Tuesday, June 01, 2021

A 15th Century Illustrated Gospel Book

The illustration for this past Sunday’s post on the feast of the Holy Trinity was taken from a Gospel lectionary for major feasts produced in the area of Konstanz in southern Germany ca. 1470/80. In 1658, it was given as a gift to the abbot of San Gallen in Switzerland, and is still kept to this day in the abbey’s famous library, which is also home to many of the most important surviving chant manuscripts. There are a total of 17 illustrations placed before the Gospels of the various feasts, the work of at least two different artists, plus images of the symbols of the four Evangelists. These are very finely detailed, but the illuminated letters at the beginnings of the Gospel readings are mostly very simple, and there are marginal decorations on only a few pages. The complete manuscripts can be seen at the following link: https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/thumbs/csg/0368/ (Codex Sangallensis 368; all images CC BY-NC 4.0).

The angel representing St Matthew.
The beginning of his Gospel.
The lion of St Mark
The bull of St Luke
The eagle of St John
Christmas; the star and the angels are very cleverly placed breaking into the frame from outside, to represent the irruption of the heavenly into the earth.
The Ascension, with the words of the Introit of the feast on the banderoles held by the angels.
Pentecost; in the red squares in the corners of the border are written the opening words of the Introit of the feast (upper left), of the Introit of Pentecost Monday (upper right), of the Alleluja sung each day of the octave, “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (lower left), and a line from the Sequence (lower right.)
Trinity Sunday, with the symbols of the four evangelists in the four corners of the border. By the later 15th century, it was the standard convention to place Matthew and John, who were among the Twelve Apostles, higher than Mark and Luke, who were not. 
Corpus Christi, the last major feast of the temporal cycle. In the upper corners of the border are the kings Solomon and David, whose writings (Proverbs and Psalms) have such a prominent place in the liturgy; in the lower corners, St John the Baptist, pointing to the Host in the monstrance to show that It is the Lamb of God, and St John the Evangelist, whose Gospel (6, 56-59 is read on the feast.
The Purification
St Benedict; although the original provenance of the manuscript is unknown, this image indicates that it was produced for a Benedictine abbey or a dependency thereof.
The Annunciation, with the words “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with Thee” on the angel’s banderole, and “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me” on Our Lady’s.
Ss Peter and Paul. (The Gospel of the Nativity of St John the Baptist is included in the manuscript right before this, but has no illustration of its own.)
The Visitation, still a relatively new feast when this manuscript was made. 
The Assumption
The Nativity of the Virgin, introduced, quite untypically for this feast, by an image of the Virgin as the woman clothed with the sun in Apocalypse 12.
All Saints, with the Virgin and the Baptist in the foreground, kneeling before the Three Persons of the Trinity, and a group of other Saints in the background.
The dedication of a church, with the external lustration of the building.
The final illustration is this image of the Last Supper, which we would normally expect to find right before Easter on Holy Thursday. In this case, it introduces a reading which various liturgical books (e.g. those of the Dominican Use) call the “Sermo Dominicus – the Lord’s discourse”, St John’s account of the Last Supper in chapters 13-17 of his Gospel. In medieval religious houses of various kinds, it was a common custom to repeat the beginning of this account, 13, 1-15, from the Mass of the Last Supper, then perform the Mandatum. After this was done, a reader would continue with the rest of chapter 13 and all of chapter 14, which ends with the words “Arise, let us go hence;” at this, the community would repair to the chapter house, where the remaining chapters (15-17) were read. This bridges the Gospel of the Lord’s Supper with the account of the Passion read at the Mass of the Presanctified, the whole of John 18 and 19.
The beginning of the Sermo Dominicus, which in this particular case, does not include chapter 17.
The coat of arms of Gallus Alt (1610-87), Prince-Abbot of San Gallen from 1654 until his death.
The coat of arms of Fidel von Thurn, the abbey’s marshall-at-arms, who gave the manuscript to the abbot.

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