St John's College Oxford
The Library contains about 400 manuscripts, ranging in date from the 9th to the 20th century, including some of great historical and artistic importance, and small but significant collections of Arabic and 16th century Greek manuscripts.
David and Fool from MS 82

Medieval manuscripts

Most of the medieval manuscripts at St John's College were given before 1700. They form a diverse collection of around 179 items dating from the 9th century to the end of the medieval period. Highlights amongst the earlier items include a 10th century copy of Gregory the Great's Cura pastoralis with a full page illustration of Christ produced at Canterbury, an 11th century copy of Aelfric of Eynsham's Latin grammar and colloquies, and a highly diagrammatic 'computus' manuscript produced at Thorney Abbey in the 12th century. Later highlights include two illustrated bestiaries, an astronomy from the reign of Charles V of France, several medical manuscripts, a handful of highly decorated liturgical works (including one produced by an anchorite in Newcastle), and a few literary works in Middle English.

Catalogue: Hannah, Ralph. A descriptive catalogue of the western medieval manuscripts of St John's College, Oxford. Oxford University Press, 2002

Digital Images: A few of St John's medieval manuscripts have been digitized and may be viewed online:

The Library is aiming to expand this selection in the next few years.

MS61f3vdetaillioncockerel A lion cowers before a cockerel from a 13th century Bestiary produced in York (St John's Manuscript 61).

Oriental manuscripts

St John's holds a small collection of about 20 manuscripts from Asia and Africa. These are chiefly in Arabic, but there are also items in Persian, Hebrew, Turkish, Gujurati and Ge'ez. They date from the 12th century through to the 19th, particular highlights being a selection of illuminated Qurans (mainly 17th century), several astronomical works, a 14th century book on siege warfare with diagrams, a diplomatic letter from the Ottoman Sultanate to James I, and a 17th century sailors' map of the Gulf of Khambat.

Catalogue: Savage-Smith, Emily. A descriptive catalogue of oriental manuscripts at St John's College, Oxford. Oxford University Press, 2005

MS 304 detail Detail of illumination from the beginning of a 17th century Iranian Quran (St John's Manuscript 304)

Greek & Cyrillic manuscripts

8 items, all dating from the 16th century, comprise the College's Greek manuscript collection. These were all produced in Venice to supply a demand for technical or scholarly texts which would not have had an economically viable print run. Additionally the College has 2 Cyrillic manuscripts, a 16th century liturgy and a diplomatic letter from Mikhail I Romanov to Charles I.

Catalogue: Sosower, Mark. A descriptive catalogue of the Greek manuscripts at St John's College, Oxford. St John's College Research Centre, 2007

Detail of manuscript 90, a Cyrillic Liturgy Detail from St John's manuscript 90, a 16th century Cyrillic Psalter produced in Russia

Post-medieval manuscripts

The Library also holds some 200 post-medieval manuscripts, often related to College or Oxford life, although some are of more general interest. These are very various bunch of documents, ranging in form from hand-written books, through diaries, notebooks and albums to collections of, or individual, letters. Amongst the most notable are a 17 century illustrated work on skeletons, a manual on astrology, contemporary copies of Behemoth by Thomas Hobbes and Theophila by Robert Boyle, a Little Gidding Gospel harmony, a 17th century description of a theatrical festival held at the College, Archbishop Laud's diary and history of his troubles, and an album of letters by Jane Austen.

Catalogue: Descriptions of the post-medieval manuscripts are currently available in the printed handlist of 1852 and its typescript continuation available from the Library Issue Desk, although the Library has also been working on descriptions of this material and those that are completed can be obtained from the College Librarian.

Begging Epistle of Joshua Bowes Detail of “A begging Epistle in Verse writ in Gold Letters upon colour’d Paper by Joshua Bowes, & dedicated to the Honble Colonel Rooke.” from an album of curiosities (St John's Manuscript 253)

Obtaining images

Photography: Researchers are encouraged to take digital photographs for their own use, by arrangement with Library staff. Requests for copies of microfilms and images of publication quality are carried out by the Bodleian Imaging Studio which handles orders and payment. Other external readers are advised to contact the Library.

Microfilms: The medieval manuscripts and some of the early modern manuscripts have been microfilmed. In accordance with our preservation policy, readers may be encouraged to use such microfilms rather than original manuscripts. A set of positive microfilms is also available in the Bodleian in Duke Humfrey’s Library. The College Library can supply paper printouts of microfilms.