Lampeter Bible Caricature

The greatest treasure bequeathed by Thomas Burgess to the library at Lampeter is an illuminated manuscript of the Vulgate bible. It was written over a period of rather more than 3 years and was completed in 1279 by a lame monk from Fecamp whose name began with the letter ‘G’, on the instructions of his abbot James [Jacobus], at (and for the use of) the monastery of St Pierre-sur-Dives, near Lisieux, Calvados.

Although having a varied provenance the manuscript probably reached England through Carthusian channels in the 15th or 16th century.

The manuscript sheds unexpected and most amusing light on the squabbles and petty jealousies of thirteenth-century monastic life. Many of the capitals consist of representations of the faces of monks, and quite a number of these caricatures have serpents’ tongues proceeding from their mouths. Doubtless our monk 'G' was assigned his task because of his physical disability, as a result of which he could not share in the manual labour of the monastery.

His fellow monks, returning to their cells at the end of a long day, worn out by their exertions, seeing him sitting writing away in the cloisters as peacefully and calmly as he has been when they set out that morning, would mutter imprecations under their breaths as they passed by. Little did they realize the ingenious (yet, one feels, typically medieval) manner in which he was taking his revenge.