In digital colour: see The Book of St Albans in all its glory

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

Seminal 13th century masterpiece The Book of St Albans has been digitised for the first time.

One of the most finely illustrated medieval manuscripts, Benedictine monk Matthew Paris' renowned work features 54 individual works of art and has fascinated readers across the centuries, from royalty to renaissance scholars.

The precious manuscript survived the chaos and trauma of the dissolution of the monasteries and came to Trinity College Dublin in 1661.

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

The manuscript chronicles the life of St Alban and outlines the construction of St Albans Abbey, which was one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the country.

The book was held in the abbey for 300 years until the dissolution in 1539.

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

The Book of St Albans was a high-status book, viewed by King Henry VI. Written in Latin it also contains Anglo-Norman French which made it accessible to a wider secular audience including educated noble women.

It was borrowed by noble ladies of the period, including the king’s sister-in-law Countess of Cornwall, Sanchia of Provence, and others.

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

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The content includes illustrations featuring the decapitation of St Alban and his executioner whose eyes literally pop out of his head at the point of execution.

The artwork, consisting of mostly framed narrative scenes, is a tinted drawing technique where outlined drawings are highlighted with coloured washes from a limited palette. This technique was distinctly English, dating back to Anglo Saxon art of the 10th century.

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

From St Albans Abbey, it came into the ownership of the Elizabethan royal adviser and astronomer, John Dee, following which it was sold to James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, and subsequently came to Trinity with his library in 1661. It has remained in the Library of Trinity College Dublin for over 350 years.

For the first time, this manuscript is now fully digitised and available online, a process which has been undertaken through the Virtual Trinity Library initiative as part of its Manuscripts for Medieval Studies project funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

The Book of St Albans has been fully digitised ahead of the feast day of St Alban tomorrow (Wednesday June 22).

Librarian and college archivist Helen Shenton said: “The Library of Trinity College Dublin is delighted to make this medieval masterpiece accessible to a global audience. For the first time in history, this exquisite manuscript by one of the world’s most famous medieval artists and chroniclers, Matthew Paris may be viewed digitally revealing its beautiful artistry in full colour."

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans

Matthew Paris' The Book of St Albans - Credit: Paul Sharp

Manuscripts curator Estelle Gittins said: “This astonishing manuscript contains some of the most incredible medieval art, it is a window into an elaborate world of saints, kings and knights, but also sailors, builders and bell ringers.

"Before now the only way to study all of the images in this important manuscript was to consult the rare, black and white, 1924 facsimile edition, it is so exciting that this can now be viewed and enjoyed by everyone at the click of a button.”