Signed.. .Un-illuminated

Dear Arrighi,

I have seen many pages of illuminated bible manuscripts in museums and books and see the word “INCIPIT” all the time and I haven’t figured out what it means. It seems to appear at the beginning of the books of the bible. What exactly does it mean?


Dear Un-illuminated,

In illuminated bible manuscripts each new text, whether a minor prologue of St. Jerome, of only a dozen or so lines, or a major biblical book, opens with an “Incipt” (the title identifying the text) and closes with an “Explicit” (identifying the text just completed).

Like the scribes, the early printers but the author and title of the book at the top of the first page from the Winchester Bible (c. 1160-1175) begins with “Incipt Prolog” . . . then there’s an “Esplicit Prolog” then continues with “Incipt Liber Osee Pphe”. This tells us where the Prologue begins and ends and “Here begins the book of Hosea, the Prophet”.

The printers eventually made up their own language for their format and didn’t allow the handwritten manuscripts. But it is helpful in knowing what a page is about if you know what “Incipt” means.