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'Horsemen and wild beasts': Dublin Apocalypse manuscript goes online for the first time

This 14th century Latin text has been held at Trinity College Dublin since the 19th century.

D.A. Illustrations from 'Dublin Apocalypse' Source: Trinity College Dublin

THE END OF days is a “perennially popular” subject, says Dr. Laura Cleaver of Trinity College Dublin, who led the recent digitisation of one of the college’s unique manuscripts. 

Otherwise known as ‘The Dublin Apocalypse’, this 14th century Latin text has been held by the university since the 19th century and is now free to the public to view online for the first time. 

Depicting scenes from the Book of Revelation – the final book in the new testament – and accompanied by illustrations in vivid colours depicting scenes of the horsemen of the Apocalypse, battles with beasts and a heavenly Jerusalem, Cleaver says the ‘Dublin Apocalypse’ differs from contemporary texts. 

Unlike most manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries in which the text took up more of less the whole page, the Trinity text features large illustrations of biblical scenes with the text significantly smaller than usual. 

Though the identity of the artist remains a mystery, they likely created similar manuscripts which are now held at Oxford University in the UK, according to Cleaver. 

D.A.2 The 14th century manuscript can now be viewed online. Source: Trinity College Dublin

Hugely popular among royalty and the wealthy elite, these texts were designed to help the faithful understand one of the most dramatic and difficult Christian texts, the Book of Revelations, says Cleaver. 

Biblical studies were, up until the 13th and 14th century, the reserve of monks, nuns and scholars.

As literacy grew, though, lay people became educated in the bible, albeit not to a high standard, says Cleaver. Illustrations, therefore, feature heavily as educational aids. 

Until 1851, the manuscript was held by university Provost Franc Sadlier (c.1774-1851).

Sadleir, who taught Greek, Hebrew and mathematics at Trinity, served as the university’s bursar for nine years and as librarian for 16 years before being appointed Provost in 1837. It is believed that he held the manuscript in his private possession. 

D.A. 3 As literacy grew, lay people became more educated Bible studies. Source: Trinity College Dublin

The ‘Dublin Apocalypse’ was likely created in East Anglia, England, says Cleaver, who explains that Trinity College Dublin prioritised the digitisation of the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow before moving towards the ‘Dublin Apocalypse’. 

A digital copy of the manuscript with 118 individual digital scans can be viewed online via the Library’s Digital Collections, says Cleaver. 

“It’s a great opportunity to show people a part of Trinity they didn’t know.”

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