The Gospel book is by far the most numerous, and hence the most important and characteristic, genre of book production in Byzantine culture. A detailed survey of the surviving material in the British Library carried by the author provides an overview of the Byzantine perception of the Gospel book, and this establishes the features of ‘a standard Byzantine Gospel book’. On the other hand, individual books that do not fit the pattern do exist. For example, Gospel books with framed, full-/half-page illustrations, or marginal illustrations forming a narrative cycle, unusual headpieces, the Evangelist Symbols, imperial portraits, elaborate Canon Tables, and so forth. In this paper, some ‘special’ or ‘non-standard’ Byzantine manuscripts, notably Gospel books with later insertions that exemplify an unusual history of use and reuse, Gospel Lectionaries with unusual cruciform texts, and a copy of the Homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus with frontispieces of a jewelled cross are examined. Obviously Gospel books, Lectionaries and Homilies had a primary function: to preserve and transmit the words of the divinely inspired evangelists and church fathers. But at the same time, they could act as receptacles for precious relic-like elements. This paper suggests that the Byzantine books might have functioned not only as books to be read, but also as holy receptacle and bearer of hidden meaning.
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