Bernard de Montfaucon

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Bernard de Montfaucon
Bernard de Montfaucon - Imagines philologorum.jpg
Dom Bernard de Montfaucon, O.S.B.
Born13 January 1655
Died21 December 1741 (1741-12-22) (aged 86)

Dom Bernard de Montfaucon, O.S.B. (French:  [də mɔ̃fokɔ̃] ; 13 January 1655 – 21 December 1741) was a French Benedictine monk of the Congregation of Saint Maur. He was an astute scholar who founded the discipline of palaeography, as well as being an editor of works of the Fathers of the Church. He is regarded as one of the founders of the modern discipline of archaeology.

The French are an ethnic group and nation who are identified with the country of France. This connection may be ethnic, legal, historical, or cultural.

The Congregation of St. Maur, often known as the Maurists, were a congregation of French Benedictines, established in 1621, and known for their high level of scholarship. The congregation and its members were called after Saint Maurus, a disciple of Saint Benedict credited with introducing the Benedictine rule and life into Gaul. The congregation was suppressed and its superior-general executed during the French Revolution.

Palaeography study of ancient writing

Palaeography (UK) or paleography is the study of ancient and historical handwriting. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts, and the cultural context of writing, including the methods with which writing and books were produced, and the history of scriptoria.


Early life

The Emblematic Hand of the Mysteries (in Antiquitas explanatione et schematibus illustrata) Memhand.jpg
The Emblematic Hand of the Mysteries (in Antiquitas explanatione et schematibus illustrata)
Example of Montfaucon's facsimile from Codex Colbertinus 700 (designated by l 1 on the list Gregory-Aland), with text of Matthew 18:10 Codex Colbertinus 700.jpg
Example of Montfaucon's facsimile from Codex Colbertinus 700 (designated by 1 on the list Gregory-Aland), with text of Matthew 18:10

Montfaucon was born on 13 January 1655 in the Castle of Soulatgé, a small village in the southern town of Corbières, then in the ancient Province of Languedoc, now in the modern Department of Aude. [1] [2] Other sources claimed his birth date is in 16 January, [3] the most accepted date. [4] After one year he was moved to the Castle of Roquetaillade, residence of his family. When he was seven, he was sent to Limoux, to the college run by the Fathers of Christian Doctrine.

Soulatgé Commune in Occitanie, France

Soulatgé is a commune in the Aude department in southern France.

Corbières, Aude Commune in Occitanie, France

Corbières is a commune in the Aude department in southern France.

Languedoc Place in France

Languedoc is a former province of France. Its territory is now contained in the modern-day region of Occitanie in the south of France. Its capital city was Toulouse. It had an area of approximately 42,700 square kilometers.


Montfaucon served in the French army as a volunteer and participated in the Franco-Dutch War of 1673. He was a captain of grenadiers and made two campaigns under the command of Marshall Turenne, participated in the Battle of Herbsthausen and fell ill in Saverne in Alsace. Because of his infectious illness he made a vow to Our Lady of Marceille to give one hundred livres to her sanctuary in Limoux and to become a monk, if he was able to return to his country as a result of her intervention.

Franco-Dutch War International conflict

The Franco-Dutch War, often just the Dutch War, was a conflict that lasted from 1672 to 1678 between the Dutch Republic and France, each supported by allies. France had the support of England and Sweden, while the Dutch were supported by Spain, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark.

Battle of Herbsthausen battle of the Thirty Years War

The Battle of Herbsthausen, or the Battle of Mergentheim, was fought on 2 May 1645. The battle was between French forces led by Marshal Turenne and the Bavarian army led by Franz von Mercy. The French had caught the Bavarians short of troops at the beginning of the campaigning season, and pursued the Bavarians deep into Württemberg, but the Bavarians caught the French unawares and heavily defeated them.

Saverne Subprefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Saverne is a commune in the Bas-Rhin department in Grand Est in north-eastern France. It is situated on the Rhine-Marne canal at the foot of a pass over the Vosges Mountains, and 45 km (27 mi) N.W. of Strasbourg.

After the death of Montfaucon's father at the Château de Roquetaillade, in 1675 he entered the novitiate of the Benedictine monastery of Bream in Toulouse. There he learned several ancient languages: Greek, Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, and Coptic.

Roquetaillade Part of Roquetaillade-et-Conilhac in Occitanie, France

Roquetaillade is a former commune in the Aude department in southern France. On 1 January 2019, it was merged into the new commune Roquetaillade-et-Conilhac.


The novitiate, also called the noviciate, is the period of training and preparation that a Christian novice monastic, apostolic, or member of a religious order undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether he or she is called to vowed religious life. It often includes times of intense study, prayer, living in community, studying the vowed life, deepening one's relationship with God, and deepening one's self-awareness. It is a time of creating a new way of being in the world. The novitiate stage in most communities is a two-year period of formation. These years are "Sabbath time" to deepen one's relationship with God, to intensify the living out of the community's mission and charism, and to foster human growth. The novitiate experience for many communities includes a concentrated program of prayer, study, reflection and limited ministerial engagement.

Toulouse Prefecture and commune in Occitanie, France

Toulouse is the capital of the French department of Haute-Garonne and of the region of Occitanie. The city is on the banks of the River Garonne, 150 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea, 230 km (143 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean and 680 km (420 mi) from Paris. It is the fourth-largest city in France, with 466,297 inhabitants as of January 2014. In France, Toulouse is called the "Pink City".

In 1687 Montfaucon was called to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés and he started to work on an edition of the works of the Greek Church Fathers.

Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey located in Paris, in France

The Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, just beyond the outskirts of early medieval Paris, was the burial place of Merovingian kings of Neustria. At that time, the Left Bank of Paris was prone to flooding from the Seine, so much of the land could not be built upon and the Abbey stood in the middle of meadows, or prés in French, thereby explaining its appellation.

In 1705 Montfaucon examined and described the manuscripts of the Fonds Coislin, in Bibliotheca Coisliniana (Paris, 1705). In 1708 in Palaeographia Graeca Montfaucon became the first to use the term "palaeography". [5] The work illustrates the entire history of Greek writing. It contains Montfaucon's discussions of variations in Greek letter forms, the use of abbreviations in Greek manuscripts, and the process of deciphering archaic writing. It was Montfaucon's special interest. In this work he often cited Greek manuscripts in texts of Athanasius of Alexandria, Origen, and John Chrysostom. [6] The book dealt so comprehensively with the handwriting and other characteristics of Greek manuscripts that it remained the leading authority on the subject for almost two centuries. [7]

Fonds Coislin

Fonds Coislin is a collection of Greek manuscripts acquired by Pierre Séguier, but named after Henri-Charles de Coislin, its second owner. It is now held in the National Library of France, as one of three fonds of Greek manuscripts: fonds grec, fonds Coislin, and supplément grec.

Athanasius of Alexandria Patriarch of Alexandria

Athanasius of Alexandria, also called Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor or, primarily in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Athanasius the Apostolic, was the 20th bishop of Alexandria. His intermittent episcopacy spanned 45 years, of which over 17 encompassed five exiles, when he was replaced on the order of four different Roman emperors. Athanasius was a Christian theologian, a Church Father, the chief defender of Trinitarianism against Arianism, and a noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

Origen 3rd-century Christian scholar from Alexandria

Origen of Alexandria, also known as Origen Adamantius, was an early Christian scholar, ascetic, and theologian who was born and spent the first half of his career in Alexandria. He was a prolific writer who wrote roughly 2,000 treatises in multiple branches of theology, including textual criticism, biblical exegesis and biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and spirituality. He was one of the most influential figures in early Christian theology, apologetics, and asceticism. He has been described as "the greatest genius the early church ever produced".

In 1714 Montfaucon published the fragments of Hexapla of Origen. [8]

Montfaucon published 15 volumes of L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures between 1719 and 1724. An English translation of this work was published in 1721–25 under the title Antiquity Explained and Represented in Diagrams. The work contained copperplate folio engravings of classical antiquities. It included a depiction of the "Barberini Vase", more commonly known as the "Portland Vase". This book is published in English under the title Antiquities. [9] The materials used in this work were taken from the manuscripts deposited in French libraries. It contains many illustrative facsimiles, though they are engraved in a rather coarse way.

In 1719, Montfaucon was named by Philippe II, Duke of Orléans to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. In 1719 after the death of the Jesuit priest, Michel Le Tellier (1643-1719), confessor to the late King Louis XIV, Bernard de Montfaucon then became confessor to the young King Louis XV.

Montfaucon died on 21 December 1741 at the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, where he was buried.


In a letter of 24 June 1786, Josiah Wedgwood explains that he had seen Montfaucon's engravings of the Portland Vase.

Montfaucon was the original editor of the homilies Adversus Judaeos by saint John Chrysostom along with many other works of the Fathers of the Church.

Montfaucon laid the foundation for the study of Greek manuscripts. Scrivener stated, that his work still maintains a high authority, even "after more recent discoveries", especially of papyri in Egypt. [10] Present scholars agree that he created a new discipline, palaeography, and presented it in a perfected way. [11] [12]

Montfaucon is largely responsible for bringing the Bayeux Tapestry to the attention of the public. In 1724, the scholar Antoine Lancelot discovered drawings of a section of the tapestry (about 30 feet of the Tapestry's 231 feet) among papers of Nicolas-Joseph Foucault, a Norman administrator. (These drawings of the tapestry's images "classicized" the otherwise cruder Anglo-Norman style by adding shadows and dimensionality to the figures.) Lancelot, unsure of what medium these drawings depicted, suggested that they might be a tomb relief, stained glass, a fresco, or even a tapestry. [13] When Lancelot presented Foucault's drawings in 1724 to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris, they attracted the attention of Montfaucon, who subsequently tracked down the textile in the drawings with help from his Benedictine colleagues in Normandy. [14] This is often regarded as the modern "discovery" of the Bayeux Tapestry, which had gone on quiet display annually in the Bayeux Cathedral for possibly centuries. Montfaucon published the Foucault drawings in the first volume his Les Monumens de la Monarchie Francoise [sic]. In anticipation of volume 2 of Les Monumens, Montfaucon employed the artist Antoine Benoit and sent him to Bayeux to copy the Tapestry in its entirety and in a manner faithful to its style, unlike Foucault's "touched up" renditions which were more suitable to 18th-century French tastes. Emory University art history professor Elizabeth Carson Pastan criticizes Montfaucon for his "Norman Triumphalist" point of view in dealing with the story of the Tapestry, despite the fact that he asserted that one should trust "the best historians of Normandy." She does state, however, that modern scholars are indebted to him for his process of examining many accounts of the Norman Conquest in interpreting the Tapestry, and his highlighting of the Tapestry's ambiguity and enigma [15] (such as why Harold Godwinson went to Normandy in 1064 or the identity of the elusive Aelfgyva).


See also

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Codex Campianus manuscript

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Minuscule 250, O 10 (Soden), is a Greek minuscule manuscript of the New Testament, on parchment. Paleographically it has been assigned to the 11th century.

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  1. "MONTFAUCON, Bernard". Enciclopedia Italiana (in Italian). 1934. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  2. "Montfaucon, Bernard de". Encyclopædia Britannica . 18. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1911. Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  3. "Dom Bernard de Montfaucon". (in French). Retrieved 22 February 2018.
  4. Gasnault, Pierre (2010). "Un précurseur des Antiquaires : dom Bernard de Montfaucon". Bulletin de la Société Nationale des Antiquaires de France (in French). 1 (1): 113–116. doi:10.3406/bsnaf.2010.10807 . Retrieved 22 February 2018 via
  5. Bernard de Montfaucon et al., Palaeographia Graeca, sive, De ortu et progressu literarum graecarum, Paris, Ludovicum Guerin (1708); André Vauchez, Richard Barrie Dobson, Adrian Walford, Michael Lapidge, Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages (Routledge, 2000), Volume 2, p. 1070
  6. Books on Palaeography from the Arnold Semeiology Collection Archived 2010-05-30 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Bernhard Bischoff, Latin palaeography: antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 1.
  8. "Bernard de Montfaucon", in Marie-Nicolas Bouillet and Alexis Chassang (eds.), Dictionnaire universel d'histoire et de géographie, 1878.
  9. Georgios Fatouros (1993). "Montfaucon, Bernard de". In Bautz, Traugott (ed.). Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 6. Herzberg: Bautz. cols. 92–94. ISBN   3-88309-044-1.
  10. Scrivener, Frederick Henry Ambrose; Edward Miller (1894). A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament, vol. 1 (4 ed.). London: George Bell & Sons. p. 21.
  11. W. Wattenbach, Anleitung zur griechischen Palaeographie (Leipzig 1895), p. 4.
  12. Bruce M. Metzger, Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: An Introduction to Greek Palaeography (Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 1.
  13. Lancelot. Explication d'un Monument de Guillaume le Conquerant
  14. Elizabeth Carson Pastan. "Montfaucon as Reader of the Bayeux Tapestry" in Janet T. Marquardt and Alyce A. Jordan (eds.) Medieval Art and Architecture after the Middle Ages (2009) p. 89
  15. Elizabeth Carson Pastan. "Montfaucon as Reader of the Bayeux Tapestry" in Janet T. Marquardt and Alyce A. Jordan (eds.) Medieval Art and Architecture after the Middle Ages (2009) pp. 102-103