The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 3

Jeff Berry uses the third of his four blog posts to examine the use of liturgical texts in bindings.


From the Archbishop Tobie Matthew
collection 1628, York Minster Library
Liturgical books were common in the middle ages, and were used in the various religious observances of the Catholic Church. The Protestant Reformation was contemporaneous with the rise of print, and the combination of the two meant that liturgical texts were excellent candidates for use in bindings in Protestant countries since their liturgical use was no longer required.

The photo to the right shows a lovely example, with alternating red and blue initials with beautiful pen-flourishing of the opposite colour. The fragmentary nature of the documents often makes dating them difficult, but with nearly a full page to work from, it is possible to put a rough date to this page; the script and decoration suggest that it was created in the late thirteenth century. The Minster collection has quite a few fragments which contain music to some extent.

Sometimes manuscripts were not just used in the binding, they were the entire binding. The book shown below has as its cover a vellum wrapper made from a thirteenth or fourteenth century commentary on the Psalms. The Psalms themselves are in red, with the commentary in black. Each line of the Psalm begins with a blue initial, and, interestingly enough, a red guide letter is visible inside the blue initial indicating that the blue was added at a later stage after all the black and red had already been completed. This was a usual practice, and uncompleted manuscripts with blank spaces for initials are not uncommon. This image shows Psalm 89, the end of verse 10, 'quoniam supervenit mansuetudo, et corripiemur,' and the first line of verse 11, 'Quis novit potestatem irae tuae.' The entire line is not visible in either case, and there are several abbreviations in use.

Held in theYork Minster Library, printed in Frankfurt 1579
All photography by Paul Shields.

The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 1
The Minster Library - Fragments of the Past: Part 2

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