Posted by: kljolly | November 4, 2014


I have turned to an examination of Aldred’s gloss to the Matthew 5-7 Sermon on the Mount in the Lindisfarne Gospels, specifically the Beatitudes.  My attention was drawn to this passage because of a paper, soon to be published, by Paul Cavill examining the marginal commentary by Aldred.

Shameless plug:  Cavill’s essay, “Maxims in Aldred’s Marginalia to the Lindisfarne Gospels,” will appear in a forthcoming volume resulting from the Workshop on the Old English Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels at the University of Westminster, in London April 2012,  edited by the organizers Sara Pons-Sanz and Julia Fernández Cuesta, The Old English Gloss to the Lindisfarne Gospels:  Language, Author and Context, in which I also have an essay.

And yes, this is the same Paul Cavill at Nottingham who wrote so expertly on the Battle of Brunanburh in the Casebook edited by Michael Livingston and that stirred up so much “interest” on my blog.  Apparently he also has a forthcoming book on the battle which should prove to be equally instructive, especially if he tackles some of the keenness with which so many pursue their pet theories, like Michael Wood (as I reported at Leeds 2013).

But my interest here is in Aldred’s gloss on the Beatitudes, because, for some reason, he chose to write some marginal comments expounding on them that Cavill has analyzed in the context of maxims.  I will not steal his thunder by reproducing his arguments but do want to focus on one paleographic mystery, among several that I am pursuing on this page of the Lindisfarne Gospels (fol. 34r), right column.


Beside line 7, the third beatitude for those who mourn (reversed here from other versions where mourning is the second beatitude), someone has emended the Latin text with the addition of “nunc” in the right margin.  Those who mourn now is in the Luke version and occurs in the West Saxon Gospels of Matthew 5 as well as in other versions of the Vulgate from the mid-eighth century.

The “nunc” is glossed by Aldred (“nu”) but thought more likely to be added before him  than by him, although I would like to here support that remote possibility on paleographic grounds.

Whoever added the “nunc” did so in imitation of the half-uncial style of the main Latin Vulgate text but using a smaller nib and a lighter brown ink similar to that used by Aldred in his gloss (at least in the high resolution photographs put up by the British Library, it looks very close).

jollyLGNunc003However, what drew my attention when I artlessly attempted a calligraphic copy of the text is the nib angle.  Majuscule and this half-uncial here use a relatively flat (90°) nib.  This means a down-stroke vertical minim gives you the width of the nib.

But when you look at the added “nunc” it is clear from the “c” in particular that the scribe has his nib at closer to 45° or so, similar to the insular minuscule of the Old English gloss.

And, if you turn to Aldred’s attempt at insular majuscule in Durham A.IV.19, fol. 66r, you will see that he uses a similarly angled (and not quite wide enough) nib to do this less familiar style than he is used to, eventually giving it up and returning to his minuscule on subsequent pages.

So, I would like to suggest that Aldred did add the “nunc” as part of the same writing stint as his gloss and marginal comments.  You will need to wait for Cavill’s essay to appear to find out why this is significant, while I turn to other aspects of Aldred’s commentary on the Beatitudes.

In related news:

  • DigiPal has added Durham A.IV.19 pages in a collection of Durham Cathedral Library manuscript images.
  • Newly published by Henry Bradshaw Society and of inestimable use:  Jesse D. Billet, The Divine Office in Anglo-Saxon England, 596-c. 1000 (Woodbridge:  Boydell, 2014).




  1. I agree, Aldred did add the ‘NUNC’. Those are definitely the Lindisfarne glossator’s ‘N’s, c.f. folio 3r ‘Niwe’ glossing ‘novum’ (also: f122vb14 ‘Nebiðon’, f215rb17 ‘moNn’, f222rb14 ‘aNe’, f257va7 ‘inoNsione’).

    Aldred had to wait for the ink to dry before adding the ‘nu’, which is written with a freshly dipped nib and looks thicker and darker than the rest of the gloss.

    Thank you for the link to the digitalized Durham A.IV.19 manuscript. Absolutely wonderful!

  2. Thanks for the explanation of the darker/thicker “nu.” I had wondered about that.

    • Indeed, it looks like the nib is flooded: I’m old enough to remember having that problem with fountain pens at school. But these are just my impressions, splashing about in a sea of uncertainty, clutching at straws, as E.A. Lowe put it. However, if it could be demonstrated that the Latin additions like NUNC were made during the glossing process, it would bolster the argument that Aldred was working from a glossed exemplar. Good detective work on your part!

  3. Yes, I have experienced that flooding. In fact, we are starting a calligraphy group this afternoon (mostly classicists and this medievalist) to play with our various pens and try different scripts. I favor Aldred’s insular miniscule myself, but find a fountain pen a bit easier than dipping quill or metal stylus into ink. What amazes me, after my feeble efforts, is the consistency and apparent speed with which Aldred could work.

  4. Yes. Speed, precision and clarity, considering how small these glosses had to be, especially in Durham A.IV.19. Aldred’s detractors have no idea!

  5. […] Another mystery presented itself after the added “nunc.” […]

  6. […] of fermentum as impurity.  As evident in his glosses to the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Nunc) Aldred has deep concerns about poverty and purity, both chief values in a monastic […]

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