Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Homilies of St Maximus of Turin , 7th century (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, C.98, parte inferiore, f.89). All images from Steffens 1929, Plate 25.
This page is from the Homilies of St Maximus, a 4th century bishop of Turin. This copy, dated on paleographical grounds to the 7th century, formerly belonged to the monastery of Bobbio, a place where many writing cultures met. St Maximus, one of two early bishops of Turin of that name, wrote a large number of homilies or sermons for particular feasts of the church calendar, relating either to events of the life of Christ or for particular saints' days. This page contains the end of one homily and the beginning of another, both devoted to St Cyprian. Intriguingly, they are entered in the wrong order, as the second one is for the feast of the birth of St Cyprian, and the other is intended to be read several days later. It all adds to the general doubts one has about the true literacy of some of the early monastic copyists.

Many early writers of sermons have had their attributed output augmented by the addition of the written works of other lesser known writers, and scholars have spent many happy hours trying to sort things out. Apparently St Maximus suffered the reverse, and some of his more heroic efforts were attributed for a time to better known authors such as St Augustine. While many of these early writers seem to have indulged in convoluted and theologically complex composition, the tone of Maximus is more like that of your friendly neighbourhood preacher, with lots of illustrative metaphor and quotations from scripture and legend rather than convoluted interpretation. At the beginning of the second homily on this page, he points out the correspondence of the feast of the birth of St Cyprian with the grape harvest and goes on from there; a cheerfully Italian sort of relationship. I was fascinated to discover while googling that excerpts from St Maximus can be found on many Christian websites which give readings for the day, so he is still considered relevant.

The script of this page might be considered to be in the general Merovingian minuscule family, but that is a diverse category. The term Lombardic minuscule has been reserved by some paleographers for early versions of Beneventan minuscule from southern Italy, and seems to have been more or less abandoned by others. Dr Steffens, from whose book this has been extracted, refers to it as old Italian book hand. Sounds good to me. The monastery of Bobbio, although in Italy, was of Irish foundation, and harboured scribes from many traditions.

The transcription for this exercise is taken from Steffens. For a complete Latin version of the homilies see J.-P. Migne (ed.) 1862 Patrologia Latina, vol.57. The second homily on this page starts in column 421/422 and the first one follows it. If you have access to a subscription, you can look it up on the web at Patrologia Latina Database. The English translation was obtained from B. Ramsay 1989 The Sermons of Maximus of Turin New York and Mahwlah: Newman Press, Ancient Christian Writers series, no. 50.
An alert, not to mention assiduous, user of this website has pointed out an error in the transcript. This was not attributable to the learned Dr Steffens, but to me carrying out of of the classic errors of a medieval scribe, jumping from one line to a similar word in the next line. It is now corrected. Who would have thought anyone would have worked so carefully through this horrible script!

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