Codex Usserianus Primus. IE TCD MS 55 Public Deposited

Codex Usserianus Primus. IE TCD MS 55

Alternative title
  • Book of Ussher
  • Gospel book
Shelf Mark/Reference Number
  • IE TCD MS 55 ; former shelfmarks: Lyon: A.4.15 ; Bernard: 412 ; Foley: G.14
Rights statement
  • Copyright The Board of Trinity College Dublin. Images are available for single-use academic application only. Publication, transmission or display is prohibited without formal written approval of the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Publisher location
  • Ireland
Date Created
  • between approximately 400-620
Physical extent
  • c235mm x 195mm (folio)
  • 182 folios
  • c175mm x 120-130mm (text block)
  • IE TCD MS 55, Codex Usserianus Primus, is one of the earliest surviving examples of a Gospel book thought to have been made in Ireland. While it has generally been dated to the seventh century, a controversial assessment has identified the manuscript as the product of the fifth century, an extraordinarily early date for a Christian book to exist in Ireland. The manuscript contains parts of the four Gospels with pre-Vulgate readings (Old Latin text). Later additions include dry-point glosses in Latin and in Old Irish. Usserianus Primus was given its name by the nineteenth-century Trinity Librarian, T.K. Abbott. It was assumed that the great collector of ancient manuscripts and Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, had owned the codex, as he had so many others in the library collection. Thus, the book was called ‘The first book of Ussher’ in Latin. This is now thought to have been unlikely. There is very little decoration in Usserianus Primus. Other than red dots to emphasize a few initials within the text, the only surviving ornament is found on folio 149v between the end of Luke’s Gospel and the beginning of Mark’s. In this location was placed a cross that takes the form of Christ’s initials in Greek. The image is further elaborated with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, a standard designation for Christ as the beginning and end of all things. The ensemble is enclosed with three red and black frames. The ornamentation suggests that this early Irish Gospel book was inspired by an example from the Mediterranean. Extent: 182 folios. In Latin; Old Irish (added glosses); Irish half-uncial script, with uncial elements. For a full description of IE TCD MS 55 see the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library's catalogue entry at
  • Late 19th- or early 20th-century blind-tooled binding and mounting system removed in 2014-2015.
  • J.J. G. Alexander, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles. Vol. 1. Insular Manuscripts, 6th to 9th Centuries (London, 1978), p. 27. M.L. Colker, Trinity College Dublin Descriptive Catalogue of the Mediaeval and Renaissance Latin Manuscripts (Scholar Press, ), pp. 101-2. P. McGurk, Latin Gospel Books from A.D. 400 to A.D. 800 (Paris, 1961), p. 79. P. Ó Néill, ‘The Earliest Dry-Point Glosses in Codex Usserianus Primus’, in 'A Miracle of Learning': Studies in Manuscripts and Irish Learning: Essays in Honour of William O'Sullivan, ed. by T. Barnard, D. Ó Cróinín, K. Simms (Aldershot, 1998), pp. 1-28. P. Ó Néill, ‘The Dry-Point Glosses in Codex Usserianus Primus: Addenda and Corrigenda’, in Peritia: Journal of the Medieval Academy of Ireland 14 (2000), pp. 430-31. B. Meehan, ‘Codex Usserianus Primus’, in R. Moss, Art and Architecture of Ireland, vol. 1, Medieval c. 400-c. 1600 (Dublin, RIA, 2014), p. 228.
Finding aid
  • Named, though unconvincingly, after James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (d. 1656)
  • Bank of America Merryl Lynch
Resource type
  • ink
  • vellum (parchment)
  • Irish
Digital Object Id
  • MS55_001
  • 0129413


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