: Latin
  • Written in: Britain or Ireland
  • Currently at: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
  • Book of Kells, Page from Gospel of John, about A.D. 800
  • Book of Kells, Mark 15, about A.D. 800
  • Book of Kells, Four Evangelists, about A.D. 800
  • Book of Kells, Madonna with Child, about A.D. 800

Codex Aureus of Echternach

  • Contains: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  • Length: 272 pages (136 folios)
  • Date: A.D. 1030-1050
  • Language: Latin
  • Written at: Abby of Echternach, Luxembourg
  • Currently at: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany
  • Features: Some parts are written in gold ink. The cover is gold leaf, ivory, mother-of-pearl and glass, but was made as a piece of art before the Codex was written. The original art may have had jewels rather than glass.
  • Codex Aureus of Echternach, A.D. 1030-1050
  • Codex Aureus of Echternach (Wikimedia Commons)

Theodore Psalter

  • Contains: Psalms, including Psalm 151 and The Book of Odes
  • Length: 416 pages (208 folios)
  • Date: A.D. 1066
  • Language: Greek
  • Written by: Monk Theodore
  • Written at: Stoudios Monastery, Constantinople
  • Currently at: British Library, London, England
  • Link: British Library
  • Theodore Psalter, David killing Goliath, A.D. 1066
  • Theodore Psalter, Anointing of_David, A.D. 1066

Carilef Bible / Saint-Calais Bible

  • Date: About 1000-1100
  • Written at: Durham Cathedral, England
  • Currently: at Durham Cathedral, England.
  • Features: Oldest Romanesque Bible written in England (but not in English). Historiated Initial letters are extraordinarily large, with detailed pictures
  • Carilef Bible, A.D. 1000-1100
  • Carilef Bible, A.D. 1000-1100

Lambeth Bible / Maidstone Bible

  • Contains: Genesis – Job (Lambeth Bible); Psalms – Malachi (Maidstone Bible)
  • Length: 328 pages (164 folios) of vellum
  • Date: A.D. 1150-1250
  • Written by: Unknown; commissioned by King Stephen
  • Currently at: Lambeth Palace (Lambeth Bible); Maidstone Museum (Maidstone Bible)
  • Features: The two Bibles had been known independently for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1924 that researchers realized the two were a set. This Bible may have been written by nuns rather than monks. If so, this is the oldest known Bible written by nuns.
  • Lambeth Bible, The Tree of Jesse
  • Lambeth Bible / Maidstone Bible

Winchester Bible

  • Length: 468 pages (234 folios)
  • Size: 23.0″ x 15.5″
  • Date: A.D. 1160-1175
  • Written by: Unknown; commissioned by grandson of William the Conqueror
  • Language: Latin
  • Origin: Abby associated with Winchester Cathedral
  • Currently at: Winchester Cathedral; one leaf at Morgan Library and Museum in New York.
  • Features: Parchment, requiring an estimated 250 calfskins. Writing the Winchester Bible took about 30 years. Pigments for the ink were imported from Afghanistan. This Bible is considered the best example from its time period.
  • Winchester Bible
  • Winchester Bible

Codex Gigas (Devil’s Bible)

  • Contains: Old Testament and New Testament (books are in a non-traditional order); some non-Biblical works are also included
  • Length: 620 pages (310 folios)
  • Size: 20″ x 36″, 165 pounds.
  • Date: A.D. 1200-1300
  • Written by: Herman the Recluse
  • Language: Latin (Vulgate)
  • Origin: Monastery of Podlažice, near Chrudim, Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic)
  • Currently at: Royal Library in Stockholm
  • Features: Legend claims the monk who wrote the manuscript had help from the Devil.
  • Codex Gigas (Devil's Bible)

The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux

  • Length: 418 pages (209 folios)
  • Size: 3.5″ x 2.5″
  • Date: about A.D. 1326
  • Illuminated by: Jean Pucelle
  • Currently at: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Features: Commissioned by King Charles IV of France for the coronation of his bride and queen, Jeanne d’Evreux. The artwork is called grisaille, French for gray, which is the predominate color.
  • Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, Queen of France
  • Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, Queen of France
  • Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, Queen of France

Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun

  • Date: A.D. 1330-1345
  • Commissioned by: Elizabeth de Bohun, Countess of Northampton
  • Language: Latin
  • Origin: England
  • Currently at: Museum of the Bible, Washington D.C.
  • Hours and Psalter of Elizabeth de Bohun

Black Hours

  • Length: 242 pages (121 folios)
  • Date: 1460-1475
  • Language: Latin
  • Origin: Possibly Bruges, Belgium
  • Currently at: Morgan Library & Museum, New York, since 1912
  • Features: Gothic minuscule text on black vellum with gold and silver ink.
  • Black Hours, Nativity


  • York, Karen (General editor). The Bible Illuminated: How Art Brought the Bible to an Illiterate World (Franklin, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2017) (Amazon) (Museum of the Bible)
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