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'Dictionary' that helped 14th Century nuns translate Bible goes on display for very first time

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A priceless 700-year-old Bible "dictionary" which gives a unique insight into the way nuns lived has gone on display for the first time. Called the "Expositiones Vocabulorum Biblie," by 12th century clergyman William Brito, also known as Guillaume le Breton, the dictionary is written entirely in Latin.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - One of the few monastic documents still in its original location after surviving the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, the "Expositiones Vocabulorum Biblie" is indeed a rare find. Henry VII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland and seized their assets and income, it's remarkable that the book survived.

Hand written on parchment, the book is thought to have helped nuns decipher parts of the Bible. The book also contains explanations and the origins of difficult words.

On display now at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire, where the original nuns resided, the book was recently bought in an auction by the National Trust.

Sonia Jones, house and collections manager at Lacock, said the 14th century book gave an insight into how the nuns lived during their time in the abbey.

"We know little about the everyday lives of the nuns at Lacock Abbey," she says.

"This one book gives us a remarkable rare glimpse, a short glance into how they might have lived their lives. It tells us that they studied the Bible closely and most would have been literate.

"There is scrap parchment in the bindings which are part of the accounts of the abbey, recycled when the book was bound. Those fragments let us see just a little of some of the business side of the abbey, selling wool to provide an income.

"It is a special and important book, but to have it in Lacock and to be able to put it on display in the abbey, in its original home is simply priceless."

It's not known if the dictionary, along with other books, were ever written at Lacock or where this copy was laboriously hand written elsewhere.

The book was already known to the Trust and had passed down through generations of the Talbot family who lived at the abbey. Put up for sale, the dictionary was bought by the National Trust at auction at Christie's.

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