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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Old Easter Celebrations

The British Library, London has a large collection of old illuminated manuscripts. Many are works with a Christian purpose or connection

The website (above) is fascinating to explore.

Below are four "highlights" all with an Easter theme. The commentaries are the commentaries on the relevant page on the website.



Music For Easter Day, In The Crowland Gradual
Date; 13th century, c.1225-50
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 21.5x14 centimetres
Shelfmark; Egerton MS 3759, f.29r
British Library, London


"The origins of Crowland Abbey date back to the year 699, when St. Guthlac chose the island of Crowland, in the Fens, as the site for his hermitage. In 716, two years after his death, a church was founded on the site. It was burned down by Vikings in 870; rebuilt; burned down again in 1091; rebuilt; destroyed by an earthquake in 1118; rebuilt; and burned down again in 1143.

It fared better in the 13th century, when this manuscript was made. This initial 'R' marks the start of the music for Christ's Resurrection on Easter day: 'Resurrexi . . .' "


Easter Poem In The Works Of Sedulius
Date; Mid 12th century
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 20.8x15 centimetres
Shelfmark; Burney MS 246, f.3v
British Library, London


"Sedulius was a 5th-century Christian poet.

His main work, included in this manuscript, is called the Easter Poem, which is divided into five parts, the first of which contains a summary of the Old Testament, and the other four contains a summary of the New Testament.

This manuscript is part of what was once a much larger volume (a former owner separate the parts by different authors) which contains an ownership inscription of the Cistercian Abbey of Thame, between Aylesbury and Wallingford, in Oxfordshire.

This page has the start of the Easter Poem, introduced by a simply ornamented green initial P.

There is an extensive series of glosses between the lines and in the outer margin. "


Resurrection of Christ, by Hermann Scheere, in a Book of offices
Date; 1405-1410
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 22.6x14.2 centimetres
Shelfmark; Additional MS 16998, f.19v
British Library, London


"A book of offices (special prayers for each day) and other prayers, this manuscript was illuminated by Hermann Scheere and one or more unknown painters.

Scheere may have been German, but his style suggests that his artistic background was Flemish. Certain features of its decoration reveal his continental origins and suggest that he decorated this book soon after arriving in England. It presents several unique or early examples of subject matter and text.

Provided with a calendar, it includes prayers for feast days and ones special to certain saints, similar to a book of hours. It would have been used as a personal prayerbook.

The prayers for Easter are illustrated with a picture in a square frame within the column of text., a continental feature differing from the typical English presentation of such pictures within the first letter. It depicts Christ, his wounds clearly visible, stepping out of a sarcophagus in open air, the soldiers sleeping around it.

The picture emphasises his human body, to make the point that he is resurrecting and also to refer to the Eucharist. The connection between the two would have been a point for contemplation.

The text is the introit or introductory processional hymn of Easter Sunday."

Blessings For Easter Day, In The 'Anderson' Pontifical
Date; Late 10th or early 11th century
Language; Latin
Medium; Ink and pigments on vellum, 30.1x23.1 centimetres
Shelfmark; Additional MS 57337, f.121r
British Library, London


"A pontifical is a book of the church services conducted by a bishop, such as the ordination of a priest and the dedication of a church.

This pontifical from Anglo-Saxon England was discovered in 1970 in the stables at Brodie Castle, in Forres, Scotland. It is called the 'Anderson Pontifical' after Hugh Anderson, minister of the parish of Drainie, Morayshire, in the early 18th century, whose name is inscribed with date in the book.

No one knows how the ancient service book got from its place of origin, probably Canterbury or Winchester, to Scotland, but it is possible that it may have arrived in the Middle Ages, before the 13th century when Drainie was the seat of the bishops of Moray.

During services at a cathedral on important feast days, such as Christmas and Easter, the bishop would say a special benedictional prayer.

This is the blessing for Easter Sunday, identified by the title in red capital letters in the middle of the page. The blessings tend to be formulaic, beginning with conventional openings ('Benedicat vos...', 'Bless us...') and proceeding through a series of prayers focusing on the significance of the feast, each responded to with 'Amen' or other set responses, which are noted in red letters in this manuscript. "