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363 posts categorized "Illuminated manuscripts"

05 August 2014

Twenty-four More Greek Manuscripts Online

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Work continues on the Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project, generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and others.  In July we uploaded 24 new manuscripts, adding to our previous totals.  We hope you enjoy paging through our newest manuscripts!  Details are of course below:

Add MS 26115, Philostratus, Imagines (TLG 1600.001), imperfect; Constantine Harmenopoulos, Lexicon arranged alphabetically, and some treatises on grammar.  1417? – 1426?.

Add_ms_29714_f004r
Decorated headpiece from a Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles, Add MS 29714, f. 4r

Add MS 29714, Lectionary of the Acts and the Epistles (Gregory-Aland l 257, Scrivener apost. 69).  1306.

Add MS 31949, Gospel Lectionary, imperfect (Gregory-Aland l 337; Scrivener evst 285).  Mid 13th century.

Add MS 34107, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 1279; Scrivener evan. 321; von Soden ε 1178).  11th or 12th century.

Add_ms_36822_f003r
Fragment of a Gospel lectionary, 12th century, Add MS 36822, f. 3r

Add MS 36822, Fragments of two Gospel Lectionaries (Gregory-Aland l 237, l 2310; Scrivener evst. 237), and an extract from a service-book.  12th-13th century, the last leaf being added in the 17th century.

Add MS 37001, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2277 [=816]), with canon tables.  11th century, the last leaf having been replaced in the 14th century.

Add MS 37003, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 2279), with Euthalian apparatus and prefaces attributed to Theodoret (printed in von Soden 1902-1910, vol. 1, pp. 350-354), though the text is not that of the printed commentary in PG 82.  14th century, probably created in  Constantinople.

Add MS 37004, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1492), imperfect.  Late 11th century.

Add MS 37006/1, Detached binding from Add MS 37006, of wooden boards covered with plain red leather.  16th century.

Add_ms_37007_f003ar
Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37007, f. 3r

Add MS 37007, Gospel Lectionary with ekphonetic neumes (Gregory-Aland l 1495=[l 459]=[l 1205]), with illuminations of the four Evangelists.  13th century, owned by and likely created at the Monastery of St Nicholas in Pentrochonte, north of Berat, Albania.

Portrait of St John the Evangelist, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37008, f. 1v

Add MS 37008, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1496 =[l 461]=[ l 1206], with a coloured portrait of St John.  Created at the Monastery of St Marina in Berat, Albania, in 1413.

Add MS 37009, Nomocanon of Manuel Malaxos, compiled for Joasaph, Metropolitan of Boeotia, in 1562.

Add MS 37485, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 1, containing Matthew and Mark.  Early 13th century.

Add_ms_37486_f097v
Evangelist miniature, from a Gospel Lectionary, Add MS 37486, f. 97v

Add MS 37486, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 2291), volume 2, containing Luke and John, and additional texts.  Early 14th century.

Add_ms_39587_f001r
Decorated headpiece from a Psalter, Add MS 39587, f. 1r

Add MS 39587, Psalter (Rahlfs 1091). According to Rahlfs (1914), pp. 108-109, this manuscript and Add MS 39588 (Parham MS VI) were originally a single manuscript.  12th century.

Add MS 39592, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 549; Scrivener evan. 536; von Soden A 136), with marginal commentary.  11th century.

Add MS 39595, Four Gospels (Gregory-Aland 552, Scrivener evan. 539, von Soden ε 252).  2nd half of the 12th century.

Add_ms_39599_f002r
Decorated headpiece and text from a New Testament, Acts and Epistles, Add MS 39599, f. 2r

Add MS 39599, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 911 [formerly 227ac., 282p.]; Scrivener act. 217 and Paul. 235; von Soden ο29), with ekphonetic neums, lection notes, and a marginal commentary. The volume also contained Revelation, which was cut out by the Hegoumenos of the Karakallou Monastery, and which is now bound separately as Add MS 39601. The missing portion of the Catholic Epistles, now lost, may have been cut out at the same time.  11th century.

Add MS 39600, New Testament, Acts and Epistles (Gregory-Aland 912 [formerly Gregory 228ac. and 283p.]; Scrivener act. 218, Paul. 236; von Soden α 366, with the prefaces of Euthalius and Theodoret.  13th century, probably created at Mount Athos.

Add MS 40656, Psalter with Canticles (Rahlfs 1650, Gregory-Aland l 932, Scrivener evan. 612).  13th century.

Add MS 40754, Gospel Lectionary (Gregory-Aland l 1743).  Written in 1256.

Add_ms_47674_f002r
Opening of the Psalter with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

Add MS 47674, Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, and 8 pairs of illuminated initials (historiated at the beginning of the Latin text).  1220s, Paris.

Add_ms_47774_f001v
Portrait of the Evangelist John and his eagle, at the beginning of a Gospel lectionary, Add MS 47774, f. 1v

Add MS 47774, Gospel lectionary in Modern Greek in the translation of Maximos Kallioupolites (d.1633), whose New Testament was printed posthumously in 1638. Pen drawings of the four Evangelists, in its original binding.  17th century, possibly created in the Balkans.

Add MS 73525, Collection of fragments.

- Cillian O'Hogan

02 August 2014

Getting a bit fruity

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How much fruit and veg should we be eating?  Five portions a day, or seven?  How much is a portion, and what counts?  The Medieval Manuscripts Blog claims no authority on the matter, but seeks out the wisdom of the middle ages.  According to Dr Hartmann Schedel (b. 1440, d. 1514), author of the Nuremberg Chronicle, ‘five things dispose a man and make him prone to incurring the plague’: famine, women (sorry), exertion and remaining stationary (evidently conflicting dietary advice is no modern invention), and...fruit.

Add MS 18850 f14r detail 1
Detail of the story of Adam and Eve, from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-c. 1430, Add MS 18850, f. 14r

The first fruit-related health warning was issued by God, when he forbade Adam to partake of the Tree of Knowledge, under the threat of death.  Adam and Eve ignored this prominently displayed advice and went ahead and ate it anyway – an experience I think we all relive between the first and second pieces of cake. 

Add MS 18850 f 14r detail 2
Detail from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 14r

The consequences were disastrous, to say the least: expulsion from the Garden of Eden, a lifetime of toil and pain.

Egerton MS 943, f. 103v
Detail of a framed miniature illustrating Dante, Virgil and Statius and the Tree of the Gluttonous on the fifth terrace of Purgatory, from Dante Alighieri, ‘Divina Commedia’, N. Italy (Emilia/Padua), 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 943, f. 103v

Fruit-trees make an appearance in Dante’s Divine Comedy: the gluttonous are tormented by the sight of the heavily laden boughs of this tree, the fruit forever just out of their reach.

 
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Detail of a portrait of King John from the Rous Roll, England (?Warwickshire), c. 1483, Add MS 48976, Membrane 2

The over-eating of fruit has been recorded as the cause of death of several famous people.  Though current scholarship has tended to view such accounts as mere figments, nonetheless there was a close association between gluttony, fruit and sinfulness in the medieval imagination.  Rumours that a surfeit of peaches did for King John began to circulate shortly after his demise.  Contemporary monastic chroniclers were glad to see the man go – his reign had plumbed the depths of poor kingship and resulted in a papal interdict in 1208 – and seized reports of a gluttonous death as emblematic of his personal failings.

Spare a thought too for Pope Paul II, who fell victim to eating chilled melons.  Melons of the unrefrigerated variety were said to have prompted the death in 1493 of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor – but, on the scale of things, it was probably having his gangrenous leg amputated before adequate anaesthesia, disinfectant and antibiotics had been invented.

Royal MS 16 E XXXII, f. 2r
Scatter border containing fruit, flowers and insects, surrounding the beginning of a letter dedicated to Edward VI, concerning the recent peace with Henry II of France, France (Paris), after 1547, Royal MS 16 E XXXII, f. 2r

We hope, despite these grim tales, that you still find fruit appealing – not least because the pages of our medieval manuscripts are heavily laden with depictions of fruit of all kinds.  There is a particularly heavy crop of strawberries, especially in the ‘scatter borders’ common in fifteenth-century manuscripts.

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Detail from a herbal, N. Italy (Lombardy), c. 1440, Sloane MS 4016, f. 30r

We also find cherries, such as in the pages of this herbal.

Burney MS 292, f. 9r
Detail of a coat of arms in a border, from St Augustine, ‘De civitate Dei’, N. Italy (?Padua/?Verona), c. 1440-c. 1470, Burney MS 292, f. 9r

Pears are incorporated into a wreath surrounding the arms of the Donati family of Venice, in this copy of Augustine’s De civitate Dei.

Egerton MS 1146, f. 58r
A vine border containing grapes and an owl, from a Book of Hours, Use of Worms, S. Germany (?Worms), c. 1475-c. 1485, Egerton MS 1146, f. 58r.

Grapes are often found dangling from the vines in elaborate foliate border decoration.

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Roundel of men and women harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Flanders (Valenciennes, Bruges, Ghent), early 1480s, Add MS 38126, f. 9v

The harvesting of grapes, the pastoral activity for the month of September, is also commonly depicted in the calendars attached to books of hours.

Add MS 20916, f. 15r
Detail of the border from the Leaf of a Commission, N.E. Italy (Venice), c. 1570-c. 1577, Add MS 20916, f. 15r

There is a whole harvest-basket of fruit on this Leaf of a Commission from the Doge of Venice Alvise I Mocenigo to Marco Corner: grapes, apples, and something that looks like a bit like a quince.

Harley MS 3954, f. 64r
Detail of a man harvesting and eating fruit in an orchard, from ‘The Travels of Sir John Mandeville’, E. England (East Anglia), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Harley MS 3954, f. 64r

By far the best to eat is the fruit that brings long life, from orchards recorded in Mandeville’s Travels.  Where these trees might be, or what the fruit is, remains sadly unknown.

This post does not count as one of your five a day. 

- James Freeman

01 August 2014

A Calendar Page for August 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

Agricultural labours continue in these two calendar pages for the month of August.  On the first folio, among a scatter border of flowers and insects, we see a roundel of two peasants, inside a barn.  They are at work threshing the wheat that was harvested in July, while, through the window behind them, we can see a few birds circling.  On the facing folio, a barefoot peasant is shaking a shallow basket, literally separating the wheat from the chaff.  Above him is a seated woman with a palm for the zodiac sign Virgo.

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Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of two men threshing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 8v

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Calendar page for August, with a roundel miniature of a man separating wheat from chaff, with the zodiac sign Virgo, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9r

- Sarah J Biggs

24 July 2014

Choosing a Husband: Brains or Brawn, Money or Looks?

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Career options for medieval women were limited.  If they were lucky they could choose between getting married or entering a convent.  For some, the latter was preferable to becoming a wife, who was often treated as little more than one of her husband’s possessions.  The majority of women, of course, still chose marriage and family, and the important question was: what type of man made the best husband?  There is a tradition of love debates in courtly society in Anglo-Norman England, which can be found in La Geste de Blanchflour e de Florence and Melior e Ydoine, both based on Latin poems about the relative merits of knights or clerks as husbands.  In other words, should you go for brawn or brains?  Perhaps the first place to look for an answer to these questions is the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, where we searched under ‘clerk’ and ‘knight’ and found some interesting images on the subject.

The one below shows a man, described as a ‘devoted clerk from Pisa’ riding with his future wife to their wedding.  He appears a good husband, perhaps, if a tad boring (but maybe not  – keep reading!).

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f223v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a clerk from Pisa and a woman, being led on horseback to their wedding ceremony, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?), between 1310 and 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 223v

In the next image the clerk has deserted his wife - the Virgin Mary appeared at his wedding and reminded him of his promise to take holy orders!

Royal_ms_2_b_vii_f224r
Detail of a bas-de-page of the devoted clerk of Pisa, having left his bride to become a monk, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 224r

Below another clerk seems to be behaving badly. On the left hand side, he grabs a woman, who looks rather startled and on the right he attacks someone, perhaps a rival.

Royal MS 10 D VIII f. 176r
Detail of a miniature of a clerk and a woman, and the clerk committing a homicide, with a foliate initial 'Sacerdos', at the beginning of causa 15 of Gratian’s Decretum,  France (Paris?), 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Royal 10 D VIII, f. 176r

So let’s see what the knights were like…

This one is stabbing a unicorn; not a good start!

Harley MS 3244 f. 38r E043080
Detail of the lower miniature, depicting a knight spearing a unicorn as it rests in a maiden's lap, from a theological miscellany, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century, after c. 1236, Harley MS 3244, f. 38r

And this one seems to be offering the lady a lift on his horse, but is he planning to carry her off?

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f086v
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of a lady and a knight, who is pointing towards his waiting horse; two hounds stand nearby, from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 86v

So, what was a poor girl to do?  The answer is, ask her mother for advice.

Fortunately, one of our manuscripts, Additional MS 46919, a well-known collection of texts in Anglo-Norman French and Middle English from the 14th century, contains a unique copy of a verse debate between a mother and daughter on choosing a husband.  The volume, which has (unfortunately) not been fully photographed yet, is known as the ‘William Herebert Collection’ after the Franciscan friar of Oxford, who compiled it and copied some of the texts, which include Bibbesworth’s Tretiz de langage.

Photo 1 detail
Detail of the beginning of a dialogue between mother and daughter, Add MS 46919, f. 59r

The short debate beginning on f. 59r of this manuscript consists of five 10-line verses alternating between mother and daughter.  In the first verse, the daughter asks her mother how she should choose between her two lovers: one is handsome, the other rich:

Jole mere ke frai? / de deus amanz su mis en plai

Li uns est beaus cu[m] fleur de maii / li autre est riches ben le sei

Or quei ke me seit a fere / pite del douce meyre

Dear mother what should I do? / I am torn between two lovers

The one is as beautiful as the mayflower / The other is rich as I well know

So what should I do? / Have pity on me, sweet mother.

 

The mother replies:

Fille fetes cu[m] les fiz  / kant ieo esteie jeovenette jadis

Volu[n]ters a douns me pris / jeu sanz pru nest ben asis

Daughter, do as girls did / back when I was young.

I soon learned / that a game without a prize is not a good bet

 

She goes on to say that those who let their emotions rule will repent later.  The daughter protests that her handsome lover’s kisses are so delightful and that ill-gotten spoils soon turn sour:

Meuz vaut joie orphanine / ke rischesce a marrement

Ky mel leche d’espine / cher l’achate et poi en prent.

Better to be happy in poverty / than to have wealth but a dreary life

He who licks honey from a thorn / pays dearly and gets little in return.

 

Of course the mother has the final say – she gets her two verses worth, first delivering a stern lesson on the ways of the world:

Le secle est or de tel manere / les riches avaunt les poveres arere

Poi engard hom en la chere / si le riche atorn n’i siet

Marchant a voide almonere / fet a feire poi de espleit.

Such is the way of the world that the rich are in front and the poor behind

And nobody pays any attention to a man’s beautiful face

If he does not have stylish attire and a full purse.

 

But then she tempers this with wisdom.  In the end, it is goodness and honour that count.

Aver est en aventure / Mut est fous ke trop l’aseure

Mes honur et bunte dure / Coment ke del aver alt:

Ke seit entendre mesure / Cil est riche ke moult vault.

Material possessions are transient / only a very foolish person trusts in them too much

But honour and goodness last / whatever happens to possessions.

He who knows moderation / he is rich, for this is valuable.

 

And if all ends well, the outcome will be a wedding - to the right man!

Add MS 24678, f. 22r .K90054-29
Miniature of a marriage, Italy (Bologna), last quarter of the 13th century or 1st quarter of the 14th century, Add MS 24678, f. 22r

-  Chantry Westwell

20 July 2014

Enter the Dragon: Happy St Margaret's Day!

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Today is the feast day of St Margaret of Antioch (not to be confused with St Margaret of Scotland or Hungary).  Although St Margaret was declared to be apocryphal in the year 494 by no less an authority than Pope Gelasius, and many people over many years have entertained doubts about her authenticity, she is still widely venerated as a saint today.

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Miniature of St Margaret, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 234v

St Margaret was particularly popular in the medieval period, and her cult and image spread widely.  No doubt this was aided by her inclusion in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend.  In this text, Margaret was said to have been born in Antioch in the closing years of the 3rd century.  Although she was the daughter of a pagan priest, Margaret converted to Christianity and vowed eternal chastity.  She moved to an area in what is now Turkey with her godmother, and there caught the attention of a Roman prefect or governor.  In a turn of events that echoes many of the other early female martyrs, the prefect proposed marriage to her, but Margaret chose to remain true to her vow and to Christianity. 

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 255v G70033-99a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being brought before the Roman prefect, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London?), 1310 – 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 255v

Harley MS 5347 f. 26v c12046-06
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison being visited by her godmother, from Tectino’s Life of St Margaret of Antioch in verse, northern Italy, first half of the 15th century, Harley MS 5347, f. 26v

In retaliation, the prefect ordered her to be tortured and thrown into prison.  Whilst there, according to the legend, she was visited by Satan in the shape of a dragon.  Resisting temptation yet again, Margaret was swallowed by the dragon, but emerged from his side unscathed and carrying a cross after praying for aid.  Giving up on the idea of dragon-based revenge, her captors eventually beheaded her.

Royal MS 2 B VII f. 256r G70032-65a
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret emerging from the belly of the dragon, and being beheaded, from the Queen Mary Psalter, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 256r

St Margaret is one of the most instantly recognisable saints in the medieval pantheon, because she is so frequently depicted emerging from the belly of a dragon (for more on the latter subject, see our post The Anatomy of a Dragon).  Her suffrage was widely included in medieval manuscripts, as were miniatures of her torture and death.  Below is a selection of some of our favourite images of St Margaret from throughout our collections; please do let us know if we’ve left out any of your favourites.  As always, you can reach us in the comments below, or on Twitter @BLMedieval.

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Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497, Add MS 18851, f. 406v

Egerton MS 2019 f. 216r K051116 copy
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Paris), c. 1440 – c. 1450, Egerton MS 2019, f. 216r

Harley MS 3000 f. 42v K051118
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret in prison, emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours (Use of Sarum), and Psalter, southern Netherlands, c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 3000, f. 42v

Harley MS 2974 f. 165v c6725-03
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the dragon, from a Book of Hours, France (Troyes?), c. 1460 – c. 1470, Harley MS 2974, f. 165v

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f086v_detail
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of St Margaret being thrown into prison, and escaping from the belly of the dragon, from the Taymouth Hours, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 86v

Yates_thompson_ms_3_f282v_detail
Detail of a miniature of St Margaret emerging from the fire-breathing dragon, from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1339 – c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 282v

Besides providing us with numerous dragon images St Margaret is the patron saint of pregnancy and expectant mothers (something that has particular relevance to me at the moment!).  Happy St Margaret’s Day, everyone!

-  Sarah J Biggs 

17 July 2014

This Year's Summer Blockbuster: A Giant List of Digitised Manuscript Hyperlinks!

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Here we go again with the giant list of digitised manuscript hyperlinks, friends!  For our new readers, this is a regular feature of the blog; on a quarterly basis we upload a massive spreadsheet for your persusal.  As always, this list contains all of the manuscripts to date that have been uploaded to our Digitised Manuscripts site by those of us in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section.  This does not include the work of our colleagues in other departments, of course - but we're pleased that this quarter's list does include the newest Greek manuscripts digitised as part of our ongoing project on these glorious texts.  And a few more, including the one below.  Happy clicking!  Here is the list: Download BL Medieval and Earlier Digitised Manuscripts Master List 17.07.13

Add_ms_47674_f002r
Decorated initial 'M' and historiated initial 'B'(eatus) with scenes from the life of King David, from a Psalter and Canticles (Rahlfs 1062), with parallel Latin text, Add MS 47674, f. 2r

- Sarah J Biggs

15 July 2014

Set in Stone

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One of the most famous images from our collection is this one from Egerton MS 3028. It is the earliest picture we have of Stonehenge and is one of close to 100 coloured pen drawings accompanying an abridged version in verse of Wace’s Roman de Brut, copied in Britain between 1338 and 1340. This manuscript is currently on display at the Stonehenge Visitors’ Centre, as part of the temporary Set in Stone exhibition.

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Stonehenge, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 30r

Wace’s version of the legend, adapted from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, tells of King Aurelius, son of Constantine, who, having conquered the usurpers Vortigern and Hengist, decides to erect a monument to the British nobles murdered by the Saxons.  Merlin suggests using huge stones that were brought by a giant from Africa to create a stone circle known as the Ring of Killaraus in Ireland.  When the King is incredulous at this suggestion, saying that the stones are much too heavy to transport so far, Merlin replies that ‘wit is more than strength’.  With the help of his magic powers, the stones are indeed brought back to the Salisbury plain by Uther and an army of men, who defeat the Irish on the way. The image above shows either a giant helping Merlin to erect Stonehenge or helping to take down the stones from the Giant’s ring to be carted off to England.  Of course, modern scientific research has shown that Stonehenge was built from two types of rock that must have been transported from far away: the sarsen stones, a type of sandstone, are believed to come from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away and the smaller bluestones (even they weigh 25-30 tons) are believed to be from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, 250km away! There have been many hypotheses as to how they were transported, but none, it could be argued, are any more plausible than Wace’s account involving Merlin and the giant.

Egerton_ms_3028_f010r
The Shipwreck of St Ursula and the 11 000 virgins, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 10r

The Stonehenge image is one of many delights in Egerton MS 3028.  The shipwreck of the 11000 virgins is another.  The story goes that the mainland Bretons sent an army across the channel to help the British fight off the Saxons, and in return they were sent a shipload of young maidens, descendants of Brutus, to be their wives.  Unfortunately the ship was blown off course and the ladies fell into the hands of the pagans of Cologne, who slayed them all, including St Ursula, when they refused to surrender their virginity.  In some versions of the legend, they die in a shipwreck, as we see here.  St Ursula was a popular saint and the story of the 11000 martyred virgins captured the popular imagination for centuries.  Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands after them, Cologne has the Basilica of St Ursula and even London may have had a memorial, the Church of St Mary the Virgin, St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, on the site of what is now the ‘Gherkin’ in St Mary Axe street in London, where it was said that one of the axes used by the murderous Saxons was kept.

On more familiar territory, here is the coronation of King Arthur, who sports a magnificent red beard.

Egerton_ms_3028_f037r
King Arthur crowned by bishops, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 37r

Wace, a cleric from Jersey, composed his French version of the Historia for Henry II, who was keen to portray himself as a worthy successor to King Arthur.  Wace cleverly focused on parts of the story which served the king’s aims, giving it a more factual bent and introducing new details such as the Round Table, which became a symbol of the English court.  The name Brut refers to Brutus of Troy, the mythical founder of Britain, and Arthur is portrayed as one of a long line of kings including Henry.

Egerton_ms_3028_f053r
The Death of King Arthur, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 53r

In this manuscript a section has been added updating the chronicle to the reign of Edward III, who established the Order of the Knights of the Garter, an institution with its foundation in the Arthurian legends.

Real historical events are chronicled in the continuation from ff. 56-63, including the reign of Henry I, who is described as the king who made just laws (‘fist fair[e] les bones leis’).

Egerton_ms_3028_f060r
The Coronation of Henry I, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 60r

The final part of the manuscript contains two romances from the cycle of Charlemagne: Fierabras, and its ‘prequel’, the Destruction of Rome.  Each one is preceded by a full-page image of one of the heroes :

Egerton_ms_3028_f063v
Fierebras , England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028,  f. 63v

Egerton_ms_3028_f083v
Charlemagne, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 83v

Once again, pen drawings are inserted in the text, and this one of a trebuchet is from the story of Roland. Note the two fearful knights peeping over the battlements.

Egerton_ms_3028_f106r
Attacking a tower with a trebuchet, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 106r

It has been suggested that this manuscript may have been produced in the Gloucester area or South Wales, far from the centres of London and East Anglia, where a more sophisticated  style of illumination was common in the mid-14th century.  Though lacking refinement of technique, the artist of Egerton MS 3028 uses gesture and facial expression to bring out the full drama of the events portrayed.   This image of Lucifer is a wonderful example:

Egerton_ms_3028_f101r
Lucifer is cast into the fire, England, 2nd quarter of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3028, f. 101r

For more images (105 in total), see the entry for Egerton MS 3028 in our Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.

Egerton MS 3028 will shortly be fully digitised and available on our Digitised Manuscripts website.

Chantry Westwell

11 July 2014

Benedict Rules

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There is simply no earthly honour greater than a British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog post in your memory.  So it is with all due reverence – and a selection of manuscripts from our collections – that we observe the feast day of Benedict of Nursia, saint and progenitor of the first monastic order. 

Egerton MS 1070, f. 89r
Detail of an historiated initial depicting St Benedict, from the Hours of René of Anjou, France (Paris), c. 1410,
Egerton MS 1070, f. 89r

Born c. 480 in Nursia, Benedict was educated in Rome but abandoned his studies in order to pursue a spiritual life.  After living variously as a hermit or with other religious recluses, and narrowly escaping being murdered by a local priest in Subiaco, he founded Monte Cassino with his followers and there died, tradition has it, on 21st March 543.  11th July marks the translation of his relics to the abbey of Fleury (those of his sister, the wonderfully named Scholastica, were taken at the same time to Le Mans). 

Burney MS 319, f. 22r
Detail of an historiated initial depicting St Benedict, from the opening of the second book of Gregory the Great’s ‘Dialogues’, Italy (?Bologna), 1st half of the 14th century,
Burney MS 319, f. 22

Scant details of Benedict’s life survive.  The main source is the second book of the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, which recounts mainly miraculous events intended to edify and inspire rather than specific details suited to historical biography. 

Benedict’s principal literary legacy was his Rule, in which he set forth the practical and spiritual guidelines by which communities of monks ought to live.  Composed c. 526, it comprises 73 chapters, covering such diverse matters as the qualifications required of an abbot of a Benedictine monastery, the twelve ways in which a monk can seek humility, how a monk should pray, read and eat and behave towards his brothers, a scale of punishments of increasing severity for misdemeanours, and the reception and treatment of guests.  A chapter of the Rule was read aloud to the monks at their daily convocation: hence ‘chapter meetings’, and the ‘chapter house’ in which they took place.

Harley MS 5431, f. 7r
Opening of the Prologue, with zoomorphic initials and coloured display capitals, from the Rule of St Benedict, England (Canterbury), c. 1000,
Harley MS 5431, f. 7r

The Rule survives in three main textual versions – ‘pure’, ‘interpolated’ and ‘received/mixed’.  The British Library possesses the oldest surviving copy of the ‘received’ recension, shown above: it dates from c. 1000 and the presence of a fourteenth-century pressmark suggests that it was written and illuminated at St Augustine’s, Canterbury.  The unusually narrow format indicates that the manuscript may have been made to fit ivory covers recycled from an older book.

Harley MS 948, f. 24v
Chapters 38 and 39 from the Rule of St Benedict, with coloured initials and rubrics, England, 2nd half of the 12th century,
Harley MS 948, f. 24v

Since the Rule was an essential text for the monastic life, it was copied and circulated very widely, and the British Library possesses numerous copies.  The above example is taken from Harley MS 948, and contains Chapters 38 and 39 (mislabelled as 39 and 40): the first dealing with the care of elderly brethren and child oblates, the second with the duties of the monk appointed each week to read to brothers in the refectory while they ate in silence.  Instructions to the rubricator can still be seen at the foot of the page.  Old English translations of the Rule are found in two Cotton manuscripts (Titus A IV, Faustina A X part B) and there is a Latin-Middle English bilingual version in another (Claudius D III).

Arundel MS 155, 133r
Full-page miniature of St Benedict, ?Eadwig Basan and the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury, from the Eadui/Arundel Psalter, England (Canterbury), 1012x1023, Arundel MS 155, f. 133r

As one of the major saints of the medieval Christian church, St Benedict was frequently depicted in liturgical or devotional texts, such as this Psalter from Christ Church, Canterbury.  It was produced a little later than the Rule from neighbouring St Augustine’s, and was written by one of the priory’s monks, Eadwig Basan.  The full-page miniature of St Benedict – at first glance apparently incomplete – recalls that of St Aethelwold in his eponymous Benedictional (Add MS 49598, 963x984).  Fully illuminated, the enthroned figure of St Benedict on the left sits in stark contrast to the more simply tinted figures of monks on the right – as in the Benedictional, likely a deliberate artistic decision that privileges the founder of a monastic order beside whom its followers at Canterbury are metaphorically and visually pale imitations.  Only one of them is fully coloured: a figure, perhaps Eadwig himself, dressed in dull brown monastic robes and girded with a ‘belt of humility’ (zona humilitatis), and kneeling in adoration at St Benedict’s feet.  St Benedict, described in his nimbus as ‘father and leader of monks’ (pater monachorum et dux), is bestowing upon the Christ Church monks a copy of his Rule, the opening words of which are clearly visible in the open book.

Cuttings from late medieval Italian liturgical manuscripts have been attracting quite a bit of interest among followers of this blog recently, so we conclude with two especially fine historiated initials from Benedict’s native country.

Add MS 18196, f. 68r
Historiated initial depicting St Benedict in colours and gold, cut from a choirbook, Italy (Lombardy), 2nd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 18196, f. 68r

Add MS 39636, f. 13r
Historiated initial depicting St Benedict in colours and gold, with a hedgehog, cut from a gradual, Italy (Lombardy), 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Add MS 39636, f. 13r

 - James Freeman