Not everything that was written by early Christians about the life of Jesus and his teachings ended up in the canon of the New Testament. However, some of these texts, called the Apocrypha, were very popular in the Middle Ages. This manuscript contains the Dutch translation of the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. The gospel not only describes Jesus’ trial and Crucifixion but also his descent into hell. Though the official New Testament does not mention this period in hell, the story very much appealed to people in the Middle Ages. Many painters have drawn inspiration from this text and have depicted this scene in their work. The manuscript also includes a description of Jesus’ outward appearance, the five times he had bled in his life, and the five times he had cried.
These detailed texts about the Passion of Jesus were created to help the reader to contemplate Christ’s suffering. They were popular with monks and nuns as well as lay people, who could use them to contemplate Christ’s death at home.
This manuscript is decorated with both pen-flourished and colored initials. The word passio (suffering) is written in red ink, presumably in order to emphasize the suffering of Christ.
- Manuscripts were made from parchment, paper or a combination of these two materials. The quality of these materials varied considerably. What material was used in this manuscript and how can you tell?
- Manuscripts were used by a variety of readers, including scholars, students, members of religious houses (monks, nuns), courtiers, and individuals with a professional background (notaries, physicians, merchants, etc.). Observe the material features of this manuscript and speculate what background the reader of this book will have had. Focus on either the first reader (for whom it was first produced) or a later one, for example based on later annotations to the text. What material features support your speculative claim?
- Lieftinck, G. I. (1948). Codices Manuscripti V: codicum in finibus belgarum ante annum 1550 conscriptorum qui in bibliotheca universitatis asservantur (Vol. 1). Brill.