January and Feasting

January in the middle ages was especially associated with feasting, and exchanging gifts on New Year’s and on Twelfth Night. In the c. 1400 Middle English poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the narrator refers to the nobles at Arthur’s court on January 1st exchanging gifts and playing games, including kissing games, perhaps, and something resembling handy-dandy prickly-prandy.

January saint’s days include the Feast of the Circumcision on the first, the Epiphany on the sixth, Saint Agnes on the twenty-first, and the Conversion of Saint Paul on the twenty-fifth, among other feats. Typically the calendar page will show the sign of Aquarius, the water-bearer in a border (at the top of the full size page of this folio) and/or of Janus, the two-faced deity associated with doors, and beginnings and endings of years. Books of Hours for January are very fond of feasting images, like this one from the Trés Riches Heures:

Trés Riches Heures Musée Condé MS. 65 f.

Trés Riches Heures Musée Condé MS. 65 f.91v

This particular feasting image might be set at New Years or the Feast of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. The seated gentleman on the right with the fancy hat and the blue and gold robe is the Duke himself. Behind him is a very large fireplace. Above the fireplace the red and blue banner features Jean de Berry’s heraldic devices—the swan and the fleur de lys. At the very top edge of the banner are two bears—a reference to the Duke’s beloved Ursula. Behind the dining scene is a large, expensive tapestry that seems to be showing a scene from the Trojan wars. The damask tablecloth and the large, ornate salt cellar in the shape of a ship are items that are listed in inventories of the Duke’s household possessions.

The two richly dressed in grey and green young men on the opposite site of the table appear to be his cupbearer and carver, respectively; these are squires or young courtiers, rather than servants. Notice the dog, a white hunting hound, begging (and receiving) food from a courtier. At the far right on the table, just at the edge, two kittens appear to be playing. In the back new guests are just entering, stretching their hands towards the fire, while they look at the guests.

Art historians have attempted to identify some of the figures besides the Duke. For instance, the gentleman to the Due’s right, with the tonsure and the reddish-purple robe is possibly the Duke’s close friend Martin Gouge, the Bishop of Chartres. In the crowd of people entering on the left, behind the table, is a fellow with a white or gray floppy cap. He’s behind a figure dressed in green with a large red hat. The person is the white hat is possibly the artist Paul de Limbourg. The same person is also featured in images in two other mss. that the Limbourgs created, the Petites Heures (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) and the Belles Heures (The Cloisters, New York).

January images from books of hours also favor images of people warming themselves by a fire. You’ll often see a lesser image in a border on a January calendar page of people playing winter sports—skating, or as in this image from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, playing ball. Del Kolve has written about Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale, featuring the marriage of ancient January to young and fertile May, noting the interesting calendrical echoes of images of January and of May in his Telling Images: Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative II.

XPI autem generatio: The Book of Kells and the Chi-Rho Page

Thanks to the lovely film The Secret of Kells, large numbers of people who have never taken an art history class or studied paleography now know about The Book Of Kells. For those who haven’t seen the film, go now and watch it.

Chi-Rho page of The Book of KellsThe Book of Kells is a medieval manuscript created by monastics in the ninth century, and presently resides in Trinity College Library, in Dublin. It’s a beautifully illuminated version of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) with the customary additions like the canon tables.

The real point of the Book of Kells is not so much the text, as it is the art work, and the embellishments applied to the calligraphic text. The most famous of the pages in Kells is the one at the top of this post; F. 34R (click it for a larger version). The page in the Book of Kells known as F.34R is based on the verse from Matthew 1:18 that in English in the 1611 version begins “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” This passage is often referred to as the second beginning of Matthew. The Latin text, the one used most often in medieval manuscripts, begins “XPI autem generatio . . .”

F. 34R is referred to as the Chi Rho page because it features the Greek letters Chi, Rho and Iota. The letters that look like XPI that form the primary page elements are respectively, the Chi, the Rho, and the Iota. These three letters are used as the abbreviated form of Christ’s name in Greek, and open that passage from Matthew in Latin. If you look closely at the image, you’ll see some of the “hidden” images that Kells is so famous for. There’s a cat with rats that seems to be playing with (or eating) a mass wafer. There are moths (symbols of rebirth and rejuvenation) and several winged figures. My favorite is the otter holding a fish (the otter is lying on his back; look for the fish he holds). If you look at the image of F. 34R, you can see the generatio at the bottom right.

 

Here’s another example of a Chi-Rho page, to the right. This one is from the Book of Lindisfarne, produced in England sometime between c. 715  and 720. The Book of Lindisfarne is in the British library now. It’s the beginning of the same verse in Matthew as the Kells Chi-Rho page. You can still see the Chi and the Rho, very clearly. You can click the image for a larger view, or see the entire incredible manuscript in a digital facsimile here; it uses the Silverlight plugin form Microsoft. There’s a collection of high quality images here.

The Cherry-Tree Carol

O then bespoke Mary,
so meek and so mild:
“Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
for I am with child.”

O then bespoke Joseph,
with words most unkind:
“Let him pluck thee a cherry
that brought thee with child.”

manuscript image of The Flight Into Egypt


Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Miniature of Virgin and Child [Flight into Egypt?], large initial on gold, linefiller, full border design. 1440–1460. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-e494-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

This carol appears to have first been collected in Britain in the seventeenth century. Francis James Child printed three versions, calling the song The Cherry-Tree Carol, and publishing it as Child Ballad 54. It was collected previously, and subsequently, in versions from all over the British isles, and from America’s Appalachia region, where Jean Ritchie popularized The Cherry Tree Carol, in a version memorialized by Joan Baez and others.

In 1992 the editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols (after James Child) described the carol as one of several “doubting Joseph” carols, including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man (Keyte and Parrott, eds. The New Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Carol #129, pp. 446-8).

The basic motifs include the context of the “flight into Egypt,” when Joseph and Mary fleeing Herod’s “massacre of the innocents” after an angel warns Joseph via a dream that Herod intends to kill all first born male children (Matthew 2:13), fruit miraculously appearing and offering itself to Mary, and Joseph’s repentance for casting doubt on Mary’s chastity (Joseph’s jealousy is referenced in Matthew 1:18 1:25).

The story is an old one, appearing in Chapter 20 of the Apocryphal Pseudo Matthew, written sometime in the ninth century, wherein the fleeing Joseph and Mary are in the Egyptian dessert, and Mary, hungry and thirsty, wishes she might consume some of the unreachable dates on the date palm.

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast.

And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle.

Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop.

Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.

Sometime in the fifteenth century in slightly revised form of the story appears in the anonymous cycle drama known as either Ludus Coventriae, or the N-Town Plays, depending on the edition and editor. Here, in Play 15, the Nativity, the Egyptian date has been transformed to the much more English fruit, the cherry, unseasonably bearing fruit in Winter. The cherry tree, at Mary’s request, bows down that she might pick and eat of its fruit.

MARIA A, my swete husbond, wolde ye telle to me
What tre is yon standynge upon yon hylle?
JOSEPH Forsothe, Mary, it is clepyd a chery tre.
In tyme of yere, ye myght fede yow theron youre fylle.
MARIA Turne ageyn, husbond, and beholde yon tre,
How that it blomyght now so swetly!
JOSEPH Cum on, Mary, that we worn at yon cyte,
Or ellys we may be blamyd, I telle yow lythly.
MARIA Now, my spowse, I pray yow to behold
How the cheryes growyn upon yon tre,
For to have therof ryght fayn I wold!
And it plesyd yow to labore so mech for me.
JOSEPH Youre desyre to fulfylle I shal assay, sekyrly.
Ow! To plucke yow of these cheries—it is a werk wylde
For the tre is so hygh, it wol not be lyghtly!
Therfore, lete hym pluk yow cheryes begatt yow with childe.
MARIA Now, good Lord I pray thee, graunt me this boun,
To have of these cheries and it be youre wylle.
Now I thank it, God—this tre bowyth to me down!
I may now gaderyn anowe and etyn my fylle.
JOSEPH Ow! I know weyl I have offendyd my God in Trinyte,
Spekyng to my spowse these unkynde wurdys,
For now I beleve wel it may non other be
But that my spowse beryght the Kyngys Son of Blys!
He help us now at oure nede.
Of the kynrede of Jesse, worthely were ye bore:
Kyngys and patryarkys gow beffore.
All these wurthy of youre kynred wore,
As clerkys in story rede.

There’s a strong association of miraculous cherries and the nativity in medieval English drama. In another of the cycle dramas, the Secunda Pastorum or Second Shepherd’s Play of the Wakefield master, the poor shepherds each provide a gift to the infant Christ. Coll, the eldest of the shepherds, brings the miraculously unseasonable fruit as his gift.

Hayll, yong child!
Hayll, maker, as I meyne,
Of a madyn so mylde!
Thou has waryd, I weyne
The warlo so wylde:
1030 The fals gyler of teyn,
Now goys he begylde.
Lo, he merys,
Lo, he laghys, my swetyng!
A wel fare metyng!
1035 I haue holden my hetyng;
Haue a bob of cherys.

Other shepherds offer the babe holly and a ball, instead of the myrrh, frankincense and gold of the Bible.

Last of all, we see the story transformed to the bare motifs of the miraculous fruit in the Middle English romance of Sir Cleges, seen here from Oxford MS Bodleian 6922 (Ashmole 61). Fols. 67b-73a, a northeast midland dialect ms. from the fifteenth century that also contains one of the versions of Sir Orfeo. This late Arthurian romance has nothing to do with Chretien de Troye’s Cliges, at all; it is rather the story of a knight whose generosity and lavish public feasts, especially at Christmas, have paupered him. Cleges is presented with a miraculous cherry tree, bearing fruit out of season in his garden, when he kneels and prays. His wife suggests that Cleges and his son take the cherries as a Christmastide gift to King Uther in Cardiff.

As he knelyd onne hys kne
Underneth a chery tre
Makyng hys praere,
He rawght a bowghe in hys hond
To ryse therby and upstond;
No lenger knelyd he ther.
When the bowghe was in hys hond,
Gren levys theron he fond
And ronde beryes in fere.
He seyd, “Dere God in Trinyte!
What maner beryes may this be
That grow this tyme of yere?
“I have not se this tyme of yere
That treys any fruyt schuld bere,
Als ferre as I have sought.”
He thought to tayst it yff he couthe:
One of them he put in hys mouthe;
Spare wold he nought.
After a chery it relesyd clene,
The best that ever he had sene
Seth he was man wrought.
A lytell bow he gan of slyfe,
And thought he wold schew it hys wyfe;
In hys hond he it brought.
“Lo, dame, here is a newylte:
In our garthyn upon a tre
I found it, sykerly.
I ame aferd it is tokenyng,
Because of our grete plenyng,
That more grevans is ny.”
His wyfe seyd, “It is tokenyng
Of more godnes that is comyng:
We schall have more plente.
Have we les or have we more,
Allwey thanke we God therfore;
It is the best, treulye.”
The lady seyd with gode cher,
“Late us fyll a panyer
Of the frute that God hath sente.
Tomorow when the dey do spryng
Ye schall to Cardyff to the Kyng,
Full feyre hym to presente.
Sych a gyft ye may hafe ther
That we schall the beter fare,
I tell you, verament.”
Syre Clegys grantyd sone therto:
“Tomorow to Cardyff I wyll go,
After your entent.”

Uther, having recognized Cleges as a knight he thought long dead, rewards Cleges and the knight’s son, thus ending their poverty.

You can, if you wish, find numerous versions of The Cherry-Tree Carol online, Jean Ritchie, Joan Baez, Sting, and the Anonymous 4. Here’s one of the many versions in full:

Joseph and Mary walked
through an orchard green,
Where was berries and cherries,
as thick as might be seen.

O then bespoke Mary,
so meek and so mild:
‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
for I am with child.’

O then bespoke Joseph,
with words most unkind:
‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
that brought thee with child.’

O then bespoke the babe,
within his mother’s womb:
‘Bow down then the tallest tree,
for my mother to have some.’

Then bowed down the highest tree
unto his mother’s hand;
Then she cried, See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command.

O then bespake Joseph:
‘I have done Mary wrong;
But cheer up, my dearest,
and be not cast down.’

More on the Faddan More Psalter

Image of the psalter in its leather wrap after conservation.I’ve written before about an 8th century Irish psalter on vellum found in an Irish peat bog near Riverstown in north Co Tipperary, in July of 2006. The psalter, both damaged and preserved by the tannic stew of the bog, Conservators, principally John Gillis, on loan to Ireland’s National Museum from Trinity College Library, have been working diligently to discover the best methods of conserving, preserving, and documenting the psalter for the last four years. In 2011, the psalter will be placed on permanent display in the National Museum of Ireland. In the meantime, you can read the preliminary report here, and some background here. In the process of conserving the ms. pieces of papyrus with coptic lettering were discovered in the psalter’s binding, a revolutionary and historic piece of evidence in terms of the connections between the early Irish church, the Coptic church of the Middle East.

The Panjab Digital Library

Via Peter Scott’s Library Blog, manuscript image from Panjab Digital LibraryI learned about the Panjab Digital Library, an open, free, public digitization project. You can see an online exhibit of some of their very high quality manuscript digitization. The PDL digitizes books and photographs as well as manuscripts, but you can see the manuscripts that are currently available here.The Panjab Digital Library‘s mission’s statement is:

to locate, digitize, preserve, collect and make accessible the accumulated wisdom of the Panjab region, without distinction as to script, language, religion, nationality, or other physical condition.

Reichenau MS. Fragements Digitized

The Benedictine monastery of Reichenau was founded in 724, and by the Carolingian era, was one of the most important scriptoria in Europe, with particularly strong ties to Ireland.

Baden State Library in Karlsruhe has released high-quality digital images of 224 fragments (some small pieces, other several folios) from the Reichenau library. The site is here. Notice that “fragment” is used very loosely; when you are navigating through the images, be aware that most of the fragments contain a number of images, of ms. pieces and entire folios.

Codex Sinaiticus Project Goes Live July 24, 2008

Folio 42v of Codex Sinaiticus

Codex Sinaiticus f. 42v

The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important mss. we have, and the oldest extant New Testament. The fourth century (c. 350) Greek ms. is over 1600 years old and contains the complete Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. The other central “complete” ms. bible is Codex Vaticanus, which varies in several ways from this carefully corrected ms. The Codex Sinaiticus has been in four sections for several hundred years. In 1844 a German Biblical scholar, Konstantin von Tischendorf, found several folios of the ms. at Saint Catherine’s Monastery by Mount Sinai. He brought part of the ms. to Leipzig University Library. Later he brought other sections to Russia. The Project, a collaborative work between the Russian National Library, the British Library and Saint Catherine’s Monastery, has digitized the entire ms. and will be placing high resolution images on the Internet starting July 24 here. You’ll note, if you look at the sample image aboveimage from the end of Jeremiah and the beginning of Lamentations, that the Codex was written before word spaces were used.

A Psalter in the Bog

A driver of a backhoe in Ireland’s midlands has discovered a small psalter. He was digging peat for use in commercial potting soil. The tannin in the peat preserved the image of the closed muddy psaltervellum, or specially prepared cow hide, used to make the medieval manuscript much as the Irish bogs preserve bodies for hundreds of years. Once the backhoe operator realized what he had found, he immediately covered the medieval psalm collection with moist peat, very cleverly preventing it from being destroyed by exposure to air. Bernard Meehan, the curator of manuscripts at Trinity College Library, Dublin (the eventual home of the psalter), said

Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800AD— but how soon after this date it was lost we may never know.

The psalter is bound in leather, with a fairly common style of thick wrap-around leather cover (often compared to a wallet) and contains about twenty large folios, with about 45 letters per line and a maximum of 40 lines per page. The actual ms. is now loose within the cover. When it was found, it was open to Psalm 83, in the Vulgate, or 84, in the modern numbering system (modern English Bibles follow the Masoretic or Hebrew numbering of the Psalms). In other words, it’s part of this:

In finem pro torcularibus filiis Core psalmus quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum concupiscit et defecit anima mea in atria Domini cor meum et caro mea exultavit in Deum vivum etenim passer invenit sibi; domum et turtur nidum sibi ubi ponat pullos suos altaria tua Domine virtutum rex meus et Deus meus beati qui habitant in domo tua in saecula saeculorum laudabunt te small image of a text pagediapsalma beatus vir cui est auxilium abs te ascensiones in corde suo disposuit in valle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit etenim benedictiones dabit legis dator ibunt de virtute in virtutem videbitur Deus deorum in Sion Domine Deus virtutum exaudi orationem meam auribus percipe Deus Iacob diapsalma protector noster aspice Deus et respice in faciem christi tui quia melior est dies una in atriis tuis super milia elegi abiectus esse in domo Dei mei magis quam habitare in tabernaculis peccatorum quia misericordiam et veritatem diligit; Deus gratiam et gloriam dabit Dominus non privabit bonis eos qui ambulant in innocentia Domine virtutum beatus vir qui sperat in te

News reports keep mentioning the Book of Kells, probably because it’s the most famous Irish manuscript; a better comparison would be the Cathach of St. Columba, R.I.A. MS 12 R 33, c. A.D. 560-630. This is not the same period as the bog find, but it’s a better match in terms of the type of ms. than Kells is. The text of the Psalms is in Latin, but there are glosses and rubrics in Old Irish, making this the earliest extant example of Irish (exclusive of ogham inscriptions). Kells is a huge book, containing the text of the Gospels, and extensively ornamented; not something to be used daily. Kells is and was an exhibition piece; this new find looks to be a working psalter.

UPDATE 8/5/2006: More fragments of the psalter have surfaced in the bog owned by Kevin and Patrick Leonard in Faddan More in north Tipperary. Pieces of the cover, and a leather bag used to carry and protect the book were also located. Some years previously a fine leather bag was located in the same bog, which perhaps lends credence to the current theory that the psalter was deliberately hidden by someone who intended to collect it later, some thousand or so years ago.

Gawain and Gough

In a 1990 seminar Derek Pearsall made a passing reference to the Gough Map, in a discussion of the journey Gawain makes across the realm of Logres, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

The Gough Map is the oldest surviving road map of Great Britain, dating from around 1360. It’s roughly oblong in shape, made of two pieces of vellem, and is half map and half sketch. Not much is known about its provenance; the map was given to the Bodleian library in 1809 by its owner, Richard Gough. The dating is based on the inks and materials used to make the map, and on the place names.

691. Now rideȝ þis renk þurȝ þe ryalme of Logres,
692. Sir Gauan, on Godeȝ halue, þaȝ hym no gomen þoȝt.
693. Oft leudleȝ alone he lengez on nyȝtez
694. Þer he fonde noȝt hym byfore þe fare þat he lyked.
695. Hade he no fere bot his fole bi fryþez and dounez,
696. Ne no gome bot God bi gate wyþ to karp,
697. Til þat he neȝed ful neghe into þe Norþe Walez.
698. Alle þe iles of Anglesay on lyft half he haldez,
699. And farez; ouer þe fordez by þe forlondez,
700. Ouer at þe Holy Hede, til he hade eft bonk
701. In þe wyldrenesse of Wyrale; wonde þer bot lyte
702. Þat auþer God oþer gome wyþ goud hert louied.
703. And ay he frayned, as he ferde, at frekez þat he met,
704. If þay hade herde any karp of a knyȝt grene,
705. In any grounde þeraboute, of þe grene chapel;
706. And al nykked hym wyþ nay, þat neuer in her lyue
707. Þay seȝe neuer no segge þat watz of suche hwez

Thanks to the exceedingly excellent S. Worthen, I know about the exceedingly excellent interactive version of the Gough map.

Technorati Tags:Gawain Gough

Beunans Ke Update

If Sara Zettle sent you, I’m especially pleased that I can tell you there’s more news about the medieval Cornish mystery play fragment rediscovered in 2000. Thanks to Alan Hawke, I can tell you that the National Library of Wales has added high quality digital images of both the Beunans Ke manuscript NLW MS 23849D and the Beunans Meriasek manuscript Peniarth 105B, to their Digital Mirror collection. Andrew Hawke adds that Michael Polkinhorn has provided a collaborative translation online here.