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06 March 2014

Medieval Drama Acquired by the British Library

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We are extremely pleased to be able to tell you that the British Library has acquired an exceptional manuscript of a medieval drama, made for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (d. 1467). The manuscript in question was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and contains the Mystère de la Vengeance, a play in French verse by the Benedictine monk Eustache Marcadé (d. 1440). Duke Philip’s copy is one of the finest surviving illuminated manuscripts of any medieval theatrical text, and is now in two volumes: it includes 20 large miniatures painted by Loyset Liédet (d. 1479), illustrating the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. This manuscript is of outstanding significance as a unique copy of the complete version of a theatrical text illustrated in a completely original way, and as an example of a securely dated and documented work made for one of the greatest patrons of the 15th century.

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Detail of a miniature showing Vespasian suffering from leprosy and being examined in bed by two doctors, from the Mystère de la Vengeance by Eustache Marcadé, Bruges, c. 1465 (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/1, f. 61v).

Philip the Good's manuscript is now British Library, Additional MSS 89066/1 and 89066/2. From Saturday, 8 March, the manuscript will be on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery: Treasures of the British Library, and full digital images are also available on our Digitised Manuscripts site (Add MS 89066/1 and Add MS 89066/2).

The newly-acquired manuscript was commissioned for Philip the Good in around 1465. Philip was the most powerful ruler in Europe at that time, and one of the great collectors of the 15th century. The British Library's copy is the only known surviving complete manuscript of Marcadé’s text of the mystery play, in a version that took four days to perform. Another copy is in Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 697, but that is a three-day version of the play, and contains around 1,000 fewer verses than Philip’s copy. Nor is the Arras copy illustrated with paintings, but rather with pen and ink drawings, and it is written on paper rather than on parchment. The play was performed in Abbeville, around 30 miles south-west of Hesdin, in 1463, and in Mechelen in 1494. It has been speculated that the Duke of Burgundy was present for the Abbeville performance, and that this deluxe manuscript was made in response to that event.

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Detail of a miniature showing the appearance in the sky of portents of Jerusalem’s destruction, from the Mystère de la Vengeance (London, British Library, MS Additional 89066/2, f. 38r).

The Mystère de la Vengeance contains 14,972 lines of French verse, which is set over four days of performances. Its subject is the Roman destruction of Jerusalem after the Crucifixion. The first day’s drama is a debate between the personifications of the Four Virtues, Justice, Mercy, Peace and Truth over whether God should take revenge on Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. The result is a promise from God that any destruction would be preceded by many warnings. On the second day the Emperor Tiberius hears a letter read from Pontius Pilate concerning Christ’s miracles. Concurrently, Vespasian, suffering from leprosy in Spain, is cured by the Vera Icon, or Saint Veronica’s veil. Events in Rome on the third day of the performance include Nero sending Vespasian and his son Titus to Jerusalem to put down a revolt. The ‘year of the four emperors’, 69, is the subject of the last day’s performance, in which Vespasian orders the destruction of Jerusalem. 

The manuscript was accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, and allocated to the British Library in 2014. Its acquisition was also made possible thanks to generous donations from the Art Fund, the Friends of the British Library, International Partners in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, the Breslauer Bequest, and other anonymous donors.

For more information about the artist and scribe of this manuscript, see our blogpost Magical Mystery Tour.

04 March 2014

Guess the Manuscript XII

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It's been a while since we've offered up another installment in our award-winning Guess the Manuscript series.  So long, in fact, that the origin of the image below is now a mystery even to us.  Embarrassing though it is to admit, we have forgotten where we found this.  How exciting!

Can you do any better?  By now you are familiar with the rules of the game; this image is from a manuscript somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can either leave your guesses below in the comments, or get in touch with us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Good luck!

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01 March 2014

A Calendar Page for March 2014

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

The agricultural labours of the year are shown beginning in earnest in these calendar pages for the month of March.  On the first folio, two men and a woman are continuing the work of vine-trimming that was begun in February, while one man pauses for much-needed refreshment.  On the following folio, the listing of March's saints' days and feasts continues.  In the roundel below can be found a ram (inexplicably lacking his horns) for the zodiac sign Aries.  Beneath him is another well-bundled labourer turning the earth in a field in preparation for planting.

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Calendar page for March, with a roundel miniature of two men and a woman at work trimming vines, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 3v

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Calendar page for March, with a roundel miniature of a man turning earth below the zodiac sign Aries, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 4r

- Sarah J Biggs

27 February 2014

Slavery and Sainthood in Cornwall

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Copied in a scriptorium in Brittany in the early 9th century, this Gospel Book, new to our Digitised Manuscripts site, is referred to as the Bodmin Gospels, or the St Petroc Gospels.  Both these names are references to its place of origin; it was originally used for the swearing of oaths upon the altar of the Priory of St Petroc in Bodmin, Cornwall.  Within these Gospels are recorded 51 grants of manumission (records of the freeing of slaves) which occurred between 950 and 1025.  It is one of the most important records of early Cornish Christianity, and the written records are of great interest to paleographers and students of the Cornish language.  Though they are written in Latin and Old English, many of the names mentioned within them are Celtic, such as Wurci (from Welsh Gwrgi, meaning ‘man-dog’) and Modred (after that well-known villain, King Arthur’s nephew).

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Decorated initials 'IN(ITIUM)' with 'I' forming interlace pattern border at the beginning of Mark's gospel, France (Brittany), early 9th century; annotations: Cornwall, 2nd half of the 9th centur, Add MS 9381, f. 50r

The Priory of St Petroc, Cornwall, was founded by Celtic monks some decades before St Augustine came to England in 593.  According to his legend, Petroc, a Welshman of noble birth, having completed his education in Ireland, set out in a small boat with a few followers towards the middle of the 6th century.  Though filled with zeal, they were an indecisive bunch, as they seem to have had no destination in mind, and so asked God to set their course.  The winds and tides brought them by pure chance (or divine will?) to the Padstow estuary, where Petroc founded his first monastery.  Again, he seems to have had some difficulty in making up his mind, as a short time later he packed up and moved everyone to Bodmin, where he remained until his death at a very great age.  The monastery at Bodmin was recorded in Domesday Book and later became an Augustinian priory.

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Victorian glasswork of St Petroc of Cornwall, from his church in Bodmin, 19th century.  Image via Wikipedia Commons.

St Petroc is one of the patron saints of Cornwall, and though he may perhaps appear indecisive, his legend is in the swashbuckling tradition, including, at one point, travel to India and the taming of wolves.  He is usually pictured with a stag (not particularly imaginative for a British saint) and his feast day is June 4.  His relics, stolen and carried off to Brittany by a dastardly Breton in 1177, were restored to Cornwall by Henry II, but were then tossed in to the sea when the monastery was sacked in the Reformation.  The beautiful ivory casket in which they were kept survived and is still on display at St Petroc's church in Bodmin.

We know that this Gospel-book (Add MS 9381) was at St Petroc’s monastery from the 940s.  It does not contain elaborate decoration, and is obviously a ‘workaday’ copy; at the end of the manuscript there are tables of Gospel readings for use throughout the year.  There is an unfinished composition at the beginning of John’s Gospel and several large decorated initials in red and brown (see f. 50 above), but no Evangelist portraits. 

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A frame with five roundels and interlace panels, probably intended for a 'Christ in Majesty' miniature, Add MS 9381, f. 108v

The principal decoration is in the Canon tables (ff. 9r-13v), which have Celtic interlace and zoomorphic decoration; see the bird-like creature on the right in image below. A note inserted between the arches records the presence of the book at the altar of St Petroc’s and its use there:

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Canon tables with records added, Add MS 9381 f. 13r

The inscription reads:

Hoc est no[men] illius mulieris .i. medguistyl cum p[ro]genie sua .i. bleiduid, ylcerthon, byrchtylym; quos liberaverunt cleri s[an]c[t]i petroci sup[er] altare illius petroci, p[ro]
remedio eadryd rex, & p[ro] animab[us] illor[um]; coram istis testib[us] comayre p[re]spiter grifiud p[re]spit[er] etc..

(This is the name of the woman Medguistyl with her offspring Bleiduid, Ylcerthon and Byrchtylym who were freed by the clerics of Saint Petroc on the altar of this St Petroc’s for the souls of Eadred the King and for their souls, before these witnesses, Comuyre the priest etc…)

Of course we know nothing of this woman and her three children with unpronounceable names, but it does make you wonder what the lives of these slaves would have been like in the ninth century.  Where were they from, how did they come to be slaves, and why were they freed?  We have no answers to these questions.

Sometimes the stories revealed by the records in the margins are a little more detailed, as is the following one in Old English:

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Records of manumissions, Add MS 9381 f. 8r

Her kyð on þissere bec þæt Aelsig bohte anne wifmann Ongynedhel hatte & hire sunu Gyðhicael æt  þurcilde mid healfe punde æt thære cirican dure on Bodmine & sealed Aelsige portgereva & Maccosse hundredesmann iiii pengas to tolle.  Þa ferde Aelsig to þe þa men bohte ynd nam hig & freode uppan Petrocys weofede æfre saclesl On gewitnesse þissa godera manna þæt wæs Isaac messepreost & Bledculf m.p. & Wunning m.p. & Wulfger m.p. & Grifiuð m.p. & Noe m.p. & Wurþicið m.p. & Aelsig diacon & Maccos & Teðion & Modredis sunu & Kynilm & Beorlaf & Dirling & Gratcant & Talan & gif hwa þas freot abrece, hebbe him wið Criste gemene.  Amen.

(Here is made known on this book that Aelsig had bought a woman Ongynedhel and her son Gyðhicael from þurcilde with half a pound at the church door at Bodmin, and paid to Aelsige the reeve and Maccos the hundredsman four pennies for toll.  Then Aelsig did what he had bought them for, and freed them on Petroc’s Altar, free of any liability.  On the witness of these good men: Isaac the mass-priest & Bledculf….. And if anyone should violate this freedom, may he lose Christ’s protection. Amen).

This shows that sometimes people bought slaves so that they could set them free and that in this case a toll was paid to the King or his representative for the pleasure of doing so – not terribly magnanimous on the part of His Majesty!

The names are also of interest.  Seven of them are Anglo-Saxon, including the freer of the slave, the reeve and hundredsman - in other words, those in authority, as you would expect.  Aelsige was a very popular name, as it is shared by three people (it does have more of a ring to it than John or David – perhaps it will make the list of the most popular names again one day!). Nine of the names, including the two slaves’, are Celtic and 2 are from the Old Testament - Isaac and Noe, or Noah.

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Chapter list of Matthew’s Gospel written in Caroline minuscule with added manumissions in Latin and Old English, Add MS 9381 f. 7v
                                                                                                   

Last but not least, the palaeography of this manuscript has long been of interest to scholars. The original gospels are written in a continental Caroline minuscule, the standard script used in France in this period.  Cornwall, however, was part of the Celtic world and so a form of Insular minuscule was used there in the ninth century.  The earliest manumissions are thought to date from the time of King Edmund (941-946), by which time Anglo-Saxon minuscule seems to have been widely adopted, though there is limited evidence and scripts varied considerably.  The additions in the Bodmin Gospels are mostly in Anglo-Saxon minuscule, but some of the later ones contain perhaps the earliest examples of Cornish Caroline script.  Notable are the Caroline ‘a’ and ‘g’, which are used even in the inscriptions in Old English. The contrast between the scripts is clearly visible in the above image, with additions by three different scribes. The full digital images now available online make this manuscript more accessible for palaeographical study.

- Chantry Westwell

25 February 2014

No Rest for the Wicked: Dante's Inferno

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Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy is best-known for its gruesome catalogue of punishments suffered by the damned; and what punishments they are! Dante took great pleasure in devising hideous fates for the multitudes of the damned, and this included, for good measure, many people he knew personally. One can imagine that Dante relished sending to Hell those responsible for exiling him from Florence in 1301, not least because some of those named in the poem were still alive to read about the terrible fates in store for them. You have been warned -- be careful not to get on the wrong side of a poetic genius!

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Souls waiting for Charon to ferry them across the Acheron to Hell, Italy, N. (Emilia or Padua), late 14th century (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 7v).

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The lustful in the fire of Hell (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 109v).

But the poem isn’t called the Divine Comedy for nothing. Latin Commedia at this time simply meant a narrative poem, albeit one with lighter tone and supposedly a happy ending. Inferno, the description of Hell, is the best-known part, probably because we all secretly love the scandal and gore, as well as Dante’s gloriously passive-aggressive sniping at his foes. Yet the Comedy presents a journey through the entire Christian cosmos, continued in Purgatario and Paradiso respectively.

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Dante’s Dream (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 3r).

Humour is definitely an aspect of the poem appreciated by the illustrator of Egerton MS 943. This manuscript contains the entire Divine Comedy accompanied by 261 images, and was copied in the 14th century, not long after the work was composed, in the poet's Northern Italian homeland. Perhaps this manuscript's creators shared the same world-view which animates the poem, making it as close as possible to the way Dante would have illustrated it. Dante would certainly have appreciated the rendering of some of his imagined punishments. 145 images are currently online in the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, and the whole manuscript will soon appear on our Digitised Manuscripts site.

Back to the torments of Hell. Here, for example, are the lustful, tossed around in a cyclone to represent their loss of reason, while Dante and his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, stand by in awe.

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The Carnal sinners (London, British Libary, MS Egerton 943, f. 10v).

And here the gluttonous are feasted on by the monstrous Cerberus. They include a man called Ciacco ‘hog’ who describes the woeful state of politics in Florence.

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Cerberus (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 12r).

The violent drown in a flaming sea and are shot at by arrows. The poem makes the archers in question centaurs, but interestingly our illustrator neglects to give them horse bodies.

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Centaurs by a river of blood (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 22r).

The treacherous are frozen up to their necks in ice. If anyone ever claims that something will happen when Hell freezes over, remind them that this actually happened in Dante's account! For Dante, Hell got colder as you went further down, representing the distance from God which is the true punishment for all the damned.

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Traitors in ice (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 57r).

Here, the arch-traitor, the Devil himself, stands at the freezing heart of the Inferno. In contrast to the menacing figure in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is quite pathetic in the Divine Comedy. A monstrous three-faced entity, he is utterly immobile and cannot even speak as his mouths are occupied chewing on the three greatest traitors of history: Judas Iscariot (all we can see of him here is his lower half poking out of Satan’s mouth) and two of the murderers of Julius Caesar, Brutus and Cassius. It's ever so slightly ridiculous that Dante regarded Caesar's death of Caesar to be the second worst crime in history (after Christ' betrayal). But Dante, like so many of his contemporaries, saw imperial Rome as a lost golden age, and he yearned for the unification of the divided and troubled Italian states. For him, Italy's troubles could be blamed directly on Brutus and Cassius.

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Lucifer devouring 3 traitors (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 61r).

After Satan, our two intrepid wanderers are spat out through the plughole of Hell and onto Mount Purgatory. And then we move from Inferno, to the exciting sequel, Purgatario. Here you can see Virgil warming himself on Satan’s feet which are poking up from the ice!

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Satan and the mouth of Hell (London, British Library, MS Egerton 943, f. 61v).

We will devote future blogposts to Dante's Purgatory and Paradise -- keep an eye on this blog!

Arthur Westwell

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

 

23 February 2014

Gawain Revealed

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One of the British Library's greatest literary treasures is the unique manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Last week we hosted a visit by Murray McGillivray (University of Calgary), who is director of a research project investigating this idiosyncratic manuscript's physical make-up and the poems contained within it.

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Murray McGillivray (left) and Paul Garside (right), carrying out multi-spectral imaging of the Gawain-manuscript.

Many aspects of Gawain remain open to debate -- who wrote the poems? where and when they were written? who was responsible for the accompanying illustrations? -- and so we hope to provide new insight into some of these questions. Although critics have been overwhelmingly full of praise for the manuscript's poetic quality, many have been very scathing about its handwriting and drawings ("some paintings rudely executed" according to one early cataloguer), giving rise to the theory that this is a provincial or unprofessional production. Murray was particularly keen to discover more information about the pigments, underdrawings and binding structure of the manuscript (British Library Cotton MS Nero A X, ff. 41–130), the results of which will ultimately be published on his project website. Aided and abetted by Christina Duffy, our Imaging Scientist, Paul Garside, Conservation Scientist, and Ann Tomalak, one of our conservators, Murray was able to analyse parts of the Gawain-manuscript with stunning results.

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Multi-spectral and infrared images of the Green Knight (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A X, f. 129v).

We're not going to pre-empt the full findings here; but it is possible to make some tentative deductions about how the manuscript was made. The illuminated pages contain underdrawings, often heavily over-painted by the medieval artist, but now revealed using modern technology. Christina made images of the pages in question under different spectra, including infrared and ultraviolet light; and we discovered that the underdrawings are sometimes best visible using infrared. Likewise, Paul's analysis of the pigments used for the illustrations suggests, for example, that the blues are more likely to be made of indigo rather than azurite or lapis, and that the reds may be composed of vermilion.

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Multispectral image of the Dreamer (London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A X, f. 41r).

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The same image under infrared light.

Christina and Paul continue to process their results, which will then be interpreted by Murray and his team. We wait on tenterhooks to discover what conclusions they will draw: was the scribe of the manuscript the same person who did the underdrawings? were the same pigments employed for the illuminations and the decorated letters in the text? were the illuminations painted at a later date? In the meantime, you can find out more about the Cotton Nero A X Project here, with full colour images of the manuscript; and you can find out more about the work of our British Library colleagues on their Collection Care Blog.

Julian Harrison

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

22 February 2014

Prepare to Meet Your Doom

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Followers of this blog may harbour a suspicion that we possess an unhealthy interest in scenes of violence and torture in medieval manuscripts.  The following should remove any doubt on the matter!

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Detail of a miniature showing the punishment of cardinal sinners in Hell, from the ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante Alighieri, Italy (Tuscany), 1444-c. 1450, 
Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 9r

Last week, the Getty Museum (@GettyMuseum) tweeted this image from our Digitised Manuscripts site to highlight that 13th February was marked in some medieval calendars as the day on which Hell was created (to which anyone who has forgotten to buy a Valentine’s Day present can surely attest).

This has inspired us at the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog to explore depictions of Hell, past and present.

Aficionados of 1990s video games will likely have fond memories of Doom, id Software’s seminal first-person shooter.  The plot follows the typical ‘scientific experiment gone awry’ trajectory.  While experimenting with teleportation technology on Mars, some scientists inadvertently open a portal to Hell – whoops!  (Guess this is why we have risk assessments…).  You, the sole survivor, must fight your way back to Earth, with just an assorted array of guns and a chainsaw (yes, really) at your disposal to fight off the assembled hordes of demons.

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Full-page miniature showing the fall of the rebel angels, from the Old English Hexateuch, England, second quarter of the 11th century,
Cotton MS Claudius B IV, f. 2r

The portal to Hell in Doom has an obvious antecedent in medieval art: the Hell-mouth, a representation of Hell as a gaping, often flaming, animalistic maw.  The fall of the rebellious angels from Heaven, illustrated here in the Old English Hexateuch, foreshadows the later fall of man.  The unusual depiction of a Hell-mouth as a serpent reinforces this narrative connection as well as Lucifer’s agency in both events.

The rather horrifying motif of the Hell-mouth was not confined to medieval manuscripts.  It appears – most commonly as a hairy, fanged beast – in stained glass windows and wall- and panel-paintings as well.  It was therefore visible to ordinary medieval people, for whom owning an illuminated manuscript was an unimaginable luxury, and the prospect of suffering an eternity in Hell an imminent possibility.  St John’s visions of the end of the world and the Last Judgement were frequently depicted in ‘Doom paintings’ on the walls and rood-screens of medieval churches.  Though mostly destroyed at the Reformation, examples have survived, particularly in East Anglia, some of them ironically protected and preserved by the very whitewash that was meant to obliterate them.

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Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgment, from the ‘Abingdon Apocalypse’, England, third quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 77v.

Hell-mouths were commonly depicted in illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts, swallowing up the souls of the damned, while God, the angels and the souls of the saved look on from the safety of Heaven.

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Detail of a miniature showing the Last Judgement, from the ‘Queen Mary Apocalypse’, England (London or East Anglia), first quarter of the 14th century,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 40r

A personal favourite of ours comes not from an Apocalypse manuscript but from a Book of Hours.  Along the bottom of the pages, a procession of demons escorts the souls of the sinful to Hell.

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a demon carrying souls to Hell in a wheelbarrow, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’, England (London?), second quarter of the 14th century,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 139v.

Demons are showing carrying souls in shoulder-baskets and other contrivances, or just dragging them along the floor with a rope.

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing a lecherous woman, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 141v.

In this example, demons torment the soul of a lecherous woman as punishment for her sins: she is being ridden by one demon while the other prods her in the buttocks with a grapple and shouts ‘Avaunt, leccheur, avant’ (‘Forward, lecher, forward!’).

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene showing the casting of souls into Hell, from the ‘Taymouth Hours’,
Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 142r.

The procession culminates in the demons slinging the souls into the flames, to a little trumpet-fanfare provided by a demon perched on the Hell-mouth’s snout.

Contemporary critics of Doom’s violence, gore and satanic iconography (which still give us the shivers) ultimately missed the point that the storyline was inspired by Christian mythology.  After the eponymous character ‘Doomguy’ defeated the demons on Mars, he ventured into Hell itself to quash them on their home turf, and thereby re-enacted Christ’s Harrowing of Hell.

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Detail showing Christ spearing and trampling a demon and rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, from the Monte Cassino Exultet Roll, southern Italy (Monte Cassino), c. 1075-c. 1080,
Add MS 30337, membrane 7 (inverted)

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Detail showing Christ rescuing souls in the Harrowing of Hell, with demons with trumpets and grapples and another rendering souls in a cauldron above a Hell-mouth, from the ‘Holkham Bible Picture Book’,
Add MS 47682, f. 34r

Alas, this was ultimately unsuccessful: upon Doomguy’s return to Earth, he finds that the hordes of Hell have overrun the planet (which rather neatly lay the ground for a sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth).

Let us know if you have any favourite video games that deserve special treatment by the Medieval Manuscripts Blog!  Tweet us on @BLMedieval.

- James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

18 February 2014

Hidden Away

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One of the most exciting things about working in the Medieval and Earlier Manuscripts section here in the British Library is the possibility of making – or witnessing – a new discovery about one of our manuscripts.  We’ve written before about a number of these discoveries, including those about pigments and underdrawings, a newly-found seal matrix, hidden inscriptions, a letter of Robert the Bruce, and even the magnificent Unicorn Cookbook

Recently we undertook some conservation work on two autograph volumes from the Evelyn papers (Add MS 78328 and Add MS 78329).  These volumes are commonplace books (essentially scrapbooks), maintained by Sir John Evelyn (1602–1706) between the 1650s and 1680s to keep track of ideas that he encountered during his travels and studies.  Evelyn was a noted author on a variety of subjects, including history, sculpture, navigation, and gardening, and was also a diarist largely contemporary with Pepys.  The British Library holds a number of items from Evelyn’s library, including the commonplace books.

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78329

The bindings of these volumes, which had been in place since Evelyn’s day, were in need of some restoration.  During the course of the repairs, we uncovered a number of fragments of earlier manuscripts hidden away beneath the leather covers, fragments which had been used as lining, binding stiffeners, and sewing guides. 

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes and thread traces visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 16v

The use of such materials is not unusual in medieval manuscripts, and we have a number of other instances from our collections which can be viewed online (see, for example, the Rochester Bible). But this case is unusual in that these particular fragments have gone back into their bindings, and will no longer be visible to readers.  We have, however, taken photographs of all of them, and these photographs are available for consultation in our Manuscripts Reading Room – and, of course, a number of them are reproduced here.

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with a signature visible (‘Jaquet?’), Add MS 78329, fragment 7v

As far as we can tell, these fragments consist of pages from a printed Latin text and a number of scraps from French charters; charmingly, some of them still contain signatures.  But we don’t know much more about them, and would like to solicit your ideas.  Please do let us know what you think; you can always leave a comment below, or reach us on Twitter @BLMedieval

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 1r

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Fragment of a printed book used as a pastedown on the lower binding, Add MS 78329

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Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, with sewing holes visible, Add MS 78328, fragment 8r

Add_ms_78328_lower_binding_pastdown_flangev
Manuscript fragment used to line the spine along the lower binding, Add MS 78328

Add_ms_78329_spine_lining_3v
Manuscript fragment used to line the spine, Add MS 78329, fragment 3v

- Sarah J Biggs

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