The Holkham Bible
The Holkham Bible is a celebrated picture-book that relates biblical stories in Norman French, with the help of copious illustrations of everyday 14th-century England. It was originally intended as a visual aid for popular preachers, and now provides a fascinating glimpse of real life in the time of Chaucer.
This picture-Bible tells highlights of the Bible story, from Creation, through the life of Jesus, to the Last Judgment. It is only loosely based on the Bible, and includes plenty of apocryphal episodes, especially about the early life of Jesus. It does this with brief text that is part prose, part poetry, and most importantly, with a unique sequence of illustrations that draw many of their details from everyday life.
The book was probably made in London in the mid-14th century, near the time of Geoffrey Chaucer's birth. The Dominican friar for whom the illustrations were made, perhaps as a teaching aid for the rich and powerful, is depicted at the opening of the Bible instructing the artist, 'Now do it well and thoroughly, for it will be shown to important people'. This Bible from the Biblia Pauperum which were made for the poor, while this volume made for well-to-do persons.
To help the friar as he explained the stories to his audience, the illustrations are accompanied by brief explanatory texts in Anglo-Norman French, the literary language most familiar to contemporary English nobles. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the ruling and upper classes in England (hitherto a land of dialects of Anglo-Saxon, also called Old English) spoke an imported dialect of medieval French, now usually called Anglo-Norman. Anglo-Norman persisted until the 14th century, when it was replaced by Chaucer's Middle English.
The book was definitely written for an English audience, because when the shepherds at Bethlehem hear the angelic 'Te Deum', they break into English.