Religion and Devotion
LTK 278 (Leiden?, Netherlands, 1420): Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend), paper, 152 fols., 289 x 210 mm, 2 cols., 36-39 lines.

In the thirteenth century, the Italian writer and archbishop Jacobus de Voragine (1228-1298) compiled the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend); a collection of the lives of saints ordered according to the ecclesiastical year (see also LTK 263). The Legenda Aurea was based on a variety of Latin sources. Though it was meant as a reference work for Dominican friars it was also very popular with lay people. The book lost its popularity in the sixteenth century due to criticism by the followers of the Counter-Reformation, who believed that it contained too many legends of questionable truth.

This copy contains the oldest Dutch Legenda Aurea translation. The manuscript does not contain the whole text but only the text that corresponds with the months July through November, considered the “summer part”. The manuscript was written in 1420, probably by Willem van der Does from Leiden for his own personal use1 (see. fol. 1v). The script is written in small cursive script, making it unsuitable to read in a monastery refectory. Also, there are too few decorations for it to have been considered for display in a church. The manuscript contains one pen-flourished initial and several colored initials.

(Lieftinck, 1948, p. 91) (van der Meulen, 1994, p. nr.33) (Obbema, 1996)


  1. Before a scribe could begin to fill the quires with text, the layout of the page needed to be designed and prepared. What instruments did the scribe of this manuscript use to prepare the pages?
  2. Book design was not only influenced by the manner in which the book would be used, but also by its contents. This is not surprising, of course, since contents and use are closely related: you generally use a book because of the texts it contains. Perform a modest online search about the text in this book and assess for what reason or reasons it was commonly used (education, church rituals, reference, professional use, etc.). Now try to relate the contents of the book to the material features it was given. Can you relate the two? Which material features you observe make sense now you know more about the text? Are there any that don’t?


  1. Lieftinck, G. I. (1948). Codices Manuscripti V: codicum in finibus belgarum ante annum 1550 conscriptorum qui in bibliotheca universitatis asservantur (Vol. 1). Brill.
  2. van der Meulen, J. F. (1994). Middelnederlandse handschriften in de Leidse Universiteitsbibliotheek : tentoonstellingscatalogus. Universiteitsbibliotheek.
  3. Obbema, P. (1996). De middeleeuwen in handen : over de boekcultuur in de late middeleeuwen. Verloren.