Thursday, July 04, 2024

The 12th Century Missal of Limoges

Here is a beautiful thing I stumbled across in one of my favorite virtual libraries, the Bibliothèque nationale de France: a sacramentary produced in the 12th century for the cathedral of St Stephen in Limoges. (Département des manuscrits. Latin 9438) The current cathedral was begun in 1273, and so postdates the book. The manuscript contains 14 major illuminations (not full-page, although they will seem so here because of the way I have cropped the images), and a number of large illuminated letters. The decorations on this page are very typical of what is seen in the rest of the book. Following a very ancient arrangement, the first Mass of the year is that of the vigil of Christmas, and Advent is at the end of the liturgical year; note that the Mass also still has a proper preface.
The Nativity of Christ and the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, before the Day Mass of Christmas. Although the style is very far from the naturalism of the Renaissance, there is an elegance to the figures which is often seen in Gothic art, as opposed to the weirdly disproportionate figures so common in the Romanesque period. Here this is evidenced in things like the gesture of the Virgin Mary’s hand and those of the shepherds, and the drape of the cloth above Her.
Technically, a “sacramentary” is a book that includes only the priest’s parts of the Mass. However, the 12th century is the period when the “missal” properly so-called emerged, which includes the text of all the parts of the Mass. This particular book is transitional; the musical parts are very often indicated before the Masses, but not always, and only by their incipits, not the full text; the Scriptural readings are not indicated at all. (The website of the BnF calls it a missal in one place and a sacramentary in another.)
The stoning of St Stephen gets its own image, since he is the patron of the cathedral. The artist has made an admirable attempt at showing motion in the position of the figures casting the stones, which are hanging around in the air around Stephen.
The Baptism of Christ and the Miracle at Cana; note that in both cases, He is shown younger and beardless, perhaps an example of archaizing based on imitation of much older images.
The Presentation
Palm Sunday, with Christ sending the disciples to fetch the donkey and her colt in the upper part. The motif of people climbing a tree to get a better view of the Lord as He enters Jerusalem is a very ancient one, found on Christian sarcophagi already in the 4th century.
Before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Jesus gives Judas (who has not lost his halo just yet) the bread, and the washing of the feet.
In manuscripts of all places and periods, and in printed Missals before the Tridentine reform, it was very common to abbreviate the beginning of the preface with a stylized U or V and D (“Uere or Vere dignum”) joined together, usually with a small bar crossing through the shared upright stroke, as seen in the first and third images above. Here the illuminator has done something unusual in joining the first two letters of “Vere” in a similar fashion, and dedicating the whole image to just that one word.
The continuation of the preface, in adiastematic notation.
Two images of Christ before the Canon, in majesty...
and on the Cross,
followed by decorated stylizations of the words “Te”...
and “igitur.” (The rest of the Canon is written normally.)
The women at the tomb, before the Mass of Easter.
The Mass of Easter Sunday
The Ascension
The Mass of Pentecost.
A particularly nice illuminated letter for the Mass of the Finding of St Stephen.
The first of a series of votive Masses towards the end of the book, that of the Holy Trinity, which was not yet kept as a feast at Limoges when the book was made.

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