The Ripoll Bibles: Unity, Continuity, and Monastic Practice
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CitationLoic, Erika. 2017. The Ripoll Bibles: Unity, Continuity, and Monastic Practice. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractIn the first half of the eleventh century, the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Ripoll reached its creative and intellectual apogee, producing some of the most densely illustrated bibles of the Middle Ages. Known collectively as the Ripoll Bibles, these single-volume, prodigiously large manuscripts—each around half a meter in height—bring together biblical and extra-biblical texts with illustration ranging from decorative initials to multi-page narrative cycles.
At a time when individual parts of the Bible—such as gospel books or psalters—were far more common than complete bibles, this monastery in the northeastern Iberian peninsula chose to invest the significant material costs, time, and labor to produce multiple complete bibles. Having remained within the very monastery that produced them, the Ripoll Bibles were designed to meet the specific needs of this monastic community. Chapter 1 presents a twofold consideration of context, both the broad geographic context and the more specific context of Ripoll’s library and culture of learning.
Comparisons of multiple copies of the same book are often dominated by discussions of model–copy relationships. This approach ultimately obscures the creativity inherent in such ambitious manuscripts. The scenes common to the Ripoll and Roda Bibles, the focus of Chapter 2, offer clear evidence of how individual agency transcended any desire to produce strict copies. Scholarly attention to medium, layout, and iconography can be harnessed in new ways, not to trace the lineage of these manuscripts but rather to uncover how their makers engaged with text and image as part of an ongoing receptive process.
Illustration of the biblical text could function as a visualization of the spoken word, particularly in the case of divine messages transmitted through prophets (Chapter 3, Part 1). The images of callings and speech acts encouraged the monks to give voice to the text and reinforced their roles as willing messengers and interpreters of divine messages. Like images of prophetic speech, depictions of biblical vision and theophany (Chapter 3, Part 2) could also invite the reader to participate in the narrative, either sharing in a visionary experience or else seeing and understanding what certain biblical figures could not.
As a text of universal history, the Bible served as the organizing principle with which readers could make sense of their lives in the present. Illustrations of the often-violent histories recounted in the Bible (Chapter 4) made the text vivid and memorable, but also encouraged certain monastic behaviors. Images of self-sacrifice and willing suffering could prompt the monks to visualize their daily practices as part of the larger narrative of salvation history.
A biblical text without images could have served the simple liturgical needs of the community, and so the extensive illustration in the Ripoll Bibles necessarily points beyond these needs to the pedagogical and symbolic value of these manuscripts. Through repetition of visual themes within a single-volume format, the monks proclaimed the unity and harmony of the biblical text and, by extension, emphasized the divine plan unifying and governing the past, present, and future.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140240
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