The Winchester Bible (12th century)

‘The Winchester Bible is a candidate for the greatest work of art produced in England…to have survived nearly 900 years without moving is breathtaking.’
Dr Christopher de Hamel, Cambridge University

The Winchester Bible is the finest of the great Romanesque Bibles, believed to have been crafted in the mid 1100s at Winchester Cathedral, its home ever since.  Commissioned by Henry of Blois, it is of enormous significance both in the history of English Christianity and in the history of the development of the book.

The manuscript was copied by a single scribe and checked by another, whose corrections are visible in the margins.  Six different artists painted the illuminations using expensive pigments, including gold leaf and lapis lazuli.  Only 48 of the illuminations were finished: some are left as outlines or just inked in, while others have been gilded but not painted.  This gives valuable insights into the processes behind creation of the design.

The Bible has been re-bound several times (most recently in 1948), and consists of four volumes.  Although in a relatively stable condition, the volumes show signs of surface damage throughout.  In addition, the present binding does not adequately support the leaves, causing them to arch away from the spine.  Also, hot collagen-based glue was used in the 1948 re-binding and has damaged the outer spine-fold of each quire.  This damage will be repaired as part of the conservation process.

Each volume will be re-bound in Romanesque style, restoring a more relaxed, flatter opening of the Bible.  Disbinding will allow every leaf to be more completely conserved, and will enable the gathering and analysis of marginalia, which are currently hidden from view.   A complete digital facsimile will be produced, providing both an accurate record and much better access for scholars.  The re-bound Bible and digital copy will form the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Winchester Cathedral, due to open in 2016.

You can see a video showing some of the conservation in progress by following this link.

NMCT's grant supported the conservation of volume one and this was completed in December 2014, after which the volume was displayed at a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for three months until March 2015.  Conservation of volume 2 was supported with a further grant in 2015.  Both volumes are now on display in the Cathedral's new exhibition Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation.

You can see more images of the Bible by viewing the gallery below; all images are courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral.

Detail of one of the illuminations.

Detail of one of the illuminations.

The late Chris Clarkson sewing the folios

The late Chris Clarkson sewing the folios

Conserved volume on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

Conserved volume on display at the Metropolitan Museum. Images courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral.