Liberal Arts and Education
BPL 1015 (France?, 1300-1400): Johannes van Garlandia, Opus Synonymorum (On Synonyms), parchment, 14 fols., 134 x 98 mm, 1 col., c.22 lines.

The first thing you see when you open this fourteenth-century manuscript are five paper leaves added to the beginning of the book during a re-binding process. These pages contain copies of descriptions of the manuscript from catalogues and other books from the nineteenth and twentieth century. On fol. 1v we can, for example, read a quote from Thomas Wright's Opere angelico (1857) saying that this volume contains vocabularies that illustrate “the condition and manners of our forefathers”. These types of descriptions can be found in many manuscripts, giving the modern reader insight into the way a manuscript has been studied, valued and interpreted during the centuries after its production.

There are only fourteen leaves in this manuscript of John of Garlands’s Synonyma. Garland (c. 1119-1270) wrote this book in the thirteenth century to provide an aid for English grammar students, who often struggled to learn Latin due to its different grammar and syntax. The Synonyma was written with advanced grammar students in mind, who used it to look up synonyms for important words (see fol. 14v).

The manuscript is decorated with colored initials as well as two pen-flourished initials.1 The annotations in the margin were added in Minge (France) in the sixteenth century. It is possible that the manuscript was also produced in France.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 104)


  1. When the quires were filled with text, the rubrics were in place, and the scribe had corrected his work, it was time for the finishing touches. Many medieval books contain some kind of decoration in addition to the written words. What kind of decoration can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Even though they were often planned to remain empty, the margins of the page contain all sorts of information. Scribes added corrections or additional text, but more often it is readers who scribbled signs, words or even entire sentences in the margins. Focus on the margins of this manuscript and make a rough inventory of the marginal additions. What do they tell you about how the book was used, or who the reader was? Are there any that are obviously from the scribe?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.