Every year has its share of blockbuster movies where you can watch the human race meeting a sticky end, either from either a ghastly pandemic, forces of evil, whether human, alien or robotic, or a natural cataclysm. Of course, this is nothing new. The earliest Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent, and the last book of the Bible, Revelations, contains a vision of the struggle between good and evil leading up to the Final Judgment. Otherwise known as the Apocalypse of St John the Divine, it is believed to have been completed during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD), while John was exiled on the island of Patmos.
Detail of St John on the island of Patmos, from the Abingdon Apocalypse,England (?London), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Add MS 42555, f. 5r
The poetic imagery of the passages from the Bible, the symbols involving numbers, strange beasts and human and demonic characters, are open to a myriad of interpretations. Beginning in the Carolingian era, illustrated manuscripts of the Apocalypse were made to help interpret the text. At the British Library, we have a number of Apocalypse manuscripts with extensive cycles of images. In this and a series of blog posts we will be looking at how the main themes and images are treated in some of them.
Digitised Apocalypse Manuscripts
Four of our Apocalypse manuscripts are fully digitised, and here is one of our favourite images from each:
The Silos Apocalypse
The woman clothed with the sun,Revelation 12:1-18, from the Silos Apocalypse, Spain, 1091-1109, Add MS 11695, ff. 147v-148r
The Abingdon Apocalypse
Detail of a priest blessing the Sacrament on the left and on the right Christ with the slaughtered Lamb, Adam weeping, Noah in the ark, Jonah and the whale, Add MS 42555, f. 10r
The Welles Apocalypse
Earthquake and kings hiding, with John beside, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310, Royal 15 D II, f. 131r
The Queen Mary Apocalypse
Detail of a dragon, a woman in bed, and her child being caught up to heaven, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal 19 B XV, f. 21r
Visions of Heaven and Hell
The dramatic imagery in Apocalypse manuscripts contrasts the mystical vision of peace in Heaven with the torments in store for wicked men on Earth in the events leading up to the Last Judgement. For those who believed the end was nigh, these images left no question which side you should be on!
The iconography varies from the well-known stairway to Heaven to hosts of angels with black wings to the many-storied New Jerusalem.
The Lamb and angels and the four living creatures with saints and the chosen of Israel below, Add MS 11695, ff. 112v-113r
Detail of the revelation of the heavenly Jerusalem to St John, Add MS 42555, f. 79v
Detail of the Vision of Heaven, from the Yates Thompson Apocalypse, Paris, c. 1370-c. 1390, Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 19r
September marks the beginning of the wine-making season in the northern hemisphere, and this is as true today as it was on the pages of our medieval calendar. In the opening folio, the process is beginning in earnest, as three women are busy picking grapes in a vineyard, loading them into the basket of a waiting man. Behind them are several grand buildings, while the oenophilic theme of the month is mirrored by the acanthus vines circling round the page. The labour continues on the facing folio. Below the saints’ days for September and a woman holding a balance (for the zodiac sign Libra), a man is bringing a full basket of grapes into a barn. He is greeted by a fellow worker, who stands in a tub full of grapes, crushing them beneath his feet.
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of people harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9v
Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of a men making wine, with the zodiac sign Libra, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10r
Throughout the year there are two feast days commemorating John the Baptist. On June 24th, his nativity is celebrated; he and the Virgin Mary are the only saints whose birthdays are commemorated. The second feast day, August 29th, concerns his martyrdom by being beheaded.
Cutting of an initial 'L' of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist with the executioner holding up the saint’s head, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Bologna), c. 1375-c. 1400, Add MS 71119D
But let us hold off on such visually disturbing images for a moment and focus on St John’s life. Most information about his life and work comes from the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, and the Jewish historian Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (Antiquitates iudaicae). Based on these sources a pretty detailed biography of St John the Baptist can be established. He was born in the 1st century BC to Zechariah and Elizabeth, probably a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a prophet, he preached about the need for repentance and a righteous life before the arrival of someone mightier than him (there is still a debate whether he meant God himself or a messiah).
Detail of a scene of John the Baptist baptising Christ, watched by angels, from Scenes from the Life of John the Baptist, France/Germany (Alsace, Hohenbourg), c. 1175-c. 1200, Add MS 42497, f. 1r
For St John and his disciples, baptism was considered a symbol of that repentance, although it was not necessary to undergo this rite in order to become accepted into their circle. As we all know, among the people who were baptized by Saint John was Jesus.
Detail of a two-part scene showing John the Baptist being pushed into prison and later sitting behind bars, Add MS 42497, f. 1v
Unfortunately for St John, his opinion on how one should live was not to the liking of Herod, the ruler of Judea under the Roman Empire, or his wife. He was imprisoned, because apparently he looked disapprovingly upon Herod’s marriage to Herodias, who was Herod’s half-brother’s ex-wife.
Bas-de-page scene of Salome dancing on her hands before the feasting Herod and Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy la fille du roy demau[n]da a sun pere la teste seint iohan’, from the Book of Hours, England, S. E.? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 106v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of Herod and his queen sitting at a table and Salome to the right performing a tumble, from 'The Queen Mary Psalter’, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), 1310-1320, Royal 2 B VII, f. 264v
It all sounds like an overcomplicated soap-opera material, but in fact the outcome was very serious and dramatic. During Herod’s birthday party, Salome (who was the daughter of Herodias from the first marriage) danced so nicely, that he promised her anything she wanted.
Detail of a miniature of the beheading of John the Baptist, from the Bible historiale, Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1479, Royal MS 15 D I, f. 297r
After getting sober, he probably regretted his open-endedness, because Salome, at Herodias’ instigation, asked for St John the Baptist’s head. Herod reluctantly agreed and had the saint decapitated.
Bas-de-page scene of Salome presenting the head of John the Baptist in a golden bowl to Herodias, with a caption reading, ‘Cy porte la fille du roy la teste s[eint] ioh[a]n e[n] un esqu[e]le devaunt sa mere’ (‘Here the king’s daughter carries St John’s head on a platter to her mother’), Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 107v. On a side note, do you recognize this image above? You should, because it is the source of one of the images used for our little spoof from 2012.
And so Salome presented her mother with St John the Baptist’s head on a platter (the origin of the famous saying ‘to want somebody’s head on a platter/plate’).
Cutting of a historiated initial 'N' with John the Baptist, from a choir book, Italy, N. (Lombardy), c. 1500-c. 1510, Add MS 39636, f. 52r
St John’s beheading scene is a very popular theme in Christian art. Sometimes he is also depicted holding a platter (oh, the irony) or a book, with a lamb on it, alongside the description Ecce Agnus Dei.
Miniature of Christ in Majesty with John the Baptist and Mary, from the 'Melisende Psalter', Eastern Mediterranean (Jerusalem), 1131-1143, Egerton MS 1139, f. 12v (more on this manuscript can be found in our post Twelfth-Century Girl Power)
He is also an important figure in Byzantine and later in Eastern Orthodox art, because he is a part of the Deësis, which is a traditional iconic representation of enthroned Christ, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist.
To sum up everything we learnt today about St John the Baptist’s beheading, here is an all-in-one image:
Detail of a miniature of the bringing of the head of St John the Baptist, from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford), c. 1200-c. 1225, Arundel MS 157, f. 7r
As I am preparing to head off for a year’s maternity leave, I thought I would take the opportunity to thank you all for the wonderful opportunity it has been to work on this blog. It has been a great pleasure to be able to share so many of the glories of the British Library over the past 3 or so years, and very gratifying to have such fabulous responses to our work.
Detail of Nature at a furnace, forging a baby, from the Roman de la Rose, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1490 – c. 1500, Harley MS 4425, f. 140r
Detail of a marginal painting of a monkey with a swaddled infant, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 189v
Of course my leave-taking isn’t a permanent one; I’ll be returning to the British Library – and to the Medieval Manuscripts blog – in September of 2015. There will still be a number of posts coming up that I’ve written, and I’m leaving you in the very capable hands of Julian Harrison, Cillian O’Hogan, James Freeman, and the rest of the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts team. Until we meet again!
Even the most cursory glance over the pages of medieval manuscripts will reveal a plethora of insects. Bugs are everywhere – although we hasten to add that we are extremely vigilant about avoiding the presence of any actual living insects within the pages of our books. But there has been little comprehensive scholarship about the appearance of such creatures in medieval manuscripts. Insects usually live literally in the margins, often not even appearing in catalogue entries despite their profusion.
Detail of a border including flowers, moths, and flies, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 64v
Whilst undertaking this very short exploration of the subject, therefore, we would do well to remember the words of one of the earliest writers about these minute creatures. As Pliny the Elder reminds us in the introduction to his book about insects: ‘Nature is nowhere to be seen in greater perfection than in the very smallest of her works. For this reason then, I must beg of my readers, notwithstanding the contempt they feel for many of these objects, not to feel a similar disdain for the information I am about to give relative thereto, seeing that, in the study of Nature, there are none of her works that are unworthy of our consideration.’
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with marginal spiders and a praying mantis, Italy (Genoa), c. 1330 – c. 1340, Additional MS 28841, f. 6r
We’ll begin, as we almost always do, with the bestiary, that essential book of medieval beasts. The early medieval bestiary includes amongst its pages only two species of what we would consider insects today – ants and bees.
Detail of a miniature of ants in their anthill, from a bestiary, England (Salisbury?), 2nd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 4751, f. 32r
The humble ant is given quite extensive treatment in the bestiary. Echoing Isidore of Seville’s somewhat fanciful etymology, the text tells us that the ant is called ‘formica’ because it carries pieces of grain (‘ferat micas’). It goes on to describe much recognisable ant behaviour, detailing how ants walk in lines to gather food, store it for the winter, carry loads far in excess of their own size, and work together for the good of the group.
Detail of a miniature of ants on their anthill, from a theological miscellany including a bestiary, England, 1236 – c. 1250, Harley MS 3244, f. 50r
A parallel tradition to that of the bestiary is the Physiologus, one of the precursors to the Marvels of the East. In the Physiologus, a subspecies of ant, as large as dogs, is said to live in Ethiopia and to be adept at digging up gold. Such skill can be exploited by human beings, but only very carefully, as these ants will try to chase down and kill anyone who attempts to steal from them.
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a camel, while a man loads another camel with gold and escapes, from the Marvels of the East, England, 4th quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Vitellius A XV, f. 101r
Detail of a miniature of dog-like gold-digging ants attacking a group of men who have come to steal their gold, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England, 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 96r
The concept of insects as a distinct class of animals was one that didn’t exist in this period. Bees, for example, are characterised as the ‘smallest of birds’, and accordingly, often come at the end of the bestiary's section on winged animals. They are described as industrious creatures, living in community under a chosen king. Born in the decaying bodies of oxen or slaughtered calves, it is said, bees build their homes with ‘indescribable skill’, make honey, and then guard it fiercely against all potential invaders. Much like ants, bees were praised over the centuries by various authors who considered them humble and loyal animals, ‘wonderfully noble', and worthy of emulation by human beings.
Detail of a miniature of bees guarding their hives against a marauding bear, from Flore de virtu e de costumi (Flowers of Virtue and of Custom), Italy (Padua?), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3448, f. 10v
Detail of a miniature of bees collecting nectar and returning to their hive, from a bestiary with theological texts, England, c. 1200 – c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C XIX, f. 45v
That said, bees could sometimes be used as weapons. A mid-13th century copy of William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer contains a miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch who was bound to a tower and smeared with honey in a gruesome attempt to end his life.
Miniature of the Patriarch of Antioch being attacked by bees, from William of Tyre’s Histoire d’Outremer, France (Picardy?), 1232-1261, Yates Thompson MS 12, f. 120r
It is not clear why the early bestiaries omitted so many of the species of insects that people must surely have been familiar with – in many cases, perhaps, far too familiar. Flies, spiders, moths, and butterflies do not put in appearances in texts until later. The British Library is lucky enough, however, to possess a mid-16th century Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate which includes a cicada (f. 13r), a locust-like insect (f. 19r), and three species of spider – two of which are poisonous (and one of which is apparently six-legged).
Detail of a painting of three spiders, including a malmignatte, from a Greek copy of Manuel Philes’ De animalium proprietate, 2nd – 3rd quarter of the 16th century, Burney MS 97, f. 29r
Six-legged spiders are not unusual to find in medieval art, and neither are their ten-legged cousins, as the examples below will show:
Detail of a six-legged spider in its web, from an herbal, Italy (Lombardy), c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 6r
Detail of a marginal ten-legged spider, from Gerald of Wales’ Topographic Hiberniae, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196 – 1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 11r
Most insects in medieval art, however, were not designed to illustrate any accompanying text, or at least, not literally. This is particularly the case for manuscripts from the later medieval era. The vast majority of insect examples we have found are decorative ones, taking their place amongst the flowers, fruit, and jewels that adorn these pages. Some are occasionally used for humorous purposes, or may have been intended to underscore the message of the text. An extremely small selection of these sorts of images is below; if we have omitted any gems, please do let us know in the comments or on Twitter: @BLMedieval. Happy bug hunting!
Detail of a marginal painting of flies surrounding a dog, from the Maastricht Hours, Netherlands (Liège), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Stowe MS 17, f. 48r
Detail of a marginal dragonfly and dragon, from the Lovell Lectionary, England (probably Glastonbury), c. 1400 – c. 1410, Harley MS 7026, f. 13r
Selection of cuttings of border illuminations, featuring flowers, birds, moths, butterflies, and other insects, Italy (Rome), c. 1572 – c. 1585, Additional MS 35254, f. N
Detail of a folio from a prose treatise on the Seven Vices, with a caterpillar and a spider catching a fly, Additional MS 28841, f. 7v
Detail of a grasshopper, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Additional MS 18851, f. 30r
The latest in our running series of saint-day blog posts concerns St Bartholomew (see here for our posts on St Lawrence, St Benedict, St Margaret, St Patrick, St Apollonia – and the almanac that set the ball rolling in February). The means of St Bartholomew’s martyrdom, you’ll be pleased to know, is up to our usual visceral and horrific standard – but first let’s take a quick look at the life of this apostle and saint.
Detail of an historiated initial depicting St Bartholomew holding a knife, with grotesques in the initial body and margin, from the Bohun Psalter, ?London, 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 162v
Bartholomew is mentioned as of Jesus’s twelve apostles in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke (but not John). Little is known about his early life. According to Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia ecclesiastica, written in the early 4th century, Bartholomew undertook missionary work in ‘India’ (a term that in the medieval period referred to a large and variously defined territory in the east), where he reputedly left behind a copy of St Matthew’s Gospel.
Detail of a column miniature of St Bartholomew holding a book, from the Hours of René d’Anjou, Paris, c. 1410, Egerton MS 1070, f. 99v
Other traditions have him travelling to various countries in Africa and the Middle East, including Ethiopia, Mesopotamia and Parthia. He is of particular importance in the Armenian Church, which holds him and St Jude Thaddeus as patron saints for having brought Christianity to the region in the 1st century. Depictions of him holding a book most probably refer to his work in spreading the Gospel.
Detail of an historiated initial of St Bartholomew holding a knife and a book, from the Hours of Dionora of Urbino, Italy (Ferrara or Rome), 1509x1538, Yates Thompson MS 7, f. 68r
Most images of St Bartholomew, however, concentrate on how he died rather than how he lived. He was martyred in the city of Albanopolis, which archaeologists have located at Zgërdhesh in modern-day Albania. By most accounts, St Bartholomew was flayed alive – his skin torn from his body – and so he is commonly depicted with one or other of the instruments of his torture, most commonly a long, curved knife, but sometimes a whip (he is also supposed to have been crucified upside-down, a method more usually associated with St Peter).
Detail of an historiated initial of St Bartholomew being flayed alive, from Wauchier de Denain, ‘Lives of the Saints’, Paris, 2nd quarter of the 13th century, Royal MS 20 D VI, f. 42r
Other manuscripts illustrate the gruesome act taking place, with St Bartholomew usually shown being restrained on a bench while his torturers slice away at his skin.
Cutting of a miniature of St Bartholomew being flayed alive, from a collectar, Rome, 3rd quarter of the 16th century, Add MS 46365B
Medieval illuminators did not shy away from the blood and gore. This miniature was taken from a 15th-century Italian collectar, a book containing prayers for the canonical hours of the divine office, the cycle of services conducted by monks and priests throughout the day. The way it dwells upon the visceral and drawn-out process by which St Bartholomew was put to death is most discomfiting.
St Bartholomew handing St Guthlac a whip, from the Guthlac Roll, England (probably Crowland), 1175-1215, Harley Roll Y 6, roundel 8
Bartholomew played a bit-part role in the life of one of our home-grown saints, Guthlac of Crowland. Tormented by demons on his isolated island in the fens, Guthlac is depicted on the Guthlac Roll (Harley Roll Y 6) as being carried through the air towards an open hell-mouth. Just in time, St Bartholomew comes to his rescue, handing him his whip, which Guthlac can use to beat back the unholy hordes. The Guthlac Roll thus attaches an interesting twist to the story of St Bartholomew, where the instrument that was used by his persecutors is turned around and used against the forces of evil. (For more on the Guthlac Roll, see out blog post ‘On a roll’).
Full-page miniature of St Bartholomew holding a knife and his flayed skin, from the Oscott Psalter, England (?Oxford), c. 1265-c.1270, Add MS 50000, f. 9r
In some instances, St Bartholomew is also shown holding his own flayed skin. The means of his martyrdom has led him to being adopted as a patron saint by various trades involved with the skinning of animals: butchers, tanners, trappers, leather workers and – most significantly for us – bookbinders.
Plain red moulded goatskin binding, from the St Cuthbert Gospel, England (Lindisfarne), c. 698, Add MS 89000, front cover
While it is an unfortunate fact that the medieval bindings of many, if not most, medieval books have been irretrievably lost, the British Library nonetheless possesses an enviable collection of bindings from across the medieval period. We have the earliest intact medieval binding in existence, that attached to St Cuthbert Gospel, as well as many other examples right up to the 15th century.
Detail of a column miniature of St Bartholomew holding a knife and a book in a girdle binding, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), Add MS 18851, f. 442v
It seems appropriate, then, to draw attention to a fantastic new resource for studying these rare and important survivals: the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings. This contains descriptions and images of bindings both medieval and modern, identifications of the binders responsible, and bibliographies. It is possible to search by various criteria, including binders’ names, marks of ownership, country of origin, decorative style and colour and technique. Further entries and descriptions are planned in the future.
In one of our blog posts last week, we featured the Wardington Hours, a relative newcomer to our collections. Three other Books of Hours have been acquired by the British Library since 2000, each of particular interest to art historians and scholars.
Add MS 74754: ‘The Small Bedford hours’
In the last blog post we mentioned the Bedford Hours (Add MS 18850), since it was made by the same group of Bruges artists as the Wardington Hours. It has been in our collections for more than 150 years, having been bought by the British Museum in 1852. In 2000, we acquired a manuscript known as the ‘Small Bedford Hours’, also probably made for John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford (b. 1389, d.1435). The evidence linking it to this famous patron is the following: the tree-stock, which appears on ff. 51r, 201r and 392r, was one of his badges.
Full page illumination with Historiated initial 'D' of David at prayer and tree stock, from ‘The Small Bedford Hours’, Paris, c. 1430, Add MS 74754, f. 201r
The two partially erased initials on ff. 369r and 385v probably contained the arms of England and France.
Partially erased initial ‘O’(mnipotens), which probably contained the arms of England and France, from Add MS 74754, f. 385v
Finally, the special prayers include these words: ‘et in domo regia servorum tuorum me nasci fecisti ac populum magnum michi commisisti regendum’, which seems to indicate that the owner was of royal blood, and ‘Semper vero in tu gratia me et ancillam tuam annam thori unius vinculo in nomine tuo michi coniunctam fovere digneris […]’, which indicates that the owner had a consort named Anne. Bedford was married to Anne of Burgundy in 1423, and she died in 1432.
There is no calendar and the Hours of the Virgin at the beginning are of the Use of Sarum, which was the most popular rite in England in this period. Prayers or suffrages to St George, St Thomas Becket (scratched out) and St Catherine are included after Lauds. The last part contains the usual psalms, prayers and litany.
This Book of Hours, by contrast, contains three calendars. First, a calendar of Sarum use (ff. 4r-8r) followed by two York calendars, the second (ff. 15r-31r) with facing astronomical tables by Richard de Thorpe, friar of York (b. c. 1339). The Sarum calendar seems to originate in Northern France, as it includes the feasts of the Norman saints Michel and Eloi. This part of the manuscript, with the accompanying Hours (ff. 32r-78v), was made in Bruges, as the illuminated initials and borders are in the same style as a manuscript made there in 1409 (now Durham, Ushaw College, MS 10).
Sarum Calendar from a Book of Hours previously in the Pincus Collection, Bruges, c. 1410, Add MS 82946, f. 8v
The two York calendars and scientific material (including figure drawings and tables), were added to the manuscript in the 1420s, as indications in the calendars suggest. They are by a single hand and in a uniform decorative style, believed to be of York Augustinian origin but made for an outside patron rather than the Austin Friars themselves, as the feast of Saint Augustine in August is not in red or blue to mark a major feast. Another interesting feature is the use of green ink, which is unusual in England at this time.
York Calendar added to a Book of Hours, York, c. 1420, Add MS 82946, f. 15v
On f. 30v there is an astrological calendar in the form of a wheel with an enlarged centre hole, which indicates that it probably had a movable pointer like the hand of a clock.
There are two full page images of naked men on folios 31r and 31v, following the second calendar. Zodiac man on folio 31 is shown with the zodiac symbols clustered over him indicating the parts of the body they govern. He stands in the large pool that seems to be the result of Aquarius hanging around his lower legs emptying his water-pots. The image is boldly painted with unusual green borders and an orange patterned background, which perhaps show Bohemian influence. The second diagram shows the phlebotomy points and is rougher in execution.
For much of the above, and for further information on this manuscript, see an article by John B Friedman, 'Richard de Thorpe's Astronomical Kalendar and the Luxury Book Trade at York', Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 7 (1985), 137-60.
Egerton MS 3883
This Book of Hours was also made in the southern Netherlands, probably in Bruges, with some material being added in England in the fifteenth century: a treatise on the fifteen joys of the Virgin, and three short poems in Middle English addressed to the Virgin, God and Christ, by Lydgate among others. The scribe of these additions signs his name ‘Chetwyn’ and there are four devotional diagrams including the following, entitled 'The iiii Cardinal vertuws’.
Devotional diagram and decorated page from a Book of Hours, Netherlands, S. and England, 15th century, Egerton MS 3883, ff. 43v-44r
The circular marks on ff. 124v, 133r-34v, 142v and 158v-59v are all that remain of pilgrim badges – medieval souvenirs of journeys to holy sites – that had once been affixed there.
Erased prayer to St Thomas Becket and off-set from a pilgrim badge, Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v
On this page a prayer to St Thomas Becket has been erased. Perhaps the owner had been on pilgrimage to Canterbury – possibly taking this book with them – and had placed his or her badge there to commemorate it whenever they recited the prayer.
The British Library has an incredible collection of close to 400 Books of Hours of various styles, dates, origins and sizes, including some of the most celebrated and beautifully illustrated ones ever made. Over the next few weeks we will be featuring the new Books of Hours added to our collection in recent years.
The most beautiful of these recent acquisitions is the Wardington Hours, purchased in 2007 with the help of the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library and other generous donors. It would otherwise have been taken out of the UK by an overseas purchaser. It has recently been digitised and is available on our website at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/
The Betrayal of Christ at the beginning of the office of Matins, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 1r
The Wardington Hours is part of a Book of Hours containing only the Hours of the Passion, a less common cycle of devotions than the Hours of the Virgin. There are eight exquisitely painted miniatures illustrating the Passion of Christ with intricate detail and rich, colourful imagery. Illuminated borders with sparkling gold ivy leaves feature on every page, and include painted dragons with different animal heads in one part of the volume.
The Way to the Cross at the beginning of the office of Terce, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 18v
The miniatures are attributed to the group of illuminators associated with the Bedford Master, one of the most prominent artists working in Paris in the early fifteenth century, and whose name derives from the Bedford Psalter. This most celebrated work was made for John of Lancaster (b. 1389, d. 1435), Duke of Bedford, who was the brother of King Henry V and Regent of France for Henry VI and is now in the British Library (Add MS 18850). Both manuscripts contain an unusual miniature of the Crucifixion including the seven last words of Christ. Here is the one from the Wardington Hours:
The Crucifixion at the beginning of the office of None, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Add MS 82945, f. 26v
The Bedford Hours is a complete volume, and the Hours of the Passion is only one of the devotional texts it contains. But again the image of the Crucifixion accompanies the office of Nones and the miniatures have the same colourful palette and lively style as the Wardington manuscript. The last words of Christ are contained in seven banners in a similar arrangement, with an eighth banner held by a centurion, which reads ‘Vete filius dey erat iste’ (Behold this was the son of God).
The Crucifixion at the beginning of the office of None, from the Bedford Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1430, Add MS 18850, f. 240r
The Dunois Hours, also in the library’s collections, was made in the same prominent Paris workshop by the Dunois master for an enemy of the Duke of Bedford and companion of Joan of Arc, John Dunois, Bastard of Orleans. The latter is portrayed in the margin of the miniature of the Last Judgment, led by Saint John the Evangelist, a patron saint he shared with his English opponent.
Though there are similarities in style, the borders of the Wardington manuscript are finer and more exquisite than the ones in the Bedford and Dunois Hours. The text is framed in gold, surrounded by delicate networks of gold ivy leaves and swirling stems.
A text page with border including dragons, from the Wardington Hours, Paris, c.1410-c.1440, Additional MS 82945, f. 9r
The medieval owner of the Wardington Hours is not known, but it comes from a larger volume, another part of which has been identified by Catherine Reynolds as Huntington Library, MS HM 1100 (see Catherine Reynolds, ‘The Workshop of the Master of the Duke of Bedford: Definitions and Identities’, in Patrons, Authors and Workshops: Books and Book Production in Paris around 1400, ed. by G. Croenen and P. Ainsworth (Leuven, 2006), pp. 437-72 (p. 451)).
The Wardington Hours was owned by the Courgy family of Paris in the 18th century and recently by the leading English bibliophile, Lord Wardington (b.1924, d.2005). In 2004 it was dramatically rescued from a fire in his manor in Oxfordshire when his daughter Helen and a human chain of local people managed to save all his valuable books by passing them out onto the lawn, while the fire brigade held off from spraying water into the part of the house holding the library.