Saturday, 13 February 2016

Missal fragments

ODS. 00446  – Speculum moral[a]e totius sacr[a]e Scriptur[a]e / Reuerendissimo Johann. Vitali per digno cardinali seraphici Ordinis Minorum Obseruantissimo alphabetico ordine perutile editum, et bucusq[ue] non impressum ; cumq[ue] triplici tibula iure quoda[m] materias singulares [et] quotatio[n]es artificio ad folioru[m] [et] versiculorum numerum remittente – Lyon, John Moylin, 1513.


This is a French printing of Vital de Four’s Speculum moralae, printed in Lyon in 1513.   It is a deeply frustrating book on one level, as it has been rebound at some point in the middle of the twentieth century in a plain, panelled Calf binding.  Of course until relatively recently this sort of treatment was undertaken as a matter of course on antiquarian books in poor repair, the condition of the text of the book taking precedent over the evidential and aesthetic qualities of the binding.   All evidence or record of the former binding has been lost, except for the vellum pastedowns, which have been retained and have been bound into the rear of the book. 

Thank goodness the modern binder had the foresight to keep the pastedowns as they are rather special.   They consist of a substantial and sequential gathering from a quarto sized medieval manuscript Missal, or Mass book.  The element of the Missal preserved as binders waste isn’t just any element either.  What we have here is the Latin text of the most solemn part of the ritual of the Mass, the text of the Canon, from the Sursum Corda to the consecration of the elements of bread and wine.  When the Missal was intact, the book was open at these pages as the priest consecrated the bread and wine on the altar and elevated it above his head.   

Date wise these pages are probably fourteenth century and may be English.   These manuscript pages are not of high quality and do not represent the pinnacle of manuscript production in this period, the text is rather workaday and inelegant and the decoration is rather rough and ready.  There is a sense that the scribe is copying the text with little sense of how the finished work will appear on the page. At one point (during the Sanctus) the scribe clearly runs out of space and shrinks the size of his text, rather than run it over the page onto the next side.    

Running out of space for the Sanctus, the size of the lettering changes.  

The little crosses that mark the points in the mass where the priest makes the sign of the cross with his hand over the bread an wine, are clearly put in after the text.  They are sequeezed in above and in some places over the text.  

The manuscript fragment ends with the words of institution, the most solemn part of the medieval Eucharistic liturgy, used at the consecration of the chalice 'Simili mod posteaquam cenatum est...' - 'Likewsie after supper...'

This sort of workaday and rather rough manuscript is probably the sort of Missal that was commonplace in the late Middle Ages, the sort of manuscript Missal an average parish church in a country region might have been able to afford.  You may even argue that the text was copied down by the local parish priest, rather than someone who had a more formal training as a scribe. There would have been thousands upon thousands of such practical, workaday liturgical manuscripts in England by the beginning of the sixteenth century.  

Of course with the Reformation and the shift from Latin to the Vernacular in liturgy, they lose their purpose entirely and having little aesthetic and therefore commercial value, such books ended up either burnt, discarded or on the open market.  On the open market they were recycled by other tradesmen, including binders.  Such manuscript waste continued to be used with frequency in bindings into the seventeenth century. 

The shadow of the original leather turn-ins of the earlier binding.  

The action of pasting down these manuscript leaves onto the boards of the Speculum's earlier binding has left a shadowy imprint of the leather turn-ins of that binding, a tantalising hint of what has been lost.  The use of this manuscript material in suggests that this binding was perhaps late sixteenth century and English, though we will never quite know.      


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