Greek illuminated Gospels

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2016


British Library Board


Of the estimated 60,000 surviving Greek manuscripts, approximately 5,400 contain Gospel texts. The popularity of the Gospels is explained by their central role in the liturgy of the Orthodox Church which required a lection (excerpt) from one of the Gospels. On special feasts such as Good Friday, more than a dozen lections would be read throughout the day. Thus, Greek Gospel manuscripts can be divided into two types:

  1. There are more than 2,930 continuous text Gospel manuscripts; these contain the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and are usually formatted with one column of text
  2. Gospel lectionaries, on the other hand, comprise more than 2,450 additional manuscripts. These texts include excerpted Gospel readings arranged according to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church which begins on Easter Sunday with John’s Gospel (John 1. 1–17).


Part of the Greek manuscript collections at the British Library which range from the 3rd century BCE to the early 20th century CE. Written on papyrus, parchment and paper, and produced in regions as diverse as Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, Italy, France, and England, they reveal the enduring significance of Greek culture and learning over the centuries.