Wednesday, May 15, 2024

An Illustrated Sacramentary of the Late 11th Century

Here is another interesting discovery from the endless treasure trove of one of my favorite websites, that of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. This sacramentary was made for the Benedictine abbey of Saint Winnoc, in a town called Bergues in the northernmost part of the modern state of France (less than six miles south of Dunkirk, where the famous evacuation took place in 1940.) It dates to 1078-83, the time of the fifth abbot, who had the unusual name of Manasses; unusual, because it is the Latin form of “Manasseh”, the worst among the wicked kings of Judah. The abbey was a dependency of that of St Bertin, about 19 miles to the south, which in turn drew its liturgical use from the principality of Liège; this is why the patron of Liège, St Lambert, is named in the Communicantes.

What makes this manuscript particularly noteworthy is that it is a rare example of a sacramentary with illustrations for the major liturgical feasts. Both the writing and the illustrations were done by two different hands, one of which is very much finer than the other. I have here included all the images, and a few samples of the text. 

At the beginning of the manuscript, after the calendar, is portrait of Christ, young and beardless, following an archaic motif which may have been copied from the sacramentary which served as the prototype for this one, or its parent.

The Preface dialogue
The beginning of the Preface, with Christ, again beardless, amid the symbols of the four Evangelists.
The beginning of the Canon.
The Agnus Dei, with the words of Psalm 84 in the border, “Truth has arisen from the earth, and justice has looked down from heaven.”

The prayers of the First and Second Sundays of Advent: the decorated letters shown here are typical of those of the first illustrator.

Christmas; again note the very archaic manner of showing Christ not as an infant, but as a figure intended to be a toddler, but too large even for that.
The second dream of St Joseph, which accompanies the vigil of the Epiphany, on which the Gospel is that of the Flight into Egypt, Matthew 2, 19-23. 
The Epiphany
The Presentation in the Temple.
Palm Sunday
The Ascension
Trinity Sunday, a feast which originated in Liège.
The first feast of the Sanctoral, Pope St Sylvester I, on December 31st; the feasts which occur during Advent are placed at the end. 
The blind St Paul being led to Ananias, on the feast of his Conversion.
The Chair of St Peter (February 22)
The Annunciation
The Birth of St John the Baptist, which gets a decorative letter, but no picture.
The Assumption of the Virgin

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