Religion and Devotion
BPL 4 (Italy, 1453): Augustine, De Civitate Dei (The city of God), paper, 139 fols., 405 x 288 mm, 2 cols., 60 lines.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430), a bishop and philosopher during the early medieval period, is viewed as one of the Fathers of the Church; the influential early Christians who set the foundations for the Christian Faith. Between 413 and 426, Augustine wrote De civitate Dei (The City of God), a collection of twenty-two books that defend Christianity against the allegation that followers of that religion had been responsible for the decline of Rome. The books encompass several subjects, including Greek philosophy, the concept of free will, and the doctrine of Original Sin. A great deal of manuscripts with this text have survived: the Leiden University Library has eight, each containing a part of De civitate Dei.

This manuscript (BPL 4) contains chapter forty-three of the second book of De civitate Dei. As you can see, there are no annotations, indicating it was probably not used for study purposes. In fol. 2r we see two large decorated initials1, while other pages are decorated with smaller colored initials in red and blue. We can see from the owner marks on the flyleaves that this manuscript belonged to the Convent of St. Clara in Amsterdam around the year 1500, where it remained until 1590 when the sisters of St. Clara were expelled from the city. After their expulsion, the manuscript came in the possession of Christophorus Dibuadius (c.1578-1621), a Danish scholar studying in Leiden. In fol. 139v you can read the exact date that the scribe finished copying the text.

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 14)


  1. Medieval scribes recognized that readers may need some help finding their way throughout the book or within the texts they contained. Over time, a number of tools were invented to this end. What type of reading-aids can you find in this manuscript? Give three examples.
  2. Manuscripts were made for specific purposes and how a manuscript was going to be used is often reflected by its material design. Can you infer for what purpose this book was made? How is your verdict reflected by the book’s material features?


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