In Cambridge I was well taken care of, and inspected more manuscripts than elsewhere. Some of the highlights:
- A fifteenth-century manuscript of the Paradise of Eden, a collection of poems by Abdisho bar Brika, Metropolitan of Nisibis (d. 1318). These poems are crazy. He pulls stunts like writing poems in which the middle word of each line is red, and the poem makes sense and scans (to different meters, of course) with or without the red word, or using every letter of the alphabet once in each line (so every line is 22 letters long). Abdisho is amazing.
- A book of the Old Testament Prophets, where a couple lines of the colophon have been deliberately effaced (literally scratched off the page), but not the lines which identify the Catholicos Patriarch and the metropolitan.
- A New Testament from 1206, written on parchment (all the other manuscripts I looked at were paper), on the blank pages of which in the front and back was added an account of the apostolic tradition by Eusebius of Caesarea in 1369, and various other notes. The folios were not numbered in this manuscript (usually the first thing a cataloguer does), so I went through and counted all of them. It was bound in boards which, if not original, are at least four hundred years old, with the barest shred of some cloth that had originally held the entire thing together. The manuscript has an ownership note in which a priest named George says that he bought the manuscript by his labor and his wife's labor, in order that he could read from it and anyone else could read from it, and none of his brothers or relatives could hinder anyone from reading from it without being under the curse of the three hundred synodical fathers (probably an approximation for the 318 at Nicea).
- A manuscript which was rebound in 1541 by one priest Kushab for a priest Mar Behnam, whose ownership note is written in the bottom margin of a page in the middle of the volume (instead of at the end or the beginning, as would be more common).
- A book on the proper rites of ordination, copied by Metropolitan Ishoyahb of Nisibis and Armenia (with the help of two priests) in 1558, and including an ink stamp of his signet ring! It also included instructions for "the reception of the Jacobites and Melkites who become Christian," with a marginal note added, "with the remainder of all those confessions over whom is the name of the Messiah."
- A book of Shbadnaya's masterpiece, whose last few pages are unfortunately missing (with the colophon, unfortunately), but which is dated by the cataloguer to the "mid-16th century" on the basis of the writing. I found in this book also the ink stamp of a signet ring, apparently the same ring as the preceding manuscript. Now, they may have passed this ring down for generations as different people become Metropolitan, but it is still an interesting data point.
In Oxford I just looked at two manuscripts of Shbadnaya's masterpiece, one from the 1720s, and one from 1903. The earlier one also has the impress of a signet ring, this time the patriarchal signet ring (it's much larger than the other, almost two inches across). I flipped through the card catalogue of Syriac manuscripts to see if they had anything else that would interest me, and nothing that would fit my project, but I was interested by one collection of poems (three in Greek, two or three in Hebrew, one each in Syriac and a couple other languages) composed in 1605 on the subject of the Gunpowder Plot. Only in Oxford!
In the British Library I looked at a number of manuscripts. Here are some highlights:
- A huge gospel lectionary (about 2' by 3') from 1497, with illustrations (in the scene of the baptism of Christ, Jesus had a navel) which make Jesus and all the apostles look decidedly Central Asian (fair enough, I suppose). Interestingly, the lectionary was copied in Mosul to be shared by two churches in the town of Tal Zqifa (about 25 miles north), which I suppose implies that it was carried back and forth a good deal (which is most surprizing since it's heavy!). Interestingly, at the end of a couple lections there are notes in Arabic, and on the very last page of the book is a large illustration of a yellow tiger. Also, in 1802 a note was added that Ali Pasha visited Shinjar.
- A hudra (their major liturgical book) from 1484, the colophon to which mentions that in the days of the current Catholicos Patriarch and the Natar Kursya (the second-in-command in the church at that time), "the church enjoyed peace, the dwellings (perhaps villages?) were set free, the ruined monasteries were built up, the rank of priests and levites (i.e. deacons) was increased, and the believers were blessed through the mediation of the abundant-in-kingship and the clothed-in-victory Sultan Yaqub (Aq Qoyunlu), king of Media and Persia and or Armenia and Babylon and the Euphrates and the Tigris." This is the only colophon I have seen from the fifteenth century which mentions a political ruler.
- A gaza (another type of liturgical book) from 1545, which was plundered by "Ishmaelites" (i.e. Arabs) from the monastery of St. Yareth in 1659 and bought back by a laywoman named Kanzadah, the daughter of Suleiman, for the price of twelve and a half qarushe (however much that is).
- Another liturgical book from 1489(?) which describes how there had been a destruction of the majority of churches in the πολιτεια of the east, and a great persecution of the Christians, which the Catholicos Patriarch brought to an end (I don't quite see the description of how), rebuilt the destroyed churches, opened the closed ones, and through him the Lord blessed His people. So it may be that the note in the 1484 hudra, which I had previously interpreted as a renaissance of monasticism, may just be the recovery from a persecution. This is the only source I know of mentioning the persecution, and part of the note is lost, but this may be the most important thing I found on the entire trip.
So, those are the highlights. If you've read this far in these posts, you clearly don't have enough meaningful work to do... =-)