Eusebius Caesariensis (ca. 263-ca. 339) was an early historian of the Christian Church who lived in Caesarea Maritima, located on the eastern Mediterranean coast in what is now Israel. He became Bishop of Caesarea around 313 and was a prolific writer on many religious topics. One of his many works that has survived is his De Evangelica Praeparatione (translated as Preparation for the Gospel) in which he attempts to prove the superiority of Christianity in comparison with all other ancient religions.
There were six editions of De Evangelica Praeparatione printed in the fifteenth century. Grand Valley State University Libraries’ Special Collections has the edition from 1497 printed in Venice by Bernardinus Benalius. While not particularly rare, this copy has remarkable illustrated initials at the beginning of each of the book’s fifteen chapters and preface, all different and all executed with supreme skill. These large blue initials contain fanciful birds, reptiles, amphibians, snakes, monkeys, and other creatures; the background of intricately interlaced red penwork also demonstrates the artistic ingenuity. The final initial also carries the Christogram, the symbol used as the abbreviation of Jesus Christ; it combines the first two Greek letters in the name Christ (Χριστος), chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ).