Liber sacrosancti evangelii de Iesv Christo

Liber sacrosancti evangelii de Iesv Christo. Vienna, 1562.

Liber sacrosancti evangelii de Iesv Christo. Vienna, 1562.

This is the first printed edition of the Gospels in Syriac. It contains a long introduction by Widmanstetter in which he recounts the history of oriental studies in Europe. Widmanstetter (1506-1557) was a scholar, diplomat, lawyer and statesman who spent some time in the papal service and, in 1552, was appointed chancellor of Lower Austria. He produced this work with the assistance of the French orientalist Guillaume Postel and financial assistance from Ferdinand I, who became Holy Roman emperor after the abdication of his elder brother, Charles V, in 1555.

In addition to increasing the prestige of the Austrian Habsburgs, the edition was also intended to support  Christians in the Ottoman Empire. The emblematic woodcut shown here is found opposite the end of the Gospel of Luke. It bears the motto "In hoc Signo vinces, et conculcabis Leonem et Draconem," translated into Syriac on either side of the cross. The first part of the motto, "In this sign wilt thou conquer," refers to the alleged dream or vision of the fiery cross of the Roman emperor Constantine just before his conversion to Christianity and to his victory over Maxentius in 312. The second part, "the lion and the dragon shalt thou trample," is taken from Psalm 91:13 and frequently referred to triumph over heresy.

On the left of the cross is the emperor's helm surmounted by a panache of peacock feathers; on the right are the arms of Austria. Around the foot of the cross is the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece founded by the duke of Burgundy in 1430 and always closely connected with the Habsburgs.