Femme je suis povrette et ancienne,
Qui riens ne sçay, oncques lettre ne leuz;
Au moustier voy dont suis paroissienne,
Paradis painct où sont harpes et luz,
Et ung enfer où damnez sont boulluz:
L'ung me faict paour, l'aultre joye et liesse. (Testament 893-98)
The church's occasional opposition to Bible translation was not as it is often portrayed. In 1199, Pope Innocent III, while encouraging the reading of scriptures in a letter to the Bishop of Metz, expressed deep concern about the disconnected and uncooperative spirit of some who wanted to use vernacular translations. Local councils and synods in Toulouse in 1229, Reims in 1231 and Béziers in 1246 went as far as restricting or forbidding the use of vernacular Bible translations. Some of this was fueled by concern about heretic translations from the Albegensian and Waldensian communities. Despite interdictions, the nearly 180 manuscript facsimiles linked below bear witness to steady translation activity on the part of Guyart des Moulins, Jean de Sy, Pierre le Mangeur, Raoul de Presles, Herman de Valenciennes, Jean de Vignay, and others.
In the thirteenth century, inspired by a growth in the literate population. scriptoria (especially in Paris) introduced a reduced-size manuscript format. This was supposed to make books more portable, and, of course more practical for individual reading. It also encouraged in increase in the production of whole Bibles, which, in turn facilitated the translation of whole Bibles. Nevertheless, Bible translations were not always complete or canonicle, and it is fair to say that the Biblia Vulgata was not the only source text used (see BNF hébreu 113). There are translations of some liturgical components and at least one French lectionary. Some of the translations are known for their abundant illustrations. Of these, the best known is the Bible historiale, translating most of the Vulgate, along with historical Bible episodes and commentaries from Peter Comestor's Historia Scholastica. Another illustrated work was the Bible moralisée, where the illustrations dominated small selections of text. It may also possible to explore the vernacular paraphrasing used in the mystère and other religious plays. The translations we have reflect the linguistic diversity often hidden behind the term "Old French". There is a carefully researched European Research Council study, which reveals a growing entusiasm of medieval European laity for vernacular Bible translations.We have included links to medieval vernacular commentaries, to incunabula. modern printed editions of several old texts, bibliographies and copyright-free studies.
This page (in memory of my sister, Julie D. Gurtner, †2012) is part of the Andy Holt Virtual Library's "Manuscripts of Medieval France with Vernacular Texts", a growing collection of over 1100 links to manuscript facsimiles, including nearly all of the French medieval literary canon.