The Library’s over 400 manuscripts range in date from the 9th century to the 20th century and include some codices of great historical and artistic importance. While the vast majority of manuscripts have been produced in Europe, there is also a small but significant collection of Middle Eastern & North African manuscripts.
David and Fool from MS 82

The following sections contain brief descriptions of St John's four manuscript collections together with information about catalogues. Relevant for all manuscripts collections are:

  • Digitizations: Select manuscripts have been digitized and made available on Digital Bodleian as part of our ongoing Digitization Project.

  • Digital Library: A Digital Library provides an informal introduction to our manuscript collections together with downloadable PDFs of traditional indexes, including a comprehensive provenance index.


Most Western medieval manuscripts at St John’s College were donated or bequeathed before 1700. They form a diverse collection of almost 200 codices, dating from the 9th century to the end of the Middle Ages.

Highlights include:

  • MS 17: The Thorney Computus is a highly illustrated manuscript on the calculating of the movable the Easter date. It was produced at Thorney Abbey (Cambridgeshire) in the early 12th century and has long been recognised for its historical and cultural significance. The Calendar & the Cloister offers a comprehensive introduction to the manuscript together with a full digitization. A stand-alone digitization is available at Digital Bodleian. A blog post about some of the mathematical aspects of MS 17 is available here and a brief account of Archbishop William Laud's role in the codex's history here.
  • MS 154: Ælfric of Eynsham’s Latin Grammar in the Old English language is the earliest and most complete copy of the first Latin grammar in a vernacular language. The manuscript also contains Ælfric's glossary and colloquies by his student Ælfric Bata. It dates from the early 11th century. A comprehensive introduction to the Anglo-Saxon Latin textbook is available here. A digitization of MS 154 is available at Digital Bodleian.
  • MS 171: This codex contains six commentaries by John Wyclif on the Old Testament. It is the only known copy of five of these commentaries. This manuscript was produced in England at the beginning of the fifteenth century. A brief introduction to MS 171 is available here.

Equally noteworthy are manuscripts of literary works in Middle English (especially Lydgate, but also a Chaucer manuscript), a collection of French astronomical works first owned by Charles V of France, several medical manuscripts, and a handful of highly decorated liturgical works.


Ralph Hannah, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Western Medieval Manuscripts of St John’s College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

This printed catalogue has been converted into TEI and is now accessible as part of the Medieval Manuscripts in Oxford Libraries online catalogue.


The library holds over 200 Western post-medieval manuscripts. Many of these concern life in the College or Oxford, but several are of general interest. This diverse collection includes hand-written books, diaries, notebooks, and collections of letters.

Among the most notable are:

  • MS 13: A contemporary copy of Thomas Hobbes’s Behemoth with corrections by Hobbes himself. A brief introduction to MS 12 is available here and a full digitization at Digital Bodleian.
  • MS 22: An illustrated anatomy work by the first anatomy lecturer in Oxford. The manuscript includes illustrations of skeletons once held in what is now the Laudian Library in the 17th century.
  • MS 258: The autograph diary of William Laud (1573-1645), St John's alumnus and Archbishop of Canterbury, written between 1621 and 1643.
  • MS 279: This album contains five letters by the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817), in which she gives her young niece literary advice, and one letter by her father concerning an unsuccessful early attempt to publish Pride and Prejudice. A digital edition of all six letters with full digitizations is available at Taylor Editions.


There is no modern printed catalogue of St John's Western post-medieval manuscripts. Descriptive records of manuscripts produced up to 1850 are available on Archives Hub.


St John's holds eight 16th-century Greek manuscripts, all produced either in Italy or France. Most of these are theological or scientific manuscripts, but one contains works on music and agriculture. A full digitization of MS 30, a miscellany on astronomy and the works of Claudius Ptolemy, is available at Digital Bodleian.

The College's two Cyrillic manuscripts are a 16th-century liturgy (MS 90) and a diplomatic letter from Mikhail I Romanov to Charles I (MS 253, item 6 on fols 8v-9r). A digitization of the letter is available at Digital Bodleian.


The Greek manuscripts are described in this printed catalogue: Mark Sosower, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Greek Manuscripts at St John’s College, Oxford (Oxford: St John’s College Research Centre, 2007)

There is currently no catalogue record for the 16th-century Cyrillic liturgical manuscript. The diplomatic letter is briefly described as item 6 of MS 253 here.


St John’s College holds a small but significant collection of 28 manuscripts from the Middle East and North Africa with items dating from the 12th century to the 19th century. These are chiefly in Arabic, but there are also items in Persian, Hebrew, Turkish, Syriac, and Ge’ez. Many of the manuscripts in this collection were donated by Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645). Particular highlights are:

  • MS 83: A beautifully illustrated copy of The Book of Devices for Wars, Conquest of Cities, and Protecting Mountain Passes). The manuscript was completed in 757 H (= 1356).
  • MS 91: An Arabic translation of Ulugh Beg’s astronomical and chronological tables (zīj) in the second, or revised, version. This copy is of significant importance for the annotations and notes by the astronomer John Greaves (1602-1652). The manuscript is fully digitized at Digital Bodleian.
  • MS 370: The College's only literary Middle Eastern manuscript contains a complete copy of all 50 maqāmāt by al-Harīrī, produced in 18th-century Syria.
  • MS 105 and 133: Both manuscripts are copies of the same hitherto unidentified Persian translation of the Psalms. A brief introduction to MS 105 is available here and a full digitization at Bodleian Libraries.
  • a selection of illuminated Qur’āns, mainly from the 17th century


Emily Savage-Smith, A Descriptive Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts at St John’s College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

The catalogue is also available in the form of PDFs in the Middle Eastern & North African section of our Digital Library.