USC’s new Bible is about 7 inches tall by 5 ½ wide. The English vellum, a parchment made from animal skin, has a delicate suede-like feel to the touch. Dozens of intricately decorated initials, written with a reed pen in blue with white zigzags, open each book. The text is penned at a size comparable to a four-point type today, which is roughly half the size of newspaper print.
While the ornate lettering is eye-catching, Gwara says the true beauty in the Bible is in its texts.
“It’s nothing like the Paris Bibles of the period,” he says. “Generally, these 13th-century Bibles included prefaces to each book. This Bible has far more prefaces than normal and features a pastor’s notes and proofreading marks in its margins. It also includes a text called the ‘Interpretation of Hebrew Names,’ which translates the Hebrew names in the whole Bible. It is remarkable, and I cannot wait to share this book with our students.”
The pocket Bible is the second acquisition of a medieval manuscript to the university on behalf of the B.H. Breslauer Foundation, established by the estate of the late Bernard H. Breslauer, a renowned book dealer and scholar, to support acquisition of rare books and manuscripts by U.S. libraries and institutions.
In 2007, with $46,000 from the foundation, University Libraries acquired a rare medieval manuscript, a preacher’s manual dating back to 1269. That same year, Gwara cataloged the state’s medieval holdings from more than eight institutions and worked with USC library staff to organize an exhibit of the treasures.