Detail map of Vercelli, Piemonte, Italy Overview map of Vercelli, Piemonte, Italy

A: Vercelli, Piemonte, Italy

The Vercelli Book, One of the Four Old English Poetic Codices

Circa 975 CE
f xv from the Vercelli book.

f xv from the Vercelli book.

Preserved in the Museo del Tesoro del Duomo e Archivio Capitolare (Capitulary Library and Archive) of Vercelli in Northern Italy, the Vercelli Book is one of the oldest of the four Old English Poetic Codices. It contains a miscellany, or florilegium, of religious texts that were apparently selected for private inspiration, written in Anglo-Saxon square minuscule, presumably in England. The manuscript was found at Vercelli in 1822 by the lawyer, legal historian, and writer on Italian libraries, Friedrich Blume (Bluhme),  who first described it, without understanding its full significance, in the first and fourth volumes of his Iter Italicum (Stettin, 4 vols., 1824-36). The extraordinary presence in Italy of a codex of Old English poetry was explained by the existence of a hospice catering to English pilgrims that was founded by Jacopo Guala Bicchieri, bishop of Vercelli, who had been papal legate in England from 1216 to 1218. However, the codex was documented in Vercelli as early as the eleventh century.

"In the words of a modern critic [Elaine Treharne], 'The Vercelli Book appears ... to have been put together from a number of different exemplars with no apparent overall design in mind. The manner in which the scribe did the copying is relatively mechanical. In most cases, he copied the dialect and the manuscript punctuation that was found in the original texts, and these aspects therefore aid in reconstructing the variety of exemplars. The texts therefore range in date for although they were all copied in the later tenth century, they need not all have been written in this period.'

"The verse items occur in three randomly placed groups intermixed with prose. Evidence suggests that the scribe may have assembled the material over an extended period of time. Elaine Treharne in Old and Middle English: An Anthology suggests: 'Although the examples are diverse, and no apparent chronological or formal arrangement can be discerned, the texts suggest the compiler was someone in a monastic setting who wished to illustrate his personal interest in penitential and eschatological themes and to glorify the ascetic way of life. The homilies represent part of the anonymous tradition of religious prose writing in Anglo Saxon England.' " (Wikipedia article on Vercelli Book, accessed 12-24-2013).

In December 2013 the beta version of the Digital Vercelli Book went online. It published digital facsimiles and transcriptions of portions of the Vercelli Book, available at this link.


Timeline Themes