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The 'Codex Vercellensis' ('Vercelli Book')

The Codex Vercellensis, or Vercelli Book, as it is known in the Anglo-Saxon world and now also in Italy, is a manuscript dating back to the end of the 10th century, containing miscellaneous religious works, in verse and prose. It is preserved in Vercelli, in the library of the S. Eusebio Cathedral under the index Codex CVII; it is made up of 136 folios of thin parchment, with a dimension of about 31x20 cm, well preserved, each of them containing between 23 and 32 lines. In the opinion of many scholars, the manuscript was written by a single scribe, who has been particularly diligent and meticulous in using the writing of that period, the Anglo-Saxon square minuscule. The Vercelli Book (from now on VB) contains 23 homilies in prose and 6 poetic works following the Anglo-Saxon alliterative metrics. Most probably this miscellaneous work was created to make a precious spiritual florilegium, useful for meditation and prayer. The presence of the manuscript in Vercelli has been proved since the beginning of the 12th century, but how the codex was moved from England to Vercelli during the 11th century is still unclear: the current hypothesis is that the manuscript might be a gift by an English pilgrim, grateful for the hospitality received in Vercelli during his trip to Rome.

The importance of this codex cannot be exaggerated:

Ÿ Together with the three other codexes of the 10th century (Exeter Book, ms Cotton Vitellius, ms Junius) the VB preserves about the 90% of all Anglo-Saxon poetic production;

Ÿ Some of its poetic works, such as The Dream of the Rood and two poems signed by Cynewulf, Elena and the Fates of the Apostles, stand out by virtue of their artistic quality;

Ÿ The Homilies are also particularly interesting in relation to the religious literature of that period and to the Anglo-Saxon prose;

Ÿ The gift of the manuscript offers clear evidence of the importance that the Italian city of Vercelli had for a long time during the Middle Ages: Vercelli was a meeting place where pilgrims to Rome could stop and have a peaceful rest.

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