“A little bundle of time”: Werner Rolevinck’s epic chronicle of the world, 1474

The Fasciculus temporum is an epic chronicle of ecclesiastical and world history, beginning with the biblical account of Creation up to events of the 15th century, such as the invention of printing. As well as being a bestseller in its day, the chronicle is an innovative example of early printing and represents one of the first examples of a writer working closely with a printer to ensure their intentions are carried out. The author in question, Werner Rolevinck (1425-1502), was born near Laer in Westphalia, Germany, the son of a prosperous farmer. He was probably educated in Cologne and in 1447 entered the Carthusian monastery of St. Barbara where he remained until his death. In his years at St Barbara’s, Rolevinck (or Rolewinck) produced more than 50 works, mainly theological and devotional in nature, but he is best known for the Fasciculus temporum, the title of which is commonly translated as “A little bundle of time”.

First printed in Cologne in 1474 and one of the first books by a living author to be published, the Fasciculus temporum became enormously popular and was reprinted in numerous editions and translations, including close to 40 editions during the author’s lifetime. It greatly influenced the major world chronicles that followed, including Hartmann Schedel’s famous Liber cronicarum (“Nuremberg chronicle”), first published by Anton Koberger in 1493.

Woodcut of the Tower of Babel from the 1476 edition, also showing manuscript waste used as endpapers on the Lambeth copy ([ZZ]1476.2)
Lambeth Palace Library holds copies of two later editions of Rolevinck’s chronicle, the first printed in Louvain by Johnann Veldener in 1476 and the other published in Cologne around 1483. The former ([ZZ]1476.2) bears the arms of John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury, on the binding and has leaves from a medieval manuscript as endpapers. The 1483 copy ([ZZ]1500.6.01) is described in the catalogues of the libraries of both Whitgift and Archbishop Richard Bancroft, who purchased Archbishop Whitgift’s books after his death. These editions corrected the errors that slipped into the printing of the first in 1474.

The Fasciculus temporum is an innovative work in several ways, not least in making a significant contribution to the organisation and presentation of historical information on the printed page. More than any previous writer before him, Rolevinck employed the layout of the page to structure his chronicle. The arrangement is complex, presenting unique challenges to the printer by using lines, shapes, images and text to convey the flow of time horizontally across the page. Rolevinck designed his book with two parallel timelines running continuously as the pages are turned, one running from the date of the creation of the world (established as 5199 B.C.) and the other beginning with the birth of Christ. This display allows the reader to compare important historical events with the key events of Christianity; the upper page is devoted to biblical and ecclesiastical history, while the lower part of the page covers secular events, including Classical mythology. A woodcut strip running across the centre of each page is separated from the rest of the text above and below by two sets of lines. Placed inside this band are circles containing the names of popes, saints, classical writers, and legendary figures from the Old Testament.

Rolevinck's_Fasciculus_Temporum,_1474 wiki
Woodcut timeline with text above and below in the Cardiff University copy of the 1474 edition.

The text provides some of the earliest evidence of collaboration between author and printer in the design of printed books. In the colophon of first edition, printer Arnold Ther Hoernen (d.1483 or 1484) states that he is working from a manuscript provided by Rolevinck himself, “following the first exemplar which this venerable author himself wrote by hand completely.” It seems likely that the original manuscript also provided a layout for the printer to follow; Ther Hoernen had to be particularly skilled to replicate this design successfully and the numerous errors which had to be fixed in later editions demonstrate just how difficult a task this turned out to be!

Like many incunabula, the Fasciculus temporum is illustrated with a small number of woodcuts, some of which appear more than once – for example, a woodcut of an anonymous city on fire is used to represent the burning of Troy as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are, however, unique and particularly nice illustrations for Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel, Several different woodcuts are employed to illustrate the second half of the book, which is full of references to signs and omens such as earthquakes, monstrous births, and the appearance of comets and eclipses.

Woodcuts of Noah’s Ark and a rainbow on [a3v] of the 1476 edition. The text was rubricated by hand in red ink after printing following the earlier manuscript tradition ([ZZ]1476.2)
Rolevinck’s timeline takes us right up to his own lifetime with the papacy of Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and highlights the invention of printing and the emerging mass availability of books. Rolevinck first shares his thoughts on book collecting while describing the Library of Alexandria: “From this it is clear what great diligence ancient times showed in collecting books. Let those blush for shame who do not acquire a good supply of books when it can be done, of course, by small cost.” Rolevinck’s belief is that the rise of printing has finally made the noble goal of collecting books available to everyone:

“[Printing is] the art of arts, the science of sciences [which will] enrich and illuminate this world in its evil state. The unlimited virtue of books … is now spread by this discovery to every tribe, people, nation, and language everywhere …”

As one of the first true bestsellers, the Fasciculus temporum certainly played its part in bringing the ‘unlimited virtue of books’ to a wider audience than ever before.


Matthew S. Champion. The fullness of time: Temporalities of the fifteenth-century Low Countries. University of Chicago Press, 2017.

“Fasciculus temporum”. Open book: News from the Rare Books Department of Special Collections at the J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah. Accessed 28 July, 2020. https://openbook.lib.utah.edu/book-of-the-week-fasciculus-temporum/

L. C. Ward. “Authors and authority: The influence of Jean Gerson and the “Devotio moderna” on the Fasciculus temporum of Werner Rolevinck”, in: Die Kartäuser und ihre Welt. Kontakte und gegenseitige Einflüsse, I (Analecta Cartusiana, 62), 1993, pp. 171-188

Mark A. Lotito. The reformation of historical thought. Leiden: Brill, 2019.

Virginia Moscrip. “Werner Rolevinck’s Fasciculus temporum”. University of Rochester Library Bulletin, Vol. IX, No. 3, Spring 1954. Accessed 28 July, 2020. https://rbscp.lib.rochester.edu/3422

The waste is not a waste: fragments of a miniature Foxe’s Book of Martyrs in the binding of a 17th century book

When a book is bound, the main text block is surrounded by a few ‘endpapers’ that divide the body of the work from its cover. In modern books, these pages are almost always blank, and you may have flipped past them without really thinking about it. However, in works printed from the 15th to 18th centuries, it was common for the endpapers to contain part of a recycled text, either from a complete book which had been acquired by a binder’s shop to be dismantled, or printed sheets direct from a printshop that had been found to have errors. In the instance of whole volumes being recycled, binders frequently made use of medieval manuscripts that in some cases were already several hundred years old when they were cut apart. While chopping up these meticulously scribed and sometimes beautiful items may seem a shocking thing to do now, it is less surprising in the context of the decades following the Reformation and, at least in England, the dissolution of the monasteries and their monastic libraries.[1]

Manuscript waste
Music manuscript waste used as an endleaf in the third volume of Corpus iuris canonici. Lyon, 1584. [**H1936.R6]
While not all waste has survived, not least because of rebindings undertaken in the 19th and early 20th centuries, manuscript fragments that do survive as waste are often of great interest to scholars, particularly if the fragment can be identified as being from a well-known author or work or there is a tantalising possibility of reconstructing a text in full.[2] Journal articles abound on such discoveries in library collections, often unique or near unique items, and in one recent case ending with a plea to other librarians to keep an eye out for other leaves of the same volume.[3] Printed waste in early modern bindings – either using sheets rejected from a printer or printed books subsequently recycled – does not seem to inspire the same breadth of scholarship as the manuscript fragments, but this doesn’t mean such items are uninteresting.

Printed  waste endpapers
Sheet B of John Taylor’s abridgement of The Booke of Martyrs  (London , 1631) used as endpapers in a copy of William Gouge, The saints sacrifice, London, 1632. [A26.16A/G72] Title page is in bottom right corner.
The waste pictured [above and below] was found last year whilst cataloguing an octavo from the Sion College collection. It is an uncut portion of a miniaturized edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, dated 1631. When fully folded and cut, it would have measured just 5 cm in height. Miniature printed books had been created since the advent of moveable type as items that were perfect for portability and discreet reference, as well as a challenge for printers and items that could show the skill of an individual shop. However, because of their small size miniature books are easily lost and many are therefore understandably rare.

Printed waste as endpapers
Sheet B of John Taylor’s abridgement of The Booke of Martyrs  (London , 1631) used as endpapers in a copy of William Gouge, The saints sacrifice, London, 1632. [A26.16A/G72] Dedication is in bottom left corner.
Throughout the early modern period, miniature books were predominantly religious in subject with books of hours, prayer books, and psalters being the most common items produced in the 16th and 17th century. The turn of the 17th century also saw the advent of miniature abridged versions of the Bible – often written with children in mind and sometimes composed in verse to make them easier to remember.[4] The most popular of these “thumb bibles” was rendered in verse by John Taylor, the ‘Water Poet’, so called for his previous occupation as a waterman on the Thames, with the titles Verbum Sempiternum for the Old Testament and Salvator Mundi for the New Testament.[5] An 18th century reprinting of that work had an encouragement to the reader facing the title page: “Reader, come buy this Book, for tho’ it’s small, tis worthy the perusal of all.”.[6] Taylor also created an abridgement of Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, and it is an edition of this abridgement that is found in uncut form in our Sion book.

Title page of the works of the Water Poet
Engraving by Thomas Cockson portraying John Taylor: title page of All the vvorkes of Iohn Taylor the water-poet, London, 1630. [Sion K24.4/T21]
Much has been written about the work that is now commonly called Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, its influence, and its readership.[7] First published in 1563, it was coming up on its seventh complete edition around the time of Taylor’s abridgement in 1616, and Taylor’s was not the first attempt at abridgement (though it appears to be the first successful one); all of which gives a sense of a continuous and eager readership and a potential market for miniature editions.[8]

It appears, however, that the edition of the martyrology from which we have a fragment may have never been finished. Rather than a complete work making its way into circulation as a pocket reference book, these sheets were instead present in a binder’s workshop to be used to surround another text, in our case a commentary on the 116th psalm which was published the following year. The English Short Title Catalogue records just one other fragment of this particular edition, which like ours exists as an uncut sheet. The other listed fragment has only one sheet with signature “B”, whereas we have a sheet “C” as well. It is possible that there are other copies that have not been recorded; older cataloguing standards did not require the recording of manuscript and printed waste and so many examples of waste are still probably unrecorded, and even waste that has been recorded in library catalogues may not be identified. It is often difficult to do so: think about how you would identify a book by two of its middle pages, or just a portion of one arbitrary, possibly even unnumbered, page. Identification has become much more achievable since the advent of fully text searchable works online, but in many institutions, including Lambeth, the bulk of work on fragments has yet to be done. Who’s to say what other exciting discoveries are waiting inside the boards of our books?


Evenden, Elizabeth and Thomas Freeman. Religion and the Book in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Highley, Christopher and John N. King, eds. John Foxe and his World. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017.

King, John N. “Guides to Reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” Huntington Library Quarterly, 68, no. 1-2 (2005): 133-150. Accessed 29 May, 2020. doi:10.1525/hlq.2005.68.1-2.133

McCann, Wesley. “Irish Booklore: An Unrecorded Belfast Edition of John Taylor’s “Verbum Sempiternum”.” The Linen Hall Review 6, no. 2 (1989): 14-15. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20534078

Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan, eds. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Riain, Dagmar Ó. “Ireland’s Oldest Music Manuscript?” History Ireland 5, no. 3 (1997): 11-13. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/27724478.

Sawyer, Daniel. “Rediscovered Manuscript Fragments of “The Prick Of Conscience” in the Library of Queens’ College, Cambridge.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 15, no. 4 (2015): 515-539. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/24900125.

Smyth, Adam. “Printed Waste: ‘Tatters Allegoricall.’” In Material Texts in Early Modern England, 137-174. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. doi:10.1017/9781108367868.005.

Thomson, R. M. “More Fragments Of Solinus in Cambridge Libraries.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 16, no. 1 (2016): 125-131. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/26626350.

Voigts, Laura, and Frank Stubbings. “”Promptorium Parvulorum”: Manuscript Fragments at Emmanuel College and Their Relation to Pynson’s “Editio Princeps”.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 9, no. 4 (1989): 358-371. Accessed May 29, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/41154666

[1] Adam Smyth, “Printed Waste: ‘Tatters Allegoricall.’” In Material Texts in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 144-145, 153.

[2]Ibid., 148.

[3] R. M. Thomson, “More Fragments of Solinus in Cambridge Libraries.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, 16, no. 1 (2016), 131; for instances of articles about manuscript discoveries see for example Sawyer, 2015; Riain, 1997; and Voigts & Stubbings, 1989.

[4] Wesley McCann, “Irish Booklore: An Unrecorded Belfast Edition of John Taylor’s “Verbum Sempiternum”.” The Linen Hall Review 6, no. 2 (1989), 14.

[5] Ibid., 14

[6] Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan (eds) The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 144)

[7] (see for example Evenden and Freeman, 2011; King, 2005; and Highley & King, 2017)

[8] John N. King, “Guides to Reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”. Huntington Library Quarterly, 68, no. 1-2 (2005), 148-149