The Evangeliary or Book of the Gospels[1] is a liturgical book containing only those portions of the four gospels which are read during Mass or in other public offices of the Church. The corresponding terms in Latin are Evangeliarium and Librum evangeliorum.[2][3]

The Evangeliary developed from marginal notes in manuscripts of the Gospels and from lists of gospel readings (capitularia evangeliorum). Generally included at the beginning or end of the book containing the whole gospels, these lists indicated the days on which the various extracts or pericopes were to be read. They developed into books in which they were accompanied by the texts to which they referred, with the passages arranged in accordance with the liturgical year rather than in their order within the gospels themselves, and omitting passages not used in the liturgy.[4]


The name does not date back earlier than the 17th century. The Greeks called such collections Euangelion 'good message', i.e. "Gospel", or eklogadion tou euangeliou, "Selections from the Gospel".

The collection of readings from the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles known as Apostolos, "Apostle", or praxapostolos. In churches of the Latin Rite, the lessons from the Old Testament, the Epistles from the New Testament and portions of the Gospels are usually grouped in the same book, under the name Comes, Liber comitis, Liber comicus (from the Latin comes, companion), or Lectionarium 'book of reading'. Separate Evangeliaria are seldom to be met with in Latin. Tables indicating passages to be read, as well as the Sundays and Holy Days on which they are to be read, are called by the Greeks "Evangelistarium", a name sometimes given to the Evangeliaria proper; they are also called "Synaxarium", and by the Latins are known as "Capitulare". Although the word Evangeliarium is of recent origin, it has been universally adopted. The word lectionary is employed, however, to denote either the collection of passages from the Old and New Testaments, including the Gospels, or else these passages alone without the corresponding Gospels.

Origin and use

Following the Jewish custom of the synagogue, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were read at the primitive Christian assemblies. According as the canon of the New Testament was decided on, certain extracts from it were included in these readings. The apologist St. Justin Martyr tells how in his day, when the Christians met together, they read the Memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets (Apol., I, lxvii). Tertullian, Cyprian and other writers bear witness to the same custom; and in the West the clerical minor order of lector existed as early as the 3rd century.

For want of precise testimony we do not know how the particular passages were decided on. Most likely the presiding bishop chose them at the assembly itself; and it is obvious that on the occurrence of certain festivals the Scripture relating to them would be read. Little by little a more or less definite list would naturally result from this method. St. John Chrysostom in a homily delivered at Antioch exhorts his hearers to read beforehand the Scripture passages to be read and commented on in the Office of the day (Homilia de Lazaro, iii, c. i). In like manner other Churches would form a table of readings. In the margin of the manuscript text it was customary to note the Sunday or liturgical festival on which that particular passage would be read, and at the end of the manuscript, the list of such passages, the Synaxarium or Capitulare, would be added. Transition from this process to the making of an Evangeliarium, or collection of all such passages, was easy. Gregory is of opinion that we possess fragments of Evangeliaria in Greek dating from the fourth, fifth and sixth centuries, and that we have very many from the ninth century onwards (according to Gregory they number 1072). In like manner, we find Lectionaries in the Latin Churches as early as the fifth century. The Comes of the Roman Church dates from before St. Gregory the Great (P.L., XXX, 487-532). From the 10th century onwards we find the Gospel lessons, together with the Epistles and prayers, united in a new liturgical book, called the Missal.

Manuscript Evangeliaria and the text of the New Testament

Manuscript Evangeliaria have little importance for the critic of the Gospel text. At the time when the various Gospel passages began to be collected in book form for use in liturgical reunions, the various families of the Gospel text and its translations were already in existence; and those Evangeliaria simply reproduce the particular text favoured by the Church which compiled it.

They have even exercised an unfortunate influence on the more recent manuscripts of the Gospels; certain additions of a liturgical nature (e.g., in illo tempore; dixit Dominus) which were set at the beginning or end of a reading, have found their way into the text itself. But in the official text of the Vulgate, and in modern editions of the Greek text, owing to the labours of bible scholars like Tischendorf, Westcott and Hort, these liturgical glosses are very rare. We notice one example in the Vulgate text: Luke, vii, 31 (ait autem Dominus).

Evangeliaria and liturgy

It is especially from a liturgical point of view that the study of Evangeliaria is interesting. The general method of Greek Evangeliaria is uniform: the first part contains the Gospels of the Sundays beginning with Easter; the second part gives the Gospels for the festivals of the saints beginning with 1 September.

In the Churches of the West the distribution of the Gospel pericopes was more divergent because of the various rites. And the ceremonial followed in the reading of the Gospel presents many differences of usage between one church and another, which it would be too long to treat of here.


Miniature from the Armenian Skevra Evangeliary, ca. 1198, National Library of Poland.

From the beginning the books used in the liturgy, and more particularly the Gospel manuscripts, were highly venerated, and therefore text and cover were often richly ornamented. From an artistic point of view the distinction between Evangeliaria strictly so called and Gospel manuscripts is of little importance and is generally disregarded. It consists merely in the fact that the illuminations of the Evangeliaria occur as a rule at those passages set apart for the greater festivals of the year. The coronation oath-book of Anglo-Saxon kings, which King Athelstan received apparently from his brother-in-law Otto I, and in turn presented to the cathedral church of Canterbury, is ornamented with figures of the Evangelists freely copied from those that adorn the Evangeliarium of Charlemagne preserved at Vienna. We are acquainted with Gospels in rolls only from seeing them in miniatures, especially as emblems of the Four Evangelists, until well into the Middle Ages.

The roll of the Book of Joshua (9th-10th century: Vatican Library) is a specimen of what Evangeliaria in this form with miniatures were like. The roll form remained long in use for liturgical manuscripts at Milan and in southern Italy.

Costly Evangeliaria are noted above all for their clear and careful writing. They have helped to perpetuate and propagate certain styles of calligraphy.

The Greek uncial (lettering type) is used in many manuscripts of the 9th and 10th centuries; and the Latin uncial is also employed, especially in Gaul, far into the Middle Ages for Gospel and liturgical works. The copying of the Gospels influenced largely the writings of Irish and Anglo-Saxon scribes, and effected the spread of these characters over the European continent and the development of the Caroline minuscule and the semi-uncial of the school of Tours. The copyists of the Gospels made great use of other helps to beautify their penmanship, such as the use of purple parchment, liquid gold and silver and various coloured inks. The part played by Evangeliaria in the history of miniature painting until the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is very great. Especially noteworthy are the miniature insets to the Canons of Eusebius, or tables of Gospel concordance. Illuminated initial letters differed according to the various schools of writing; the Irish scribes used artistic knots and loops, the Merovingian and Lombard writers preferred animal forms, especially fish.

Illuminated scenes, of interest to the iconographist, are often to be met in these copies of the Gospel text. Frequently it is the figure of the Evangelist that stands at the head of his Gospel; the donor, or rather a sketch showing the donation of the book, is often found in miniatures from the days of Charlemagne to the end of the Middle Ages. The prince is shown receiving from the hands of the abbot the Evangeliarium he will use whenever he assists at the holy offices in the abbey church (e.g. the picture of Charles the Bald in the Vivien Bible, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). But in the 10th and 11th centuries the prince is shown offering the precious manuscript to Christ or to the patron saint of the church or abbey (cf. the Evangeliarium at Bamberg State Library showing the Emperor Henry II offering the book to Christ).

Precious examples

Among the more famous Evangeliaria may be mentioned the following: the portion of an Evangeliarium from Sinope (6th century: in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris); the Syrian codices of Rabbula (586, at Florence) and Etschmiadzin (miniatures of the 6th century); the Evangeliarium of Gregory I (at Cambridge) in Latin uncials; the Irish-Continental Evangeliaria of St. Gall (about 800); the Carolingian Evangeliarium of Godescalc (about 782, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris); the Ada Codex (9th century, at Trier); the Evangeliaria of Echternach (10th century, at Gotha), and of the Abbess Uta (about 1002, at Munich).

Valuable Evangeliaria were carefully treasured, and when used in the offices were placed on a strip of cloth or on a cushion. The back leaf of the binding was usually left plain, but the front cover was enriched with all the skill of the goldsmith. One of the most ancient bindings or covers we possess is that offered by the Lombard Queen Theodelinda (600) to the cathedral of Monza. At times plaques of ivory, resembling diptychs, were set into these bindings. The earliest of them were of Oriental or Italian origin, and bear isolated figures of Christ or the Blessed Virgin, etc. A number of them, to be found in the countries along the Rhine and the Meuse and in Northern France (10th and 11th centuries), have the scene of the Crucifixion.


  1. "General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 44" (PDF). Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales. Catholic Truth Society. Retrieved 2 February 2015. Among gestures included are also actions and processions: of the priest going with the deacon and ministers to the altar; of the deacon carrying the Evangeliary or Book of the Gospels to the ambo before the proclamation of the Gospel ...
  2. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, 44
  3. In German the terms are das Evangeliar and das Buch mit den Evangelien (Grundordnung des Römischen Messbuchs, 44
  4. Palazzo,Eric, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century, 1998, Liturgical Press, ISBN 081466167X, 9780814661673, pp. 86–91, google books


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "article name needed". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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