The Trinity Apocalypse, named for its repository, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, is arguably the finest of the English Illuminated Apocalypses. Created in either southern England or northwest France, it features a pictorial Life of St. John series in thirty scenes over two parts and a fully illustrated Anglo-Norman Apocalypse. Its large size and superb quality suggest it was made for a wealthy patron in either the English or French court sometime between 1230 and 1250.
It is an exceptional example of the early Gothic. Tall, thin figures feature voluminous patterned drapery with expressive gestures and faces. Nimbuses, bordering frames and some backgrounds are gilded and tooled. The remaining backgrounds are flat areas of intense color decorated with symbols in white and red. The script is a neat Gothic textura with pen-flourished initials in alternating and contrasting red and blue. Overall, the craftsmanship of the manuscript is of the highest quality. It stands alone as the most lavishly illustrated medieval Apocalypse.
Lavishly Illuminated English Apocalypse
The illustrative program of the Trinity Apocalypse is uniquely expansive with a full Life of St. John series serving as a container narrative for the equally lavishly illuminated Apocalypse. The Life of St. John is presented in full-page tiered illustrations presenting multiple narrative scenes in two parts.
The first four pages tell the story to when John receives the vision of the Apocalypse, which then follows with sixty-one separate illustrations, and the final eight pages complete the story to John’s death. The Apocalypse images are singular within the text. All miniatures are uniformly framed in gold with light tooling.
Unique Anglo-Norman French Apocalypse
Although dozens of English Apocalypse manuscripts, each with their own peculiarities, survive, the Trinity Apocalypse represents a unique specimen in that its text is entirely in Anglo-Norman French that has no known direct copies.
The Apocalypse text itself is written in two columns of fifty-six lines in an early Gothic book hand with red and blue pen flourished initials. The text in the Life of St. John is an abridged version of the story, reduced to captions between the tiers of illustrations. The only Latin that appears in the manuscript is the occasional word within an illumination’s banderoles.
A Deluxe Apocalypse for Nobility
While the origins of the Trinity Apocalypse are uncertain, the size and scope of the manuscript indicate that it was made for a wealthy noble client. The possibility that it was created specifically for King Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence, is high considering his strong patronage of the arts.
The binding suggests it likely remained in the possession of the English crown through the mid-sixteenth century. The first historical record of it is in 1649 when Anne Sadleir, daughter of Chief Justice Edward Coke, gave the book to Ralph Brownrig, Bishop of Exon, to bequeath to Trinity College, Cambridge.
The binding, done by Thomas Berthelet in 1550, is white leather with gold tooling. The motif in the center is the royal arms and crown. Berthelet is known to have bound a book for Queen Mary I, indicating that the Trinity Apocalypse may have been in royal possession at the time.