A Bible without Words
One of the most beautiful Gothic manuscripts is the Morgan Crusader’s Bible. Originally it had 283 paintings on 46 pages—and no words. It was commissioned by Louis IX, the only king of France to be made a saint and after whom St. Louis, Missouri was named.
The pictures are scenes from the Creation through the reign of King David painted as if they occurred in the thirteenth century. The thirty-five illustrations of battles, for instance, are filled with medieval knights, horses, banners, and artillery. The history of the Morgan Crusader’s Bible is itself an adventure.
Created about 1250, the Bible made its way to Italy about fifty years later, where a scribe added captions in Latin. Its whereabouts for the next 300 years is unknown, but in 1608, the pope persuaded the Bible’s owner, Cardinal Maciejowski of Krakow Poland, to give the book to Abbas, the Shah of Persia. The pope hoped to persuade the Shah to join him in an alliance against the Turks.
The Shah added captions in Persian. He also tore out three pages that showed Absalom’s rebellion against his father, King David. Presumably the Shah was worried that his own sons
might get the same idea. In the eighteenth century still more captions were added in Hebrew characters.
John Pierpont Morgan, son of the financier who arranged the creation of General Electric and of the U.S. Steel Corporation, bought the book in 1916, and it is still in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City.
The entire manuscript of the Morgan Crusader’s Bible (also called the Morgan Picture Bible and the Shah Abbas Bible) can be viewed here. By zooming in, you can examine the magnificent pictures in great detail.