Ms. Codex 331: Miracle stories & Saints Lives

On December 6, 2021, we welcomed Mario Sassi, PhD Student in Italian Studies, to guest host Coffee With A Codex. Mario introduced us to Ms. Codex 331, a 15th century Tuscan collection of miracle stories and lives of the saints.

The opening of the first text, which includes the only decoration in the book. The faded words above the initial are the rubric, originally in red ink, but it has faded over time. Ms. Codex 331, f. 1r.

The stories in Ms. Codex 331 include moral stories, illustrating that there will be eternal punishment for sinful actions and heavenly reward for virtuous life. There are also paraphrases of miraculous stories and legends of the Virgin and of the saints. The different types of stories are mixed together throughout the book, raising questions about who planned the book, how planned it was at the time it was written, and who the intended audience was. Although there is a fair amount of smudging on the edges of some pages, indicating fingers on the paper, there are no marginal notes at all. How much was this book used, exactly? It’s hard to say.

Smudging in the lower right-hand corner of Ms. Codex 331, f. 3r

The scribe who added the colored initials was not always careful. Here, on f. 49r, he has put in an “L” where there should be an “M”. He makes a similar mistake, adding the wrong letter, a few other times earlier in the manuscript. Apparently the scribe responsible for the main text figured out something was going wrong, so by f. 50v he started to add small guide letters to tell the initials scribe explicitly which letter to use, and these guide letters are still visible.

Visible guide letters inside colored initials, Ms. Codex 331, f. 61r.

Although many of the stories in Ms. Codex 331 have been edited, none of the existing editions refer to this manuscript specifically. This has been the focus of Mario Sassi’s dissertation work – how do the texts in this manuscript fit in with the known tradition of 15th century Tuscan miracle stories? Are their important variants in these copies that can contribute important knowledge to existing scholarship?

Catchword at the bottom of Ms. Codex 331, f. 50v

The text as it survives in Ms. Codex 331 is incomplete. Although the first text begins on the folio now numbered 1r, there is an older set of folio numbers that identifies this folio as “12”, which means that at some point there was at least one other quire bound in front of it, and the text cuts off at the end of the last folio of the surviving book. Since this collection is unique, it’s hard to say how much original text is no longer there.

The top of current f. 2r in Ms. Codex 331, the older folio number “13” is visible at the top of the column division.
The end of Ms. Codex 331, 61v, the last page in the book. The text cuts off in the middle of a sentence.

Find out more about Ms. Codex 331 by viewing the digitized version and reading the full catalog records on BiblioPhilly.

We host Coffee With A Codex every Monday (Wednesdays in 2022) at 12pm ET / 5pm GMT on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here.

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