The Lampeter Bible
MS 1 in the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives is a remarkable manuscript for many reasons. It is signed by the scribe, who not only gave his own name, 'G. of Fécamp' but also the date, 1279, and the name of his patron, Abbot Jacobus (James) of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives (Diocese of Sées) in Normandy. All this information is presented in rhymed verses in an unusually long colophon at the end of the volume on f. 427, and a portrait of Abbot James is included on f. 233v in the opening initial to the Song of Songs, where he is shown wearing the black habit of the Benedictines, holding the crozier that identifies him as Abbot, kneeling before the Virgin and Child.
According to Gallia christiana (XIII, col. 733), Abbot James II held office at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives from 1268, and was last mentioned in 1273. His successor, Petrus, was in negociation on legal issues with King Henry II of England in 1280, and was thought to have been in office by 1274, whereas the colophon of 1279 attributes the patronage of the Lampeter Bible to James, with no mention of Peter, and notes that G took four years to write it. So either G had begun the book for James before his death, finishing it only under Peter, whom he does not mention, or, more likely, the Bible's colophon is evidence that James was still alive in 1279 and the recipient of the Bible in that year, shortly before his successor Peter was documented in office in 1280. James would have died shortly after receiving the Bible, later in 1279 or early in 1280.
G. de Fécamp wrote a beautiful spurred formal book hand with few abbreviations and distinctive capitals, often embellishing them with profile faces drawn in ink and touched in ochre, especially on top lines where his tall ascenders could exploit the upper marginal space for decoration. His hand can be detected in some other manuscripts, notably the Miracles of the Virgin, Paris, BNF lat. 17491, in which the artist is the best of the Jumièges painters who perhaps executed parts of the Lampeter Bible as well; and the fragmentary copy of Gregory the Great, Moralia, libri XVII-XXXVII, Poitiers, Méd. mun. F. Mittérand, 68(41), may also be by the same scribe.
The Bible is decorated with pen-flourished initials in red and blue, alternating, with flourishing in the other colour, for the chapters, some larger, with party bars in red and blue. The prologues are marked by foliate initials containing animals, hybrids, figures, often with borders supporting animals.
Most of the illustration in the Bible consists of historiated initials (an initial letter containing figures or even an action scene), with an illustration for each of the books of the Bible, some of them accompanied by borders supporting figures. Two illuminators participated, a master (the painter of BNF lat. 17491, mentioned above) and his less competent assistant, the latter responsible for Maccabeees II and the New Testament initials, the major artist reserving the rest of the illustration for himself. The major painter can be traced in several other illustrated bibles, liturgical and exegetical books made for use at the Benedictine Abbey of Jumièges (Diocese of Rouen), and for Rouen Cathedral. A copy of the Arthurian romance, L'Estoire del saint Graal, is also found in one of his manuscripts (University of California, Berkeley, UCB 106).
How did the Lampeter Bible find its way to Wales? All that can be said is that it was in Carthusian hands in Britain by the 15th century. Neil Ker has noted the presence of notes for Cistercian lections: P for Prima, S for Secunda, T for Tercia, which is thinks were added in the margins in the 15th century. And several 16th century English owners added their names in the margins: W. Crofton or Croston (f. 1); John Laue (f. 164); Richard Whitney (f. 290); Richard Whitney the poitarie (f. 315); John Ley (f. 427v) 'by me John Weard ded writ this same' (f. 427v). By the 19th century it was in the hands of T.L. Burgess, Bishop of Salisbury, founder of St David's College, who bequeathed it to the College in 1837.