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The largest surviving 12th-century English Bible


Winchester Bible is still a marvel to behold today.

When British actor John Rhys-Davies saw the Winchester Bible in person, he marveled at its beauty. He imagined what it would be like to be a scribe — to spend your entire day, over the course of your lifetime, carefully copying out the Bible. It’s a level of dedication and devotion most of us don’t have, he told journalist Sally Taylor.

Rhys-Davies was particularly moved by the Winchester Bible because, at the time, he was starring in a performance called “Winchester: Chronicles of Light” held at Winchester Cathedral in 2012, about the Cathedral’s remarkable people and events. He played the role of Henri De Blois, who was often called Henry of Winchester. Henry, the grandson of William the Conquerer and younger brother of Stephen, King of England, became the Bishop of Winchester in 1129 and commissioned the Winchester Bible, which some say is the most beautiful Bible ever made.

Considered the largest surviving 12-century English Bible, the Winchester Bible is an illuminated manuscript and was produced between the years of 1160 and 1175. It is made of calf-skin parchment and due to the large size of its pages, is estimated to have incorporated the hides of some 250 calves. It’s been rebound twice and is now presented in four volumes, bound in leather.

A unique feature of the Winchester Bible is that many of the illuminations are unfinished and some of the text is incomplete. Even more unusual is the fact that almost the entire manuscript text is done in the hand of just one scribe, who would have taken about four years to complete the project.  The illustrations are the work of about half a dozen artists.

Both thieves and collectors have damaged the integrity of the Winchester Bible over the years, removing illustrations and pages, but it is nevertheless a mostly still intact incredible piece of sacred art. The Bible is housed at the Winchester Cathedral library where it has been for more than 800 years.

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