General Background

The coming of the Latin Bible was one of the most fundamental developments in early Irish and Anglo-Saxon society. It was at the centre of the conversion process by which the written word and other influences from the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity reached the island peoples of the north. The newly-formed literate elite assimilated texts and concepts from late Roman biblical and patristic culture, but creatively transformed this inheritance by adapting it to Insular traditions and situations in a variety of literary genres and in both Latin and the vernacular. They produced not only an extensive body of biblical commentary (exegesis), but promoted written law and new concepts about kingship and spiritual leadership. They helped create a new history and cultural identity for their own peoples. Much of this material, including the work of Insular missionaries and scholars on the continent, was influential during the Carolingian Renaissance and made a significant contribution to the formation of early European identity.

Early Insular culture has attracted a good deal of research interest in recent years but much remains to be done, not only on the writings of major figures such as Columbanus, Adomnán and Bede, but on less well-known works, including the body of largely anonymous exegesis identified by Bernhard Bischoff as Hiberno-Latin, much of which is still unedited or even unpublished.

The Project's objectives and programme

The Latin Bible Project is concerned with the text and reception of the Latin Bible in early Ireland, Britain and areas of Insular influence. Its objectives are to prepare digitised research tools and to conduct and publish a series of seminars which will also contribute to post-graduate teaching.

1 The project is funding a post-doctoral Research Fellow, Dr Gosia Krasnodebska-D'Aughton, who is well advanced in preparing a study for publication on the text, sources, analogues and iconography of an unpublished manuscript, Cracow Cathedral Library MS 140 (43). The manuscript includes homiletic material on Matthew's gospel, which shares motifs with the Catechesis Celtica and various Hiberno-Latin works and is followed by an image of the Cross and full-length Evangelist symbols derived from the Insular Cross-symbols type. This in turn is followed by an abbreviated version of the Exposinticulae in evangelium of Arnobius the Younger. The homiletic material may have originated in the circle of Virgil of Salzburg and the Cracow manuscript was in Poland by the eleventh century, possibly earlier. Work has also begun on recording full details of other manuscripts now held in Polish libraries which contain exegetical material of Insular origin, influence or interest.

2 The project is also producing a digitised and fully annotated bibliography of secondary sources on biblical exegesis ascribed to Hiberno-Latin authors or their influence. This will greatly facilitate searches for information on particular manuscripts, texts, authors, sources and themes. The bibliography will review in detail the current debate on the use of the term 'Hiberno-Latin' and, where appropriate, will contain iconographic cross-references to the Text and Image project archive.

3 A series of seminars is in progress, arranged in conjunction with the M.A. in Insular Studies course in UCC, with research papers given by members of the project and visiting speakers. The papers deal with the reception and influence of the Latin Bible in a very wide range of Insular writings, both in Latin and the vernacular, and particularly highlight the theme of authority. A major academic press has expressed interest in publishing the seminar proceedings.

Project contributors

Dr Damian Bracken (Co-ordinator)
Department of History

Dr Jennifer O'Reilly (Co-ordinator)
Department of History

Dr John Carey
Department of Early and Medieval Irish

Professor Éamonn Ó Carragáin
Department of English

Dr Gosia Krasnodebska-D'Aughton
Post-doctoral Research Fellow