Cathedral Treasure, Finalist Number 10, the final finalist.
Lavish medieval Bible produced on site and still in use, Winchester Bible, 1150-1175
There are 10 finalists in our Cathedral Treasure competition. You can vote for your favourite and you’ll be in with a chance of winning a copy of Janet Gough’s brilliant Deans’ Choice: Cathedral Treasures of England and Wales.
The twelfth-century Winchester Bible is unique in at least two respects. First, it has stayed for the last eight hundred and fifty years or so in the place where it was made – the monastic Priory of St Swithun, now Winchester Cathedral. Bibles in churches may seem commonplace, but a handmade Bible of this quality was rare, and produced at enormous expense by an individual of great wealth and power. The cost lay not in the text but in the ‘historiated’ (story- telling) illuminated initials at the start of each of the Bible’s books, undertaken in minute detail by a team of artists. The overwhelming likelihood is that Henry of Blois (1096–1171), Bishop of Winchester and younger brother of King Stephen (d.1154), commissioned it.
When Henry died the impetus to complete the Bible stalled and its lack of use has meant that it is extremely well preserved. It has also left a second unique feature: a visible record of the different stages in the production of the illuminations, from the space in the manuscript to the completed initials. Sometimes the instructions for what an artist should put into the available space hidden in the margins. Stylistic differences show that the illuminations were sometimes designed by one artist and completed by another.
The four volumes of the Bible are now housed in the cathedral’s award-winning Kings and Scribes display, in a chapel built when it was written. In preparation for the exhibition the Bible was rebound to allow its pages to fall and be turned more easily. The cathedral is proud to have a spiritual treasure as its most valuable possession – one which is still used for the installation of bishops and deans and which demonstrates the importance of treating the text of scripture as something to be valued and pondered.
Vote for your favourite here.