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Showing posts from May, 2016

The History of the York Mystery Plays: part 1

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This year, from Thursday 26 May to Thursday 30 June, the York Mystery plays are being performed at York Minster for only the second time in their 700-year history. In the first of two posts, Ilka Heale highlights some books on the subject in the University Library.



The York Mystery Plays are a Middle English cycle of forty-eight plays or pageants that tell stories from the Bible from the Creation to the Last Judgement.

Also known as the York Corpus Christi Plays, these were traditionally performed in the City's streets on the feast day of Corpus Christi (a movable feast which occurs sometime between 23 May and 24 June). There's evidence that the Plays were performed in York from the 1300s for around 200 years before their suppression in 1569, and that they are one of only four virtually complete surviving English mystery play cycles.

The Plays continued after the Reformation, when in 1548 the feast of Corpus Christi was abolished in England. The plays were adapted to fit the n…

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 4

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In the final post in his Fragments series, Jeff Berry explains how appearances can be deceiving...

Oddities are not unique to binding fragments, but the lack of a larger context and the incidental damage inflicted by the binding process can make them seem particularly mysterious. Here is an example of such an oddity. Mirror writing, where the script is written backwards as if in a mirror, is a practice that shows up now and again in medieval works. The most famous example is that of Da Vinci, who used it from time to time. Even in his case, however, no one seems to be clear on what the point of the exercise was.

Sometimes with fragments there will be bits of ink that have been transferred from the manuscript to some other page or cover; this can resemble mirror writing, but it is usually fairly obvious what has happened in these cases. In the first fragment below, the paint from the coloured initials has stuck to the wooden board serving as a cover. Some paint remains on the original …

The Peter Lewis Gift Collection

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Hannah Hogan of the Department of History introduces the Peter Lewis Gift Collection


Historians of fifteenth-century France will no doubt be familiar with, if not partly indebted to, the work of Peter (Shervey) Lewis (1931-2014), the 'doyenne' of British historians of medieval France and a quintessential Oxford don.

Peter Lewis was a Fellow of All Souls from 1953 until his retirement in 1998, Fellow Librarian for The Codrington Library from 1982 to 1998, and an Emeritus Fellow until his death in 2014. A hugely respected scholar on both sides of the Channel, Lewis held memberships not only to the Royal Historical Society but also l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and the Société de l'Histoire de France. Lewis' research addressed the political and social history of France during the Late Middle Ages, particularly royal power and political institutions during the fifteenth century. His interests also included iconography, propaganda, and contemporary his…