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Posts Tagged ‘Illumination’

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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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The Old Library has a collection of about 7,000 printed books, the most treasured of which have to be our 31 incunabula! These books, also known as incunables, were published at the dawn of European printing, during the period before the start of the sixteenth century.

We are delighted to announce that our project to create online catalogue records for the incunabula of Trinity Hall was completed by our specialist rare-books cataloguer, Allen Purvis, earlier this year. Online records for the books can be found using Cambridge University Library’s LibrarySearch and most of our holdings can also be found in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

Our incunabula cataloguing project has had the added benefit of shedding a fascinating light on our early collection!

William Mowse

Inscription of William Mowse

The inscriptions in the incunabula reveal that our early library was built up primarily by generous donation. William Mowse (Master 1552-52 and 1555-1559?) gave us fourteen incunabula, while Robert Hare of Gonville and Caius, who was a great benefactor of the University of Cambridge and friend of Henry Harvey (Master 1559-1585), gave us five incunabula. Unfortunately, we have no record of how the remaining twelve incunabula came into our collection.

Robert Hare

Inscription of Robert Hare

The subject of the majority of the incunabula is hardly a surprise for a College renowned for the study of law! Twenty one of the books deal with law, of which eleven concern canon law, nine cover Roman law and one is on feudal law. The other subjects covered include religion, the Catholic Church, history, classical drama and medicine.

Mowse, an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer, was responsible for the majority of the law books. However, his gift also included a book by Suetonius on the History of the Roman emperors (Venice, 1496). One of Mowse’s volumes has the distinction of being the fattest book on the library shelves! It is made up of eight books on canon law (five of which are incunabula) bound into one huge volume, with a spine measuring 15.8cm wide. It never fails to catch the eye of our visitors!

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The “fattest” book in the library! A collection of Consilia, works on canon law.

However, the true gems of early printing are the five incunabula from Robert Hare. Hare was an antiquarian with Catholic sympathies and the books he donated concern world history, religion and classical drama.

Woodcut image of Nuremberg

Woodcut image of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Through his generosity we have a magnificent hand-coloured copy of Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a copy of Werner Rolevinck’s “Fasciculus temporum” (Louvain, 1475), both of which deal with the history of the world.

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina (1472)

His incunabula on the subject of religion are Schoeffer’s “Biblia Latina” (Mainz, 1472), which is the earliest printed book in the Old Library, and Bernardino de Busti’s “Rosarium sermonum” (Hagenau, 1500). Hare also donated a copy of Terence’s dramas translated into French (Paris, 1500).

Twelve of our incunabula were printed in Venice, revealing the importance of the Venetian Republic as a centre of early printing. These are followed by four books from Pavia, three books from Milan and two books each from Strassburg and Lyons. We also have one incunable from the following cities: Basel, Cologne, Hagenau, Louvain, Mainz, Nuremberg, Paris and Siena.

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Illuminated first page of Fasciculus Temporum (1475)

While most of our incunabula look quite plain, a few are hand-coloured or hand-decorated. It is especially pleasing that three of our books from Robert Hare have been selected for inclusion in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Cambridge Illuminations research project on illuminated and hand-decorated incunabula.

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuermberg Chronicle

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuremberg Chronicle

A project like this always brings surprises and during the course of cataloguing we have discovered three legal incunabula that are not listed for Trinity Hall in ISTC!

References

Early printed books to the year 1500 in the Library of Trinity Hall Cambridge (Cambridge, 1909)

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/istc/

Wikipedia for biographies of Mowse, Hare and Harvey

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