Process of þe Passion; The Gospel of Nicodemus

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 895
  • Dates of Creation
      Mid 15th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      English  and Latin
  • Physical Description
      1 volume. 125 folios; ff. 111-124 have medieval foliation: iii-x, xiii-xv, xv (sic), xx, xxi. Dimensions: 230 x 137 mm. Collation: 116 lacking 1 and 16 (ff. 1-14), 2-912, 1012 lacking 1, 2, 11 and 12 (ff. 111-118), 1112 lacking 5-8 after f. 122 and 12, blank, after f. 125. Medium: vellum. Binding: contemporary binding of bevelled oak boards and pink-stained deer-skin; two strap-and-pin fastenings (only the upper pin and lower strap remain).
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The manuscript contains the stories of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, based on Pseudo-Bonaventura's Passio et Resurrectio Christi, together with the Gospel of Nicodemus and the Harrowing of Hell.

Contents: (1) ff. 1r-110v, A processe of the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. Imperfect, beginning 'lete heme go þus a lyue, he wolle trane al þe peple to hym' (i.e. the Council of the Jews) and ends 'fro these fallyng thinges whiche but lyght and shorte, whiche woundeth and sleeþ oure hertes. And wiþ all', the last three words being catchwords (i.e. immediately after the sending down of the Holy Ghost). Apparently based predominantly on the Passio et Resurrectio Christi, although a number of other legends relating to the Passion occur, e.g. the story of the Devil and Pilate's wife, the death of Judas, the legend of the Cross. With numerous marginal additions to the story in a slightly later hand. Some of the prayers are in red.

(2) ff. 111r-125r, A prose version of the Gospel of Nicodemus, much abbreviated in places. When complete this portion of the one manuscript apparently consisted of twenty-two folios, but two are now missing at the beginning and six lower down. Imperfect; begins 'ken hem abyde. We had no myght ne power þer to, sayde þese knyghtes, whate for drede and sorwe of the noyse and grysily sight þat we sawe' (this is the middle of chapter xiii of the Gesta Pilati as printed by Tischendorf, 1853; the manuscript originally began with chapter xii); ends (f. 125) 'And also Pylate lete wryte a þystle to þe Cite of Rome and to þe Emperour Tyberyas Cesar of all Cristes Passyon. Now god for hys much myght yeue vs grace such byleue to have, Wher þorowe We mowe come to endles blysse. Amen.'

According to Ker, the two parts probably formed a continuous narrative, as in British Library Egerton MS 2658 and Stonyhurst MS 43, but the transition between the Resurrection and the Gospel of Nicodemus occurred on a missing leaf.

'A wanton wyfe and a backe dore Sonne will make a ryche man poore' is in the blank space after the text, f. 125r, 16th century: see Oxford dictionary of English proverbs, under 'Nice wife'.

There are several missing leaves:

  • (1) a leaf before f. 1r, which begins 'lete hym go thus': Stonyhurst MS 43 B. xliii begins, 'Passio domini nostri Ihesu cristi sit nostra salus et proteccio. That tyme yt oure lord Ihesu Cryst was xxx ȝere'.
  • (2) a leaf between f. 14v, which ends 'and comanded watyr', and f. 15r, which begins 'þinges he sayde hem'.
  • (3-4) two leaves between f. 110v, which ends 'and sleeþ oure hertes', followed by the catchword 'And wiþ all', and f. 111r, which begins 'ken hem abyde. We had no myght'.
  • (5-6) two leaves between f. 118v, which ends 'wende to hys dysciples', and f. 119r, which begins 'Furthe[...] þey wreten and sayden'.
  • (7-10) four leaves between f. 122v, which ends 'and þow layst dede in', and f. 123r, which begins 'de a lytell'.

Script: Gothic cursive secretary with influence from anglicana (d, W), a in one compartment, one hand throughout. Dr Ian Doyle informed Ker that British Library, Egerton 2658, and Trinity College, Dublin, 71 (Rolle's English psalter) are probably in the same hand. Written space: 140 x 65 mm and (ff. 115-117) 140 x 55 mm. 21 long lines. Latin pieces on ff. 18-19v and 22v, Christ's prayers to the Father on ff. 23v-24v, St Michael's message to Christ, and 'Ecce rex noster... adoremus eum' on f. 90r, are in red ink.

Secundo folio: lete hym (f. 1r).

Decoration: There are 4- or 5-line initials in blue with red penwork infill and flourishes on ff. 2v, 12r, 14v, 24v, 33r, 40v, 46v, 58v, 62v, 66r, 69v, 73v, 80r, 100r and 109r; there are numerous 2-line initials in the same style. Blank spaces on ff. 14v, 58v, 62v, 69v and 100r may have been intended for pictures.

Other features: Manicules on ff. 34r, 38r and v, 45v, 60v, 68v, 72v, 75v, etc. Two stick figures (birds?) have been drawn in the margin of f. 64v. There is a sketch of a naval vessel with a sea-monster's head at the prow on f. 66v.

Description derived from N.R. Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 426-7. By permission of Oxford University Press.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as the Acts of Pilate, appears to be a work of different hands. The first part of the book, containing the story of the Passion and Resurrection, is no earlier than the fourth century. Its main object is to provide irrefutable testimony of the resurrection. The second part contains an account of the Descent into Hell. It does not appear in any Oriental manuscript, and Greek texts are rare. The title 'Gospel of Nicodemus' is of medieval origin.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library in 1937 from the London booksellers Maggs Bros for £30; invoice dated 19 February 1937. Accession no. R78096.

Custodial History

(1) Early marks of ownership include: 'John Senleger knight' (f.57), perhaps Sir John St Leger (c.1516-1593x6) of Annery, Devon; Roberte Worthye (f.125v); Henry Freme (f.124).

(2) John Hockmon. Inscribed 'John Hockmon 1576' inside the lower cover.

(3) Thomas Taylor. Inscribed 'Tho: Taylor 1756' inside the lower cover. Probably identifiable as Thomas Taylor of Ogwell and Denbury, Devon. The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, holds a painting by Arthur Devis, Arthur Holdsworth conversing with Thomas Taylor and Captain Stancombe by the River Dart, 1757. Holdsworth was Taylor's brother-in-law.

(4) Col. Pierce Thomas Henry Taylor of Newnton Priory, Tetbury, Gloucestershire. He was the great great grandson of Thomas Taylor: see Burke's Landed Gentry (1863), pp. 1481-2. Sale by Puttick & Simpson on 21 December 1904 of A selection from the Library of Col. Taylor (removed from Newnton Priory); sold to one 'Turner' for £16.

(5) George Dunn (1865-1912), of Woolley Hall near Maidenhead. Ex libris inside front cover. The manuscript must have been bought by Dunn at some date after 1904. Lot 604 in the Dunn sale of 2 February 1913; sold to another 'Turner' for £50.

(6) The manuscript next appears at Sotheby's sale on 15 December 1916, where it was lot 635 in the 'Other Properties' section. Unfortunately Sotheby's have no record of where the manuscript came from before this auction. It was sold to 'Jordon' for £28. It was later acquired by Maggs Bros in 1937 from an unrecorded source.

Related Material

British Library Egerton MS 2658 and Stonyhurst College MS 43 B. xliii both contain the same pieces or piece, but are in different dialects, somewhat later in date, and do not contain the marginal additions mentioned above. See Hulme, The Middle-English Harrowing of hell and Gospel of Nicodemus (see Bibliography below), pp. xxxii sqq. Photographs from the Stonyhurst manuscript supplying the text of the missing folios of the Rylands manuscript may be consulted in the Library as they have been made with the kind permission of the Rev. Fr. Rector of Stonyhurst.

The JRUL holds other manuscripts formerly owned by George Dunn: see the George Dunn Brut Chronicles (Eng MSS 206-207).


Sir Bernard Burke, A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Harrison, 1863): see under Taylor of Ogwell, pp. 1481-2.

William Henry Hulme, The Middle-English Harrowing of hell and Gospel of Nicodemus, Early English Text Society, Extra Series, vol. 100 (London: 1907).

N.R. (Neil Ripley) Ker, Medieval manuscripts in British libraries, vol. III, Lampeter-Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 426-7.

G.A. (Godfrey Allen) Lester, The index of Middle English prose. Handlist 2, a handlist of manuscripts containing Middle English prose in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester and Chetham's Library, Manchester (Cambridge: Brewer, 1985), pp. 64-5.

Violet M. Macdonald, The letters of Eliza Pierce [to Thomas Taylor] 1751-1775, with letters from her son Pierce Joseph Taylor a schoolboy at Eton (London: Frederick Etchells & Hugh Macdonald, 1927).

William Marx and Jeanne F. Drennan (eds), The Middle English prose Complaint of Our Lady and Gospel of Nicodemus, edited from Cambridge, Magdalene College, MS Pepys 2498, Middle English Texts, vol. 19 (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitåtsverlag, 1987).

William Marx (ed.), The Middle English Liber Aureus and Gospel of Nicodemus, edited from London, British Library, MS Egerton 2658, Middle English Texts, vol. 48 (Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitåtsverlag, 2013).

Constantin von Tischendorf, Evangelia apocrypha (Leipzig: Avenarius et Mendelssohn, 1853).