13th century Book of St Albans digitised by Trinity College

One of world’s finest medieval manuscripts now accessible worldwide

Matthew Paris’s Book of St Albans has been digitised by the Library of Trinity College Dublin for the first time and can now be accessed online from anywhere in the world in time for the feast of St Alban on Wednesday, June 22nd.

The13th century manuscript survived the dissolution of the monasteries in these islands, ordered by Henry VIII in 1536, and was brought to Trinity College Dublin in 1661 where it has remained in the Library there for more than 350 years.

Created by Benedictine monk Matthew Paris of St Albans Abbey in England, it chronicles the life of St Alban, England’s first Christian martyr, and also outlines the construction of St Alban’s Cathedral in Hertfordshire.

The monastery was one of the most important pilgrimage destinations, including for many pilgrims from Ireland.


The book was held in St Albans Abbey for 300 years until its dissolution in 1539. It was written in Latin but also contains Anglo-Norman French which made it accessible to a wider secular audience in its day.

It includes 54 individual works of medieval art with some gruesome content, including illustrations featuring the decapitation of St Alban and his executioner whose eyes literally pop out of his head at the point of execution.

Its tinted drawing technique, where outlined drawings are highlighted with coloured washes from a limited palette, was distinctly English, dating back to Anglo Saxon art of the 10th century.

The manuscript is now fully digitised in a process undertaken through the Virtual Trinity Library initiative as part of its Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Other works digitised as part of this project include the highly decorated 12th century manuscript, the Winchcombe Psalter, and surviving manuscripts of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, and Salisbury Cathedral, medieval music from Britain and Ireland, and a rare 15th-century life of St Thomas Beckett.

The new online exhibition can be viewed at Matthew Paris’s 13th-Century Book of St Albans — A masterpiece of medieval art

The digitised manuscript is at https://doi.org/10.48495/8p58pm63q and the video is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueIv6aEalio

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times