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Posts Tagged ‘History of St Augustine’s Abbey’

One of the great treasures of the Old Library is an early fifteenth century manuscript, Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantauriensis, by Thomas of Elmham, a medieval monk and historian. Elmham’s history of St Augustine’s Abbey and its lands contains elaborate chronological tables and facsimiles of many lost Anglo-Saxon charters. Amongst these pages recording the deeds of clerics are two magnificent full page illustrations which reveal the presence of two high status women!

The women who were so important to the history of St Augustine’s Abbey were Domme Eafe and her daughter Mildrith. Domme Eafe had impeccable royal lineage – she was descended from King Æthelberht of Kent and was married to King Merewalh of Magonsaete (a sub-kingdom of Mercia). This remarkable queen founded the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet and all three of her daughters, Mildburh, Mildgytha and Mildrith, were saints.

220px-Mildred_von_Minster

Saint Mildrith (image from Wikipedia)

 

The most notable of the three was Saint Mildrith (c. 660-733). She features in the Kentish Royal Legend or “Mildrith legend” and Goscelin wrote a hagiography of her, the “Vita Mildrethae”, in the 11th century. As a royal woman Saint Mildrith received an education at the prestigious Merovingian royal abbey of Chelles, near Paris, which had a reputation for great learning. On her return to England she entered the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet. By 694 Saint Mildrith had risen to become the Abbess at Minster-in-Thanet and when she died in about 734 she was buried in the Abbey church of St Mary.

MS1 Isle of Thanet blog

Isle of Thanet (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

 

This illustration (above) from MS.1 is a map of the Isle of Thanet. It features important landmarks, churches and abbeys, including that of Minster-in-Thanet. It also shows the course (marked as a green line) said to have been taken by a white hind belonging to Queen Domme Eafe, when it designated the land granted for the foundation of the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet.

TRH_1_f_42vedit

“Cursus cerue”: the path taken by Domme Eafe’s white hind (detail from Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

The other full page illustration in this manuscript shows the East end of the abbey church of St Augustine’s in Canterbury. It depicts the high altar surmounted by precious reliquaries and six holy books. The shrine of St Augustine is situated in pride of place behind the high altar at the East end.

MS1

Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

But Saint Mildrith has a shrine there too! How did she come to be there? According to Julian Luxford, the nunnery of Minster-in-Thanet had fallen into disuse and in 1030 King Cnut granted his permission for the relics of Saint Mildrith to be moved from the abbey church of St Mary to the church of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury “where she was venerated alongside the early archbishops”. Her importance is revealed by the magnificence of her shrine and its site just next to the chapel with the relics of St Augustine.

St Mildrith's shrine

Saint Mildrith’s shrine in the abbey church of St Augustine’s Canterbury (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

This tale of two medieval royal women who feature in the illustrations of MS.1 is part of our series of posts looking at “Women in the special collections of Trinity Hall” in celebration of the THWomen40 anninversary.

Postcript:

St Augustine’s Abbey is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public. English Heritage has just published a new guidebook by Julian Luxford which includes a full colour reproduction of the illustraion in our manuscript of the East end of the Abbey church.

References:

Description by Montague Rhodes James of Historia Monasterii S. Augustini Cantauriensis (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

St Augustine’s Abbey” by Julian Luxford (English Heritage Guidebooks, 2017) ISBN 9781910907160

St Augustine’s Abbey (English Heritage) http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-augustines-abbey/

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Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (no, not Trinity Hall but our younger rival next door!). His enthronement will take place in Canterbury Cathedral next week, on 21 March and will be televised by the BBC.

One item due to play a key role in the ceremony is the St Augustine’s Gospels (Corpus Christi College MS286). This magnificent manuscript is a vulgate text of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and was probably brought to England by St Augustine in 597. The practice of using St Augustine’s Gospels for the enthronement of the Archbishops of Canterbury was revived in 1945. The Parker Librarian, Christopher de Hamel, will remain in charge of this precious manuscript throughout the ceremony.

St Augustine's Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

St Augustine’s Gospels viewed via the Parker Library on the web

But why is a Corpus manuscript featuring in our Old Library blog and what its connection to Trinity Hall?

The answer lies in one of our own most precious manuscripts Thomas Elmham Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini (Trinity Hall, Cambridge, MS1) created in about 1410-1413. On one leaf of Thomas of Elmham’s history is a remarkable early plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey. It is finely drawn in red, blue and black and features the chapels of the East end, various reliquaries, the high altar and the altar screen.

Plan of the East end of St Augustine's Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

Plan of the East end of St Augustine’s Abbey (Trinity Hall Cambridge MS.1)

“At the top of the screen are six books identified by a small inscription as the books sent from Pope Gregory (the Great) to Augustine”. The entry in the Cambridge Illuminations exhibition catalogue continues, “It is intrinsically probable that they included the St Augustine’s Gospels.” Thus our manuscript contains the earliest depiction of the Gospels used for the enthronement of the new Archbishop! As one of the holiest works in Britain it is more than likely that St Augustine’s Gospels were kept as an object of veneration with other sacred texts above the high altar of the Abbey.

The six books above the high altar of St Augustine's Abbey

The six holy books above the high altar of St Augustine’s Abbey

The Abbey was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries and remains a ruin today. The monastic library was dispersed and its manuscripts came onto the open market. Our manuscript was collected by the antiquarian and Catholic sympathizer, Robert Hare (d. 1611), who was a great donor not only to Trinity Hall but also to the University Library. Thomas Elmham’s Historiae Abbatiae S. Augustini came to us as a result of Hare’s friendship with Henry Harvey (Master of Trinity Hall 1559-1585) and has been a treasured by the College ever since.

Robert Hare's signature

Robert Hare’s signature

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be seen at the Parker Library on Maundy Thursday, 28 March, from 2-4pm (for further information see Easter at King’s on the Parker Library blog). Thomas of Elmham’s History of St Augustine’s Abbey can be seen in September during bookable tours of Trinity Hall’s Old Library organised by Open Cambridge 2013 and the Alumni Weekend.

References

Historia Monasterii S. Augustini cantuariensis / edited by Charles Hardwick (London, 1858)

The Cambridge illuminations: ten centuries of book production in the medieval West / edited by Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (London, 2005)

The St Augustine’s Gospels can be viewed at the Parker Library on the web

Parker Library blog

Open Cambridge

Cambridge Alumni Weekend 2013

Website of the Archbishop of Canterbury

Wikipedia for Justin Welby, Thomas of Elmham, St Augustine’s Abbey, and Henry Harvey

St Augustine’s Abbey is an English Heritage property and can be visited

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