The Parma Ildefonsus: A Masterpiece from the Cluny Abbey

St. Ildefonsus at the Altar, fol. 4

The Ingalls Library recently acquired a beautiful facsimile manuscript, known as The Parma Ildefonsus (circa 1100). The work is a copy of De Virginitate Sanctae Mariae written by Saint Ildefonsus, (ca. 610-667). Butler’s Lives of the Saints, a perennial classic in the reference collection, tells us that St. Ildefonsus was born to a distinguished Spanish family and became a monk despite parental resistance. He rose through the liturgical ranks and was an ordained deacon (circa 630) before being ap! pointed Archbishop of Toledo in 657. According to Catholic legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Ildefonsus and presented him with a chasuble. The Parma Ildefonsus is often referred to as the most beautiful manuscript ever produced at the Cluny Abbey, a Benedictine monastery located in east-central France. Cluny became the largest, most influential, well-funded, and most prestigious monastery in Europe. It is thought that the text was transcribed from a Spanish copy commissioned for Bernardo de la Sauvetat, (d. 1128), a monk at Cluny who was later appointed Archbishop of Toledo in 1088. In his book, The Parma Ildefonsus: A Romanesque Illuminated Manuscript from Cluny and Related Works, the art historian, Meyer Schapiro, refers to the manuscript as a theological work, an impassioned tirade against the silent heretics and unbelievers…who do not admit (among other things) that Mary was perpetually virgin and that she was the mother of God.” We do not know the name of the painter who produced the illuminations for the manuscript. The 222 page manuscript includes both full and half-page illuminations, historiated initials as well as geometrical and stylized leafy border motifs.

St. Ildefonsus praying to Mary, fol. 9v

The facsimile was produced in an edition of 499 copies, each numbered and authenticated, with an additional 26 copies printed and reserved for the editor’s archive and lettered A-Z. The Ingalls Library copy is lettered with the initial “C.” The facsimile manuscript is accompanied by a commentary volume that includes essays by noted scholars. The original manuscript is owned by the Biblioteca Palatina di Parma. Speaking of manuscripts,The Glory of the Painted Page, an exhibition of manuscript illuminations from the permanent collection is now on view.


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