n 1067, Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror on the site of the Battle of Hastings; it was the first of a great number of new monastic establishments which were set up by the Normans, either as independent abbeys or alongside the cathedrals. All these foundations needed books, which had to be written out laboriously by hand. Norman monks brought with them books to copy, and even the old Anglo-Saxon abbeys wanted copies of the newly imported texts. The manuscripts they wrote out were mainly biblical texts and the works of the early Christian fathers like St. Jerome and St. Augustine: the books needed for study in the religious life.
The initials copied here are from twelve different manuscripts now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. They were all made in England in the 12th or 13th centuries, and nearly all are known to have connected in some way with particluar religious communities.
Most 12th-century books were made by the monks themselves, but later, in the course of 13th century, the monastic scriptoria declined, and more and more manuscripts were made outside the monasteries for University students or for rich patrons or even for the indolent monks.
The decorated initials are a great glory of English monastic books. Their purpose was not only to decorate but to mark the divisions of the text - the start of a new book or chapter. The decoration in most of the initials consists of entwined stems and flowers; some of the elaborate ones include animal forms; a few, 'historiated initials', include miniatures of scenes related to the text, such as the initial "B" which shows David wrestling with the lion and decapitaing Goliath. In the 12th century, a monastic scribe might do the initials himself or leave them to a more artistic colleague; but in the lay workshops of the 13th century onwards, division of labour became more rigorous, and a scribe would be expected to do only the simplest initials himself.
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