The Book of Llandaff

Reference: NLW MS 17110E

The Book of Llandaff, (Liber Landavensis), is one of Wales’s earliest ecclesiastical manuscripts. It is a manuscript of considerable bulk comprising 128 vellum pages. Inside its covers the early history of the diocese of Llandaff is chronicled and the contents also throw light on the state and position of the church in one area of Wales soon after the Norman Conquest.

The background to the construction of the manuscript

It is believed that the Book of Llandaff was written between 1120 and 1140, under the supervision of Urban, who was appointed bishop of Llandaff by the king of England in 1107, and consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Historians believe that the Book was written in the wake of a disagreement between Urban and the bishops of St David’s and Hereford regarding the boundaries of Llandaff diocese. It was hoped that the contents of the Book would strengthen the rights of that diocese to lands and properties in south east Wales.

The contents of the manuscript

The original copyist recorded a large number of charters in the volume – some authentic, others later forgeries. These charters revealed details about the property and territorial rights of the Diocese of Llandaff based on alleged donations over a period of 700 years between the 5th and the 11th century. The intention was to raise the status of the diocese, and that was substantiated by also recording in the volume the lives (vitae) of the three earliest bishops of Llandaff, namely, Dyfrig (Dubricius, ?465), Teilo (?500) and Euddogwy (Oudoceus, ?630).

During the 12th century and early in the 13th century, 8 other copyists added the lives of Samson and Elgar to the text, together with various letters.

The binding

The Book of Llandaff was originally bound in oak covers which were covered in a thin layer of silver. The present lower cover is the only remaining part of that binding. In the early Middle Ages it was customary to adorn the covers of the most valuable books, in particular the books of the gospels, but it was very rare to use anything as substantial as the image of Christ in Glory that adorned the cover of the Book of Llandaff for centuries. The image was constructed of fine bronze in England in the mid-13th century. 

The later history of the manuscript

At the beginning of the 17th century, the manuscript came to the possession of the antiquarian John Selden (1584-1654), and afterwards it was owned by Robert Davies (1658-1710), of Llannerch and Gwysaney, Flintshire by the end of that century. He put a new oak cover on the front of the volume in 1696, and the Book of Llandaff remained at Llannerch until it was placed on deposit at The National Library of Wales early in the 1940s. The Library purchased the volume in June 1959. 

The text of Liber Landavensis from the Gwysaney manuscript was reproduced by J Gwenogvryn Evans with the co-operation of John Rhys and published as a limited edition in 1893; a facsimile appeared in 1979.

Digitisation and re-binding of the manuscript

In 1892, The Book of Llandaff was re-bound from scratch using the old covers. This was done at the British Library. Because of the rigidity of that binding, one realised that it would be impossible to digitise the manuscript’s content without losing a great deal of information concealed in the ‘channel’ between the leaves. In order to produce complete images from every page, it was decided to unbind the manuscript in October 2006 separating the individual leaves from each other, hence revealing some new words which had remained hidden for centuries.    

It is intended to re-bind the Book of Llandaff in 2007, separating the original covers from the leaves of the text. The covers will be placed on a bespoke block for exhibition, and the text will be bound in new archival covers to preserve it for further future study.  

Bibliography

  • Wendy Davies, An early Welsh Microcosm: studies in the Llandaff Charters (London, 1978)
  • Wendy Davies, The Llandaff Charters (Aberystwyth, 1979)
  • J Gwenogvryn Evans, The Book of Llan Dâv (Aberystwyth, 1979)
  • Daniel Huws, 'The Making of Liber Landavensis', in Medieval Welsh Manuscripts (Cardiff & Aberystwyth, 2000), pp. 123 - 157
  • John Reuben Davies, The Book of Llandaf and the Norman Church in Wales (Woodbridge, 2003)

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