Posted by: kljolly | June 25, 2013

Boge hand in the Durham Gospels

A diversion, perhaps an addition to the current chapter in progress, perhaps its own chapter.  Definitely a Bogey, although of course the name Boge means “bow” not ghost.

While I was working on this chapter exploring Aldred’s boredom glossing Durham A.IV.19’s prayers and lections, I decided to introduce Scribe B (Bert), he of the St. John poison prayer whose exploits on fol. 61r I have already detailed.  This led me to further consideration of the “scriptorium” (e.g., the place where the scribes did their scribing) and the other scribes known from Durham A.IV.19 (in addition to Aldred and B, Scribes C, D, E, and F).

Scribe C I have fleshed out a bit as the senior scribe, Cuthwald.  Scribe D, like C, uses older Northumbrian insular styles of writing.  Scribes E and F, however, are probably younger and had some scribal training in the south where they picked up Caroline script features that mix with their native insular style.  I had named them Ed and Frank, for Edwin and Franco, a name that does occur in the Durham Liber Vitae list of names from the community, although I am thinking of changing it to Forthred as a more forceful name for his personality.

Scribe F might also be responsible (or some scribe with a very similar style) for a little marginal poem added to the Durham Gospels (Durham Cathedral Library A.II.17, fol. 31v).  The poem commemorates King Athelstan, who famously gave gifts to the community of St. Cuthbert in 927.  The poem also shows evidence that this manuscript was at Chester-le-Street in the tenth century.  In addition to the poem, another, rather childish hand has added to the Durham Gospels proper and some leaves from another Gospelbook now bound with it, fols. 103-111.  This hand is responsible for several bits of  textual marginalia as well as a couple of drawings.  These bits are in Latin and Old English, in a style with mixed Caroline and insular features, but very crudely done.


My feeble attempts to imitate the Boge-hand. The bottom two with ballpoint work better to replicate his nib than my quill’s ductus in the upper two. He has no thick and thin strokes, indicating a stylus-like tip similar to a ballpoint.

  • 79r et multitudo copiosa plebis (copying last line of original text)
  • 80r nolite iudica et non iuducabicamini (wrong copy of next to last line; b struck out), boge mese preost god preost/mantat
  • 80v boge messe preost/god preost
  • 96v top, partial alphabet
  • 104r in nomine domini (no abbreviation of nomina sacra); drawing of sword hilt and dragon head
  • 105r in mine domini
  • 106r boge messe preost god preost/aldred god biscop  and aldred again twice in middle between the two columns of text; drawing in right margin of rabbit head

This person is called the Boge-hand, because he writes the name more than once, Boge masspriest, as well as Bishop Aldred (not my provost Aldred but the Aldred who was bishop of Chester-le-Street 947-68).  But this childlike writing cannot be that of a priest.  The letters are thin, oversized, and uneven, while the words hiave spelling errors in both Latin and Old English.

So:  whose kid got into the ink, grabbed a quill, and wrote graffiti in two historic Gospelbooks?

One 18th century paleographer (Wanley, in Hickes) suggested a nun, perhaps because he thought women would write badly.  But there were no nuns at Chester-le-Street that we know of, and I suspect if there were, they would write better than this.

Another (T. J. Brown) posited either an oblate “like Aldred the Provost” or the child of one of the married clergy.  Well, yes I am imagining that Aldred was oblated by his mother (the usual age is 7), but there is no evidence of it or a monastic profession, other than his skill as a scribe suggesting early education in a religious establishment.  Brown may be thinking of the Lindisfarne Gospels colophon where Aldred describes his admission at Chester-le-Street, but that was when he was an adult,  already a priest, and brought in for his glossing ability.  There is no evidence that Aldred was a monk or that there were any monks at Chester-le-Street in the late tenth century (no abbot, just a provost).  More likely the clergy serving the bishop’s household at Chester-le-Street were secular, and therefore possibly married with kids.

But what I imagine also, based on the evidence, or lack thereof, is that Chester-le-Street did not have a school with novices any more than it had a full scriptorium.  No house style–just the older scribes with their legacy handwriting and some new ones who received training at some southern institution.  Even Aldred appears to have been trained elsewehere, probably in Northumbria though.

So Scribe B (Bert) and the Boge-hand suggest Chester-le-Street had a random few youngsters, trained haphazardly, and getting into trouble.

It would be fun to make Scribe B the Boge hand, a couple of years before he writes the John poison prayer.  But the evidence doesn’t support it.  Unlike Scribe B, Boge-hand uses Caroline features in some letters, so he is more likely to have some relationship with Scribes E and F.

This leads me to creating a scenario, either in the current chapter or a separate one, of a precocious child getting into trouble by writing in these Gospelbooks.  This child could be in theory male or female, but more likely male, learning to write from Scribe F.  If either of these Gospelbooks was in the church, then the child may have slipped in with some writing implements and then written on these diverse folios, perhaps at different times.  Presumably s/he was caught at some point and this caused some consternation in the community.  That experience, and the lack of a regular system of schoolroom discipline, could help explain the reluctance to train Scribe B, whose mistakes I think point to someone admitted at an older age but without prior training, someone no one would want to try to teach to write (I put him at age 12).  The relationship between Scribe B and the Boge-hand kid will require some imaginative work, along with fleshing out Scribes E and F.

I am trying to acquire the images of the Boge hand,  in one of those frustrating exercises where distance is not overcome by technology.  My library does not have the Durham Gospels facsimile (although we have other volumes in the EEMF series) and no library will send it to us because it is in special collections.  The lending library did send copied pages, but not all of the ones I requested (I am trying again with our very patient InterLibrary Loan staff).  We do have Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile, but the quality is so poor that I cannot read the Boge hand.  I have also emailed Durham Cathedral Library to see if I can purchase the images.  Or, I can be patient and try to visit the manuscript myself in August, but I suspect it may be on display with its famous cousin, the Lindisfarne Gospels, visiting Durham this summer.  Meanwhile, I am making do with images of fols. 80r and 106r reproduced in other people’s books.  And attempting to write with my quill and ink in the style of Boge-hand (see above).

References (for those who want them):

Durham Gospels, together with fragments of a Gospel Book in Uncial, Durham Cathedral Library Ms. A.II.17, ed. C. D. Verey, T.J. Brown, E. Coatsworth and R. Powell, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 20 (Copenhagen, 1980).

Durham Ritual, ed. T. J. Brown, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 16 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1969).

Keefer, Sarah Larratt.  “Another Pre-Conquest Inscription in Durham Cathedral Library MS A.II.17”, Journal of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland 13 (1997), 65.

Wanley, Humphrey, Librorum veterum septentrionalium catalogus, Vol. II of George Hickes, Linguarum vett. septentrionalium thesaurus (Oxford: Sheldon, 1705; reprint Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1970),  p. 298.


  1. You have read my various published stuff on the Boge-hand, yes? Remember there are no rabbits in England before the Conquest, only hares. That point is in there somewhere.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. I was actually wondering if you had good images of the Boge pages, especially the partial alphabet on 96v that you identified. I saw your remarks in the ASM guide but I don’t have a copy of your article unless it is buried in my file drawer–easier just to have it resent electronically by our InterLibrary Loan.
    On the “rabbit” head, I was repeating Brown, but of course no rabbits in ASE (I put some hares in another chapter, to substitute for the rabbit holes I kept tripping over on Oakley Down). At first I thought it was a bird head, but looking at a better image of 106r in Gameson’s .Manuscript Treasures of Durham Cathedral, I see the mammalian ears, although not very hare-like.
    Any thoughts on where the two Gospel books would be that this child would get at them?

  3. I’m enjoying the Digipal Manuscript Images from Durham Cathedral Library. However, there is a problem with MS A.II.17 folio 80r. It should finish with Luke 6.37, the beginning of which Boge attempted to copy (nolite iudica et non iuducabicamini). What we see is the continuation of folio 80v (Luke 6.45) at the top of the page and the beginning of chapter seven just over half way down. Although there is an 80 in the top right hand corner (cancelled by a cross?), surely this must be folio 81r. Furthermore, on 80v you can see the shadow of the correct 80r through the vellum/parchment.

  4. Thanks, Seumas, for reminding me that I would be able to see Boge (and Scribe F) at DigiPal. Sorry for the delay in response to your comment–I have just now had time to look at the images and see the error you point out. I will convey it to the DigiPal folks.

  5. Ah, thanks for noticing that Seumas (and thanks to Karen for drawing my attention to your comment). I agree it’s not correct. To explain for anyone who has not got the facsimile (or the ms!) to hand: there are two pages numbered as “80” in the manuscript, usually distinguished as 80r and 80*r (the image in DigiPal is of the latter). As Verey et al. (1980: 15, ref above) point out, there is irregularity in the system of numbering in the manuscript. Verey suggests that this may be “explained by a collator hastily flicking through the folios. Fols. 80 and 80* form a bifolium in the middle of a quire and are of a membrane much finer and thinner than most in the book; it is likely that there same hasty collator turned over these two folios together. The majority of the leaves in *Durham* respond to turning with rigidity, whereas 80-80* curl easily if the manuscript is left open at that point”.

    Which is all to say that we’ll change the reference in DigiPal to 80*r when we next update the database (in two or three weeks). And with a little luck, we might even have the *actual* 80r in the not too distant future. What this space. Or that space. Okay, I’m outta space 😉

    • Thank you, Karen and Stewart, for sorting this out. I’m looking forward to seeing the real 80r!

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