800 illuminated medieval manuscripts digitized, to go online in November

The British Library, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and The Polonsky Foundation have teamed up to create two websites that will provide digital access to 800 medieval manuscripts. The websites will be launched next month.

It is part of ‘The Polonsky Foundation England and France Project,’ which began in 2016. The British Library and the Bibliothèque nationale de France are providing 400 manuscripts each from their collections, which were selected for their importance in relation to the history of French-English relationships in the Middle Ages. Produced between the 8th and the late 12th centuries, they cover a broad spectrum representing intellectual output during the early Middle Ages and the Romanesque era. Among them are a number of precious, lavishly illuminated examples, such as the Winchester Benedictional from around the year 1000, the Chartres Bible circa 1140 and the Canterbury Psalter made at the end of twelfth-century.


Laurence Engel, President of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, commented that “Two outstanding medieval collections have been brought together through this ambitious project funded by The Polonsky Foundation, the fruit of a commitment shared by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library to harness our scientific and technological expertise in placing invaluable treasures within everyone’s reach. This is an example of common heritage that we are sharing together.”

Hrabanus Maurus, In Praise of the Holy Cross,
mid 11th century.
BnF, MSS Department, Latin 11685 : Hrabanus Maurus at
the end of his work.

“We are delighted to be working with our colleagues at the Bibliothèque nationale de France on this hugely exciting collaboration,” added Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library. “It will bring together manuscript treasures from a time when the cultural, political and religious interchange between Britain and France was unfolding at many levels. The illuminated manuscripts that our respective institutions hold are remarkable survivals from that period.”


Some of these manuscripts will be featured at upcoming ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms : Art, Word, War’ exhibition that begins later this month at the British Library. A book is also being published simultaneously by both libraries to showcase a selection of the illuminated manuscripts – Medieval illumination, Manuscript Art in England and France 700-1200, by Kathleen Doyle and Charlotte Denoël.

The two websites will work in a complimentary fashion. The first, France-England: medieval manuscripts between 700 and 1200, has been created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France based on the Gallica marque blanche infrastructure, using the IIIF standard and Mirador viewer to make the images held by the different institutions interoperable and enable them to be compared side-by-side within the same digital library or annotated. The second website, Medieval England and France, 700-1200, is aimed at a wider public audience, and has been developed by the British Library to showcase a selection of manuscripts as well as articles, essays and video clips.

Collection of St Thomas Becket’s epistles,
4th quarter of the 12th century.
British Library, Cotton MS Claudius B II, , f. 341r :
The Martyrdom of Thomas Becket.

Dr Leonard S. Polonsky and Marc Polonsky of The Polonsky Foundation said in a statement: “This project brings together riches of the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the British Library, and makes them available to researchers and the wider public in innovative and attractive ways. Our Foundation is privileged to support this collaboration, which continues the cultural exchange and profound mutual influence that characterise the history of these two nations over many centuries.”

Look for these two sites to begin in November:

Click here to read the British Library website announcement of this project in 2016 and this 2018 blog post discussing a presentation on the Polonsky Foundation Pre-1200 Project


Click here to download a list of the manuscripts being digitized

Top Image: The ‘Eadui Psalter’, 1st half of 11th century. British Library, Arundel MS 155, f. 133r : monks presenting a copy of the Rule of St Benedict to enthroned St Benedict.