The 7th-century bishop Ildefonsus of Toledo in Spain authored a theological treatise on the virginity of Mary, the mother of Christ. Over four centuries later, the copy that is in Parma, Italy today was made in the scriptorium of the abbey in Cluny, France. Cluny was once the heart of a great monastic network that extended across much of medieval France and Spain; it produced some of the most lavish manuscripts of its day, but most have since been lost. The Parma Ildefonsus is one of the few exceedingly precious examples to survive. The illuminations almost exclusively focus on the production of the book itself, connecting the scriptorium back to the time of Ildefonsus by showing theological knowledge created and passed down over several generations.
The extreme richness of the manuscript may reflect the patronage of Alfonso VI of León and Castile. Alfonso’s reign was largely spent at war with Muslims over control of the Iberian Peninsula; the scene of Ildefonsus debating with Jews serves to emphasize a parallel antagonism towards those who did not accept Christian dogma as fact. Other pages focus on the words of the Hebrew Bible that Ildefonsus read as prophecies concerning Mary; for example, in one detail Isaiah holds up a small red book as he preaches to two listeners. Such scenes reflect the Jewish roots of Christianity and emphasize the transmission of knowledge through books, but they also reveal the ways in which historically Jewish texts were appropriated and sometimes used to repress contemporary Jewish communities in the Middle Ages.
To the best of our knowledge, this manuscript has yet to be fully digitized and made available online. If you would like to bring an open-access digitization to our attention, please contact the UAG at Pitt.