This publication of the thirteenth-century Northumberland
Bestiary, formerly the Alnwick Bestiary, provides a
complete critical edition of one of the most developed
Medieval Latin bestiaries. Even among the few manuscripts in its
group, called the “transitional” family of bestiaries,
the Northumberland Bestiary is unique: it crystallizes the
fluid combination of narrative, animal lore, and spiritual guidance
that characterize the genre. Beginning with creation and covering
the gamut of real and imaginary beasts, birds, fish, serpents,
worms, man, and trees, this bestiary is a spiritual journey as well
as a “scientific” manual. Under the pretense of
zoology, the bestiary is a metaphor for divine creation, a message
from the creator through creation. Medieval preachers used the
pretense as well as the spiritual allegories that accompany the
creatures to instruct their congregations.
The Northumberland Bestiary was the last known bestiary in
private hands until 2007 when the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired it.
Written about 1250, in a small, early gothic book hand, it is one
of the richest of all Latin bestiary manuscripts produced in
England. There are 112 finely drawn and colored miniatures among
its 74 leaves as well as an elegant and discrete “Sermon on
How a Sinner May Be Pleasing to God" (Sermo qualiter peccator
Deo placere valeat), which was likely directed to clerics who
were training to work as pastors.
For a general as well as a scholarly readership, this edition
captures the charming essence of the bestiary tradition in a
readable Latin-English format. The book comprises a general
introduction discussing the text and the manuscript, the Latin text
with English translation, notes and commentary, a description of
all the miniatures, and reproductions of about thirty of them.
“It can be supposed that most of readers will read the English translation and the rich comments either from the point of view of the history of science, and of zoology in particular, or simply to learn about the complexity of medieval culture. In both cases they would be safely guided by this book and they will undoubtedly find it useful, interesting and valuable.” (Alena Hadravová, in: Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, Vol. 62, N° 168, June 2012, p. 366)