Thursday, August 22, 2019

Liturgical Books at Christ Church, Oxford

Yesterday, the pilgrimage group of the Schola Sainte-Cécile visited the library of Christ Church, Oxford; among the items on display were a couple of particularly interesting liturgical books. The first is the only extant printed copy of the Antiphonary for the Divine Office according to the Use of Sarum, printed in Paris in 1519.

Christmas Eve (photo by Henri de Villiers)
The second, perhaps even more interesting from an historical point of view, is this late 15th century Epistolary, with letters in the classicizing style preferred by the Italian humanists, rather than the Fraktur types seen above. This is the Epistle for St Thomas of Canterbury; note that the words “sancti Thome Martyris” in the rubric have been partly effaced. After breaking with Rome, King Henry VIII ordered a complete damnatio memoriae of St Thomas; all churches and chapels titled to him had to be renamed for the Apostle Thomas, and every trace of his feast suppressed. In this case, as in many others, the effacement of the rubric was clearly not done in a very thorough way, since many people in England believed that the storm would eventually pass, and all things would be restored to their rightful place.

Christ Church was originally founded as Cardinal College in 1525 by Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of England. (The latter position was also once held by St Thomas of Canterbury.) This galero of his was stored for many years in the royal wardrobe, where it was found by Gilbert Burnet, the Anglican bishop of Salisbury, who gave it to his son, who gave it to his own housekeeper, who gave it to the butler of a countess, who gave it to his mistress, who gave it to the writer Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford. When items from Walpole’s estate were sold off, it was bought by a famous Shakespearean actor named Charles Kean (1811-68), who wore it when he played Cardinal Wolsey in Henry VIII. It was acquired by Christ Church in 1898.
Other items of religious interest: a very small Vulgate of the “Parisian” recension, a mass-produced (so to speak) edition made on cheaper paper and written in a very small and highly abbreviated script for the use of students at the Sorbonne and the other great medieval universities (13th century. The braided rope is used so that people can keep the book open without touching it, since there is always oil on the fingers, which is very bad for paper and parchment.)

 A somewhat nicer and much larger edition of the Bible, also 13th century, but in English.
A Greek New Testament of the 11th-century
A French translation of the letters of St Paul, 13th century; the beginning of the Epistle to Titus, with a very nice decorated initial.
The beginning of the Epistle to Philemon.
 Choir scores for six voices, 16th century.
One of the sections of the library particularly dedicated to religious subjects.
A device that shows the revolutions of the various bodies of the solar system according to the Ptolemaic system.

 A celestial globe of the later 18th century, and the companion terrestrial globe.
A presentation on the history of the Christ Church Library by one of the librarians.

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