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les Enluminures

Cistercian Office Lectionary for the Summer Season

In Latin, decorated manuscript on parchment
Northern Italy (Piacenza?), c. 1260-1275 (probably c. 1260)

TM 721

p>ii (modern paper) + 221 + ii (modern parchment), original foliation on the verso, middle outer margin in roman numerals beginning in the Sanctoral, f. 110v, modern foliation in pencil in Arabic numerals, lower outer corner, 1-193, continuing in another hand, upper outer corner, 194-209, then resuming in the original hand in the lower corner, 210-end (reflecting the fact that quires 26 and 27 were previously bound in the incorrect order and restored to their correct order when rebound),  missing one quire of eight leaves after quire twenty-five, f. 193, and two leaves from quire twenty-six (collation, i8 ii-iii6 iv-xiii8 xiv8+1 [one leaf, f. 109, added after 8] xv-xxiv8 xxv4 [ending f. 193v] xxvi8 [-4 and 5, following f. 196] xxvii-xxviii8 xxix8 [-7, cancelled blank; 8, blank, a lifted pastedown]), horizontal catchwords in quires 23, 24, 26-28 very bottom inner margin, partially trimmed, no leaf or quire signatures, ruled in very-lightly in lead through f. 109v, sometimes with the top horizontal rule full across and with full-length single vertical bounding lines, f. 110-end, ruled in lead with the two, middle two, and bottom two horizontal rules full across and with full-length single vertical bounding lines, usually with triple rules between the columns (justification, 342-338 x 223-220 mm.), copied below the top line by at least three scribes in an upright gothic bookhand in two columns of thirty-two lines, change of hands at f. 110 and f. 161v, column b, three from bottom, majuscules carefully highlighted in red, red rubrics, two- to three-line (with I extending up to six lines) alternately red and blue initials, many with pen decoration in the other color (on f. 116, filled with the face of a monk), three- to six-line parted red and blue initials, many with red and blue pen decoration, in several styles, in the first half of the book, some with “filled-in” pen motifs including fleur-de-lis (e.g., ff. 7, 53, 62v, 79, 86, 141v), perhaps echoing manuscripts from northeastern France/ Burgundy,  in the second half, some are patterned after Italian twelfth-century manuscripts, with a variety of white vinestem, touched with green wash, (e.g. ff. 143v, 151v), f. 1, 8-line parted red and blue initial with elaborate pen decoration in both colors, followed by red and blue display capitals, first few leaves darkened and stained, f. 1 with a triangular-shaped hole (c. 70 x 50 mm.) in the first two leaves (with small losses to text), some repairs with tape and an eighteenth-century (?) repair to fol.2, small tear from base of last leaf with a loss of a few letters from the bottom of the two columns, bottom margin cut away ff. 88-89 (small loss of text on f. 88), text stained and worn, ff. 125v-126, trimmed, with slight loss of a few marginal additions, overall in good condition. Formerly quarter bound in brown calf and heavy wooden boards, spine with six raised bands, lettered, “Lection. Mona”, and with paper labels, “90” and “4” (described in Pope, 1999); boards were re-used for the current modern binding, wooden boards left bare, backed in modern red leather, spine with four raised bands, labeled “Lectionary/ s. XIII”, in excellent condition.  Dimensions 440 x 310 mm.

This impressive manuscript is an eloquent witness to the flourishing liturgical life of an important Northern Italian Cistercian monastery in the thirteenth century. It is notable for its large size, skillful scribes, and elegant yet restrained decoration. The readings during the Night Office from the Bible and Church Fathers demonstrate the importance of the Bible in the spiritual life of Cistercian monks. Office Lectionaries are a comparatively rare type of liturgical manuscript, and Lectionaries of this size and date are especially rare on the market.


1. Copied in Northern Italy for a Cistercian monastery, almost certainly Chiaravalle della Columba near Piacenza, in the third quarter of the thirteenth century, probably around 1260. Liturgical evidence establishes that the manuscript must date after 1260, and before 1298: the most recent entry in the text is for the feast of Robert of Molesme (29 April), observed from 1259. In addition, a number of feasts, observed by the Cistercians from 1246-1260, are added in the margin in a formal text hand, clearly contemporary with the manuscript (additions like these are seen in other Cistercian liturgical books; cf. Light, 1988, plate 5 of Harvard University, Houghton Library, fMS Typ 210, a twelfth-century Gospel lectionary, probably from Morimondo, and plate 6, fMS Typ 223, an Office Lectionary from Morimondo), namely Dominic (8 August, 1255), Lambert (17 September, 1246), Francis (4 October, twelve lessons in 1259), and 11,000 Virgins (21 October, 1260) – so we can assume that the exemplar this manuscript was copied from did not include these feasts. Moreover, while these entries show that the manuscript dates after 1260, they are also evidence that it was most likely copied not long after 1260 when many of these feasts were new. The manuscript certainly dates before 1298, when a later hand added a note about the feast of St. Louis.

The script and decoration of the manuscript present several features of interest. The hand of the first scribe could easily be identified as French (for example, on f. 2, “qui” is abbreviated in the northern fashion with a superscript ‘i’, and it is interesting that he then seems to prefer to write “qui” in full in later passages); moreover, his script is quite old-fashioned, even avoiding the letter unions characteristic of thirteenth-century gothic scripts (the decoration of the minor initials especially seems similarly old-fashioned). It seems possible that this scribe was deliberately trying to emulate his exemplar, which may have been from a Cistercian foundation in France, possibly even Cȋteaux itself. The hand used by the manuscript’s contemporary corrector, in contrast, is much more Italian in his ductus and style of abbreviation (see ff. 35, 37), and also more up-to-date. The script of the two later scribes in the manuscript are more clearly identifiable as Italian, although with surprising anachronisms (for example the last scribe uses e-cedilla, cf. f. 200 and elsewhere). 

The manuscript is undoubtedly Cistercian, as evidenced by its liturgical use, which follows very closely the Cistercian Lectionary examined in detail by Grégoire, 1977, and as such includes characteristic Cistercian Saints (Bernard of Claivaux, Robert of Molesme, founder and first abbot of Cȋteaux, Malachy, whose cult originated at Clairvaux, and Edmund of Abingdon, archbishop of Canterbury, buried at Pontigny), punctuation (with the punctus flexus), and the elegant, but restrained decoration found in many Cistercian manuscripts. Numerous manuscripts with similar histories (in particular ownership by the Giovio family) were once all believed to be copied at the Cistercian monastery of Sancta Maria of Morimondo near Milan, and this is no exception.

Liturgical evidence, however, points more to the Abbey of Chiaravalle della Columba, in particular, the collect from the Common of Saints on f. 196, “Presta omnipotens deus ut qui beati antonini martyris …”, which most likely refers to St. Antoninus, who was martyred in Piacenza, and who became the town’s patron (his feast is celebrated in the Roman martyrology on 30 September, at Picenza on 4 July, with the finding of his relics on 13 November). This is reinforced by the note added in a much later (seventeenth-century?) hand for the feast of St. Justina on f. 157 following Maurice (22 September), since the feast of Justina, the patroness of Piacenza was celebrated on 26 September. Mirella Ferrari in her study of the surviving twelfth-century manuscripts from Cistercian monasteries in Northern Italy lists sixteen manuscripts from Chiaravalle della Columba (Ferrari, 1993, pp. 297-8; Ferrari, 1980, pp. 281-3, listed twelve); this manuscript is listed on p. 305, as Bergendal, MS 83, among Cistercian books from Lombard (see also p. 293, note 153, and Ferrari, 1980, p. 287, no. 106, where it is again without assigning it an exact provenance, but noting that it was described by Christie’s as from Morimondo) .

The Abbey of Chiaravalle della Columba, a Cistercian Abbey in Alseno (Piacenza), Emilia Romagna, was founded in 1136 by Bishop Arduino of Piacenza, who appealed to St. Bernard himself, then at the Council of Pisa (1135), to send a colony of monks to found a new monastery. The canonical foundation is dated 1137.  According to tradition, the Abbey’s name originates from the dove (“columba” in Latin) that showed the monks where to build their church by dropping straws on the ground.  The Abbey suffered losses, and, in particular, it was looted and mostly burned (sparing the Church and Chapter House) in 1248 by the army of Frederick II. It was suppressed in the Napoleonic era; in 1805, its assets were nationalized, and its library dispersed; in 1810, the monks were forced to leave.

2. Remained in active liturgical use for centuries; on f. 29v, in the bottom margin following Trinity Sunday, a fifteenth- or sixteenth-century (?) hand added, “In festo sacramenti altaris in dominica infra oct. eiusdem. Lectio require in Breviario magno cooperta rubeo in fine” (that is, “you can find the readings for the feast of the Sacrament of the Altar, that occurs within the octave of this feast, in the large breviary bound in red at the end”). There are also stains, possibly from candle wax, for example, on f. 9 (and Pope, 1999, states a great deal of wax was removed from the volume). On ff. 2, and 3v, small triangular holes were patched with parchment, and then the text carefully re-written in a quite late hand (eighteenth-century?). Note also the late interlinear corrections found occasionally, and the added accent marks (e.g. f. 27), to aid the lector.

3. There is a fragment of a fourteenth-century monastic document, on parchment, dimensions c. 50 x 360 mm. trimmed on the left, with six lines of text in an elegant cursive gothic bookhand, laid in, said to have been found in the manuscript, now with traces of paste on the recto (mentioning an Abbot Peter): incipit, “//Selo litterarum scientia spiritualem prouidencia et temporalium circumspeccione … Cum igitur ut idem Petrus Abbas in commissa sibi predicti monasterii circa facilius proficere ualeat tuus fauor//”; blank except for a later note on the verso.

4. Previous binding (sixteenth century?) included two paper labels on the spine, “90” and “4”, presumably shelf marks (Pope, 1999, MS 83).

5. Belonged to Francesco Giovio (1796-1873) of Como, and sold by his descendants, Christie’s, 1 June 1977, lot 174 to Kraus. Traditionally said to have belonged to Francesco’s well-known ancestor, Bishop Paolo Giovio (1483-1552), the historian and humanist, who was a noted collector of art and manuscripts. There seems to be no basis for this assertion (in the case of many manuscripts, it can probably be traced to descriptions by Martini when they were sold in the early twentieth century; see Ferrari, 1993, p. 291).

6. Belonged to Joseph Pope of Toronto (d. 2010), investor banker and prominent collector of medieval manuscripts, who purchased it from Kraus in November 1986; Bergendal Collection MS 83 (described in Pope, 1999; brief notice in Stoneman, 1997 pp. 198; an account of the collection is given in Pope, 1997; see also Online Resources, Bergendal Collection); his sale, London, Sotheby’s, 5 July 2011, lot 61.


ff. 1-109v, In nocte sancta pasce lectio i. Sermo beati maximi episcopi, incipit, “Magnum et mirabile domus concessit nobis Deus …”; IV. Sermo beati maximi episcopi, incipit, “Non immerito fratres hodierna die psalmus …”; … Dominica XXV, IX Lectio sancti euangelii secundum iohannem, incipit, “Cum subleuasset oculos Iesus … quod esset facturus [Joh. 6:5-6], et reliqua. Omelia lectionis eiusdem beati augustini episcopi, incipit, “Miracula que fecit … esset facturus”; Secundum Iohannem, incipit, “In illo tempore. Cum sublevasset oculos Iesus … in mundum [Joh. 6:5-14]. Et decet laus”; Oremus, incipit, “Excita domine quesumus tuorum .. remedia maiora percipiant. Per.”;

Cistercian Lectionary for the night office, Temporal from Easter through the thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost. The text is very similar to that in the Cistercian Homiliary, MS Dijon 114 (82), copied to serve as the authoritative prototype for Cistercian liturgical manuscripts throughout the order c. 1183-1188 (reflecting the liturgy, 1178-1185); described in detail by Grégoire, 1977, pp. 154-179, nos. 1-308, with an identification of all the texts, together with references to editions, and to the Homiliary of Paul the Deacon, often the source of the Patristic texts used here.
The following differences from Dijon 114 can be observed: f. 27, the first Sunday after Pentecost here with rubric, Dominica de sancta trinitate [followed by the same lessons; and the Sunday following is called the second Sunday after Pentecost]. The scribe apparently made an error, since the following Sunday, f. 34, is numbered as the fourth [and there is consequently no third Sunday – again the readings follow Dijon 114]. No. 132 in Grégoire, the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, is followed by an additional Sunday, here Do xi, ff. 45-46v, continuing the readings from the previous Sunday with 3 Kings 11:1-43. Similarly, Grégoire, no. 164, is followed by Dom. xvi, with Ecclesiasticus 4:12-6:23. The reading beginning on f. 88v, like the Dijon manuscript is from Bede (see Grégoire, no. 291, but begins, “In hac leccione consideranda est in uno eodemque redemptor … qui nullis paginarum sanctarum.”

The organization of the Temporal also follows Dijon, MS 114. The first two nocturns for the long series of summer Sundays from the second to the thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost (all from the Bible) were copied first, followed by the third nocturn (with lessons from homilies on the Gospel) for the second Sunday through the twenty-fifth Sunday.

ff. ff. 110-193v, [added, In festis], Sancti ambrosii archepiscopi. Lectiones viii, incipit, “Magnum bonum” [cue with reference to f. ciii, in the common of saints], Euangelium, incipit, “Vigilate quia nescitis deus qui conspicis” [cue with reference to f. cviiii]; In natali sancti marchi euangeliste, Lectio i. Sermo ex commentario beati augustini episcopi, incipit, “Ait dominus discipulis suis manete in me …; … f. 190, In natali beati andree apostoli, ….; Oremus, incipit, “Maiestatem tuam domine suppliciter exoramus .. perpetuus intercessor. Per. [Added, De sancto eligio, octo lectiones .. [cues with folio references]//

Sanctoral, beginning with St. Ambrose, April 4, and concluding with Andrew, 30 November; Grégoire, pp. 185, no. 37-198, no. 127, and concluding with p. 198, no. 127 [end of Sanctoral and beginning of Common of Ssaints now missing, Grégoire, pp. 198-199, nos. 128-134].

Again, the text is in close agreement with Dijon, MS 114, described by Grégoire, with additional feasts that reflect the changes within the Cistercian liturgical practice; included here are Robert of Molesme (29 April, 1259), and Peter martyr  (28 April, 1255) after Mark on f. 112 (cues with cross references); on f. 115v, following Alexander and Eventius, John before the Lateran Gate (6 May 1246, elevated to twelve lessons), and on f. 118, cues for Barnabus (11 June 1203); f. 120, cues for the birth of John and Paul (26 June, 1218); f. 141v, contemporary marginal addition, “[Domin]ici conf., before St. Lawrence (8 August, 1255); f. 164, contemporary addition alongside the Exaltation of the Cross, for the Octave of the Nativity of Mary, and Lambert (17 September 1246); f. 171v, after Michael, contemporary marginal addition, “[Fran]cisci” (4 October, commemoration, 1228; twelve lessons, 1259), f. 176v, contemporary marginal addition after Luke, 11,000 virgins (21 October, commemoration, 1220; twelve lessons in 1260); f. 184v, included in the text after Martin, Malachy, bishop of Armagh (30 June, 1191 ); f. 190, included in the text, cues for Edmund (16 November, 1247) and Catherine (25 November, twelve lessons 1214); and f. 193, early addition in a blank space within the text following Andrew, Eligius (1 December, 1230, commemoration).

ff. 194-221v, [lectio v], incipit, “//uenit exterior simul et interior iudicat …”; …f. 196, Oremus, incipit, “Presta omnipotens deus ut qui beati antonini martyris ….” [f. 221v, blank].

Common of Saints, beginning imperfectly in the fifth lesson, presumably for a feast for one martyr, since the concluding collect mentions St. Antoninus, although the readings do not agree with the readings in Grégoire), and continuing with one martyr  (two folios missing following f. 196, which ends imperfectly in the twelfth lesson for one martyr, original folio lxxxv, followed by lxxxviii), many martyrs, one confessor (with collects for Lambert, and Edmund), a confessor not a pontif, and a virgin, and concluding with the Dedication of a Church (Grégoire, p. 179, at the end of the temporale).

Matins, the night Office (or Vigils), was said in the dark hours following midnight; according to the custom of the early Cistercians, it was said late enough that it was followed immediately by Lauds at dawn. Other monastic orders celebrated it around midnight (and then retired to bed for a nap before Lauds). It included Psalms with antiphons, responsories and other chants (probably often said from memory), and a varying number of lessons from the Bible and Patristic authors. The text for the lessons was read (or actually chanted) either from Lectionaries such as this manuscript, which included both biblical readings and readings from the Fathers, from books with specialized contents, such as Bibles, Homiliaries, or simply from copies of the works of Augustine, or other Fathers, or – especially in the thirteenth century and later, from Breviaries (books including the complete text for the Office). Probably because so many other types of books were used as sources for the readings, Office Lectionaries are a comparatively rare type of liturgical manuscript.

The Cistercian concern for liturgical reform – in particular, a faithful following of St. Benedict’s Rule – determined the content and number of readings at Matins. On ordinary days (i.e. weekdays) in the winter, from November to Easter, there were three readings. On ordinary days in the summer, beginning with Easter, there was a single reading from the Old Testament, said from memory. As was customary, this lectionary does not include readings for ordinary or ferial days. Sundays (and special feasts, including Saints’ days), were observed with twelve readings.

Each Sunday included two nocturns, each with four lessons from the Bible or the writings of a Church Father, and a third nocturn with four lessons from a homily on the Gospels, followed by the text of the Gospel pericope in full,  which was chanted by the Abbot, and a short prayer (or collect). The lessons heard at Matins were certainly at the heart of the monks’ spiritual life, and they were also an essential part of monastic education. The importance of the Bible in these readings cannot be over-emphasized.  The readings in the Cistercian lectionary were almost exclusively taken from homiletic writings from the Church Fathers (none more recent than Bede), most of which focused on the biblical text, and from the Bible itself. The Cistercian rejection of most of the readings from Saints’ lives and other similar material, which formed an important part of other monastic lectionaries, again reflects their desire for liturgical reform. The monks heard the Bible at Matins on many Sundays during the summer seasons. The Apocalypse was read on the two Sundays after Easter, followed by the Catholic Epistles on the third and fourth Sundays (here on ff. 7-16v).  The readings for the Second through the thirtieth Sunday after Pentecost, here ff. 29v-81, are entirely biblical, taken from Kings 1-4, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Job, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Maccabees, Ezechiel, and Daniel (and remember that this is a Lectionary for half the year; other biblical books were read during Matins in other months).


Corvi P. and Spinelli G., “S. Maria di Chiaravalle della Colomba”, in Monasteri Benedettini in Emilia Romagna, Milan, 1980, pp. 83-95.

Ferrari, Mirella. “Biblioteche e scrittori Benedettini nella storia culturale della diocesi Ambrosiana: Appunti ed episodi”, Ricerche storiche sulla chiesa Ambrosiana 9, Archivio Ambrosiano 40 (1980), pp. 230–90.

Ferrari, Mirella. “Dopo Bernardo: biblioteche e ‘scriptoria’ cisterciensi dell’Italia settentrionale nel XII secolo”, in Pietro Zerbi, ed., San Bernardo e l’Italia, Milan, 1993, pp. 253-306.

Grégoire, Réginald. “L’homéliaire cistercien du manuscrit 114 (82) de Dijon”, Cȋteaux. Commentarii cistercienses 28 (1977), pp. 133-207.

Grégoire, Réginald. Homéliaires liturgiques médiévaux : analyse de manuscrits, Spoleto, Centro italiano di studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 1980.

Lekai, Louis J., The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality, Kent, Ohio, Kent State University Press, 1977.

Light, Laura. The Bible in the Twelfth Century: An Exhibition of Manuscripts at the Houghton Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988.

Harper, John. The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century, Oxford, 1991.

Fassler, Margot E. and Rebecca A. Baltzer, eds. The Divine Office in the Latin Middle Ages: Methodology and Source Studies, Regional Developments, Hagiography Written in Honor of Professor Ruth Steiner, New York, Oxford University Press, 2000.

Martimort, A.G.  Les lectures liturgiques et leurs livres, Turnhout, Brepols, 1992.

Palazzo, Eric. A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, tr. by Madeline Beaumont, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1998.

Pope, Joseph. One Hundred and Twenty-Five Manuscripts: Bergendal Collection Catalogue, Toronto, Brabant Holdings, 1999.

Pope, Joseph. “The Library that Father Boyle Built”, in A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard Boyle, O.P., ed. Jacqueline Brown and William P. Stoneman, pp. 163-206.  Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, pp. 157-162.

Stoneman, William P. “A Summary Guide to the Medieval and Later Manuscripts in the Bergendal Collection, Toronto” in A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard Boyle, O.P., ed. Jacqueline Brown and William P. Stoneman, pp. 163-206.  Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, pp. 163-206.

Waddell, Chrysogonus. “A FewGeneralNotes and Reflections on the EarlyCistercianNightOfficeReadings and Reading at table and BeforeCompline”, Liturgy OCSO 15/1 (1981), pp. 63-95.

Online resources

Bergendal Collection of Medieval Manuscripts

Official website of Chiaravalle della Columba

Gildas, M. “Cistercians”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908:

On the Divine Office:

Introduction to liturgical manuscripts:
“Celebrating the Liturgy’s Books”:

Liturgical Books for the Divine Office, including Lectionaries: Jean-Baptiste Lebigue, “Livres de l’office Les propres de l’office”, Initiation aux manuscrits liturgiques, Paris-Orléans, IRHT, 2007 (Ædilis, Publications pédagogiques, 6)