The image for January (f.18v–19) features a snowy winter scene. In the background, a windmill works, and people are on the steps of a small church. Beyond the windmill and a church is a small figure on horseback and another kneeling in the snow. A man and a woman stand chatting in the path, near a bit of gate that looks very like a modern farm gate. In the foreground, inside a house with a smoking chimney and birds on the roof, a man stands at a small table, and a woman sits in a chair nursing a baby. You can just glimpse a bit of the fire, a winter convention in calendar pages. Outside the house a man in red stockings chops wood for kindling while a woman kneeling in the snow gathers the kindling in a sling-like bag looped across her shoulders. At the opposite end of the house you can see the attached byre with its cow. At the base of the page, several men are shown dragging another man on a sledge, an appropriate winter past time. The actual calendar page, on the right facing page, features a similar mirroring scene of men pulling a sledge, towards the left-hand scene.
“Angelus ad virginem” is a Medieval Latin carol celebrating the Annunciation by the angel Gabriel telling the Virgin that she would conceive and bear the Christ child. The Latin lyrics are (here’s a rough translation):
1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Tu porta coeli facta
2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
quae firma mente vovi?
‘Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Manebit in te pura
3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
4. Angelus disparuit
Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
Crucem, qua dedit ictum
5. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
Vita frui beta
Post hoc exsilium.
The carol appears to have been a popular one, preserved in several mss. It was so popular that in c. 1400 or so Chaucer alludes to it in Canterbury Tales, specifically, in “The Miller’s Tale,” where we are told that “hendy” Nicholas sings and accompanies himself on the psaltry:
And over all there lay a psaltery
Whereon he made an evening’s melody,
Playing so sweetly that the chamber rang;
And Angelus ad virginem he sang;
And after that he warbled the King’s Note:
Often in good voice was his merry throat.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins created a very loose translation that’s perhaps better read as a poem inspired by the Latin hymn) under the title “Gabriel, from Heaven’s King.”
In the British Library’s MS Arundel 248, a collection of various texts in several languages from the early 13th century, the Latin text and tune for “Angelus ad virginem” is immediately followed with a related song in Middle English. This kind of macaronic preservation of songs in multiple languages, side-by-side, is a not uncommon practice in medieval manuscripts, and given that the Church used Latin and scribes used English and or French, or German or Irish or . . . multilingual songbooks make a great deal of sense. The way this collection of folios are organized, with a brief crudely drawn staff for the tune, followed by the lyrics is very reminiscent of a modern musician’s cheat book.
Gabriel, fram heven-king
sent to þe maide sweete,
broute hir blisfúl tiding
and fair he gan hir greete:
5 “Heil be þu, ful of grace ari3t!
For Godes son, þis heven-li3t,
for mannes love
wil man bicome
10 fles of þee, maide bri3t,
mankén free for to make
of sen and devles mi3t.”
Mildëlich him gan andswere
þe milde maide þanne:
15 “Wichëwise sold ich bere
[a] child withute manne?”
þangel seid, “Ne dred tee nout:
þurw þoligast sal been iwrout
þis ilch þing
20 warof tiding
al mánken wurth ibout
þurw þine sweet childínge
and ut of pine ibrout.”
25 Wan þe maiden understood
and þangels wordes herde,
mildëlich with milde mood
to þangel hie andswerde:
“Ure lords þewe maid iwis
30 ich am, þat heer aboven is.
þat ich, sith his wil is,
35 [a] maid, withute lawe,
of moder have þe blis.”
Þangel went awei mid þan
al ut of hire si3te;
hire womb arise gan
40 þurw þoligastes mi3te.
In hir wes Crist bilok anon,
sooth God, sooth man in fles and bon,
and of hir fles
45 at time.
Warþurw us kam good won;
he bout us ut of pine
and let him for us slon.
Maiden-moder makëles,1)Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”
50 of moder ful ibunde,
bid for us him þat tee ches,
at wam þu grace funde,
þat he forgive us sen and wrake
and clene of evri gelt us make
55 and heven-blis
wan ur time is
us give, for þine sake,
him so heer for to serve
60 þat he us to him take.
The tune for the Middle English version is usually easily recognized as the Latin hymn. The same Latin text of “Angelus ad virginem” inspired a Basque Christmas carol “Birjina gaztettobat zegoen” collected by Charles Bordes.2)Archives de la tradition basque, 1895 Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) folklorist, novelist, and poet responsible for several hymns (including “Onward Christian Soldiers”) spent some time in the Basque region of Spain as a child, and translated the carol from Basque to English, in the process reducing the original 6 stanzas to 4.
1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
“All hail” said he “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
2. “For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.”
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!
4. Of her, Emanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!
This was one of my favorite childhood carols, familiar from a 1963 Time Life record, an album rich with Medieval carols, under the title “The Angel Gabriel.” It’s also been released as “Gabriel’s Message,” and “The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came.”
These are all available in contemporary recordings. “Angelus ad virginem” has been recorded by The Tallis Scholars on Christmas with the Tallis Scholars and by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers on the album Christus Natus Est. Anonymous 4 have recorded the Middle English version as Song: Gabriel, fram heven-king on their album On Yoolis Night — Medieval Carols & Motets. Sting on the album If On A Winter’s Night recorded the Basque derivative under the title “Gabriel’s Message.” There’s a video of Sting singing “Gabriel’s Message” here. I particularly favor Sting’s rendition because it’s both simple and complex in the way Medieval music often is, and he doesn’t sing in an artsy pseudo operatic tenor.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Makëles or “matchless” is a triple pun; she is without peer, without a mate, also used in the Middle English lyric “I Sing of a Maiden.”|
|2.||↑||Archives de la tradition basque, 1895|
The Da Costa Hours is in the collection of the Pierpont Morgan library. It, like the Golf Book hours in the British Library, was illuminated by Simon Bening (1483/84–1561); Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1515.
I’ve written about the May calendar image from the British Library’s Golf Book. It’s very similar in terms of motifs to this one. On the calendar page itself the Gemini twins are featured in the rondel at the base of the page. Just as in the Golf Book calendar page for May, Bening in the Da Costa Hours features a boat with greenery and musicians celebrating May 1 and the arrival of Spring.
Beyond the boaters (click for a larger image) you can see a castle, swans, and a group on horseback in the background. They too have been busy gathering the green boughs of May.
The 13th Century Book of Aneirin has been completely digitized and placed online. This is one of the four major Welsh mss. mostly known because it contains the text of Y Goddodin, an epic poem retelling the historic battle of Catraeth wherein 300 Men from Manaw Gododdin, near Edinburgh, fought the Saxons at Catraeth (modern day Catterick, North Yorkshire) around the year 600AD. Only three of the Britons survived the battle, one of whom, the poet Aneirin, commemorates the fallen.
This is the last of the Four Ancient Books of Wales to be digitized and made publicly available. The other three books are:
Recently in the British Library’s excellent Medieval Manuscripts blog a curator mentioned a post medieval colleague noticing a marginal illustration showing a knight engaging in combat with a snail. This is not a rare motif in medieval mss. The Medieval Manuscripts post covers the bibliography regarding the motif, including a blog post by Carl Pyrdum on What’s So Funny about Knights and Snails?
Various reasons for the popularity are proposed, but none are really convincing. I am therefore willing to propose another reason: Psalm 58. Here’s Psalm 58 in the Wycliffe translation. This is a psalm about divine vengeance, and the section I’m most interested in is this bit in verses 6–7:
6 God shall all-break the teeth of them in their mouth; the Lord shall break (al)together the great teeth of lions. (O God, break all the teeth in their mouths; O Lord, break all in pieces the great teeth of these lions.)
7 They shall come to nought, as water running away; he bent his bow, till they be made sick. (They shall come to nothing, like water running forth; and when they go to bend their bows, they shall be made feeble, or weak.)
8 As wax that floateth away, they shall be taken away; fire fell above, and they saw not the sun. (Like a snail that melteth away into slime, they shall be taken away; like a dead-born child, they shall not see the sun.)
I think the armored snail fighting the armored knight is a reminder of the inevitability of death; the knight, like the snail, will ultimately “melteth away into slime.”
Just because I can, here’s the sixteenth century metrical version of Psalm 58 from Sternhold and Hopkins. This particular version is the work of John Hopkins:
6 The teeth O Lord, which fast are set
in their mouth round about,
The lions’ teeth that are so great,
do thou, O Lord, break out.
7 Let them consume away and waste,
as water runs forth right;
The shafts that they do shoot in haste,
let them be broke in flight:8 As snails do waste within the shell,
and unto slime do run,
As one before his time that fell,
and never saw the sun.
I first discovered this version of Psalm 58 in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.
Last August the Getty Museum announced that it has made 4,600 pieces of art from the museum’s collection free to use. They’re focussing on “public domain” works of art, that means works that have endured beyond the limits of copy right, and users are free to use, modify, and publish these works for any purpose.
These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size. You can browse the images, or look for individual “download” links on the Getty Museum’s collection pages. Before the download actually begins, the Getty site asks simple questions about how you plan to use the images.
There’s a well-written Getty Open Content Program FAQ.
The Getty released images of many of its most famous works, including paintings like Vincent van Gogh’s Irises, but I’m especially excited by the medieval manuscripts (The Getty purchased the Ludwig collection, a huge collection of manuscripts rich in psalters and books of hours several years ago, and already had a solid collection, and they’ve added mss. since).
May day or the first of May is also known as Beltane, as I’ve noted before. I’ve written about both of my favorite May Books of Hours images from the Golf Book, and the Très Riche Heures, so here’s another lovely May image.
Here’s an image from a Book of Hours illuminated by Jean Poyer; the Hours of Henry VIII/The Prayer Book of Ann de Bretagne, from the collections of The Morgan Library. This is the calendar page for May, otherwise known as f. 3. The image below is from the top part of the folio, above the calendar proper.
Notice that it appears to be a courtship scene, entirely appropriate for May, and May day (they tend to favor courting and hawking scenes, often accompanied by greenery). They look as if they’ve been out “bringing in the May,” or “getting some green,” in the wee hours of May 1.
While we know the work is that of Jean Poyer, and that it was once owned by Ann de Bretagne, there’s an unproven eighteenth-century tradition that claims King Henry of England once owned this book of hours.
Mostly, I just like the Maying reference, and the little dog.
The British Library began the digital catalog in 1997. Currently the catalog provides a digital record of 4,231 different manuscript, and includes 35,661 images those manuscripts, with a searchable database. The images were scanned following the best digital practices, and include provenance, metadata, and in many cases, detailed images.
Technically these works are still in copyright in the UK until 2040, but given that they are anonymous and many centuries old, the Library has decided to provide the images on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts under a Public Domain Mark and treat them as public domain works, as would be the case in many other countries.
For more information, please see the library’s use and reuse policy for CIM. We ask that you maintain the library’s Public Domain tag, and provide a link or other credit back to the image’s source on the British Library’s site – help us share these riches even more widely with the world.
I’m absolutely delighted by this news. The British Library and its staff have made it extraordinarily simple to search for a particular MS. by name or shelf number. You can also search by Keyword or perform advanced searches related to specific characteristics of the manuscript or its illumination including MSS. or images from a given region or time period, or even of a particular subject matter.
I especially want to draw attention to The British Library’s requests regarding reuse of their digital manuscript images. These requests are in the best traditions of libraries and scholarship:
- Please respect the creators – ensure traditional cultural expressions and all ethical concerns in the use of the material are considered, and any information relating to the creator is clear and accurate. Please note, any adaptations made to an item should not be attributed to the original creator and should not be derogatory to the originating cultures or communities.
- Please credit the source of the material—providing a link back to the image on the British Library’s website will encourage others to explore and use the collections.
Please share knowledge where possible—please annotate, tag and share derivative works with others as well as the Library wherever possible.
- Support the Public Domain – users of public domain works are asked to support the efforts of the Library to care for, preserve, digitise and make public domain works available. This support could include monetary contributions or work in kind, particularly when the work is being used for commercial or other for-profit purposes.
- Please preserve all public domain marks and notices attached to the works – this will notify other users that the images are free from copyright restrictions and encourage greater use of the collection.
This is a fabulous resource and a great way to learn all sorts of things. I’ll be taking full advantage!
Thanks to a spectacular 9 million pounds fund-raising effort (the most successful in its history) the British Library has successfully acquired BL Additional MS 89000, better known as the St. Cuthbert Gospel.
Previously part of the library of Durham Cathedral, he Gospel is a copy of the Gospel of St John, and the earliest complete European book. St. Cuthbert’s Gospel created in the late 7th century in the north-east of England and placed in St Cuthbert’s coffin, c. 698. When the coffin was opened in Durham Cathedral in 1104 in order to remove Cuthbert’s body and install it to in new shrine, the manuscript was removed and kept in the cathedral library.
The beautiful maroon leather binding featuring twining branches and fruit is the original late seventh-century binding over boards, with flax thread.
You can read more about the St. Cuthbert’s Gospel on the British Library’s blog. The entire manuscript has been completely digitized and is available on the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. The BBC has video.
“It’s a great piece of luck, ma’am,” said Mrs Belfield, “that you should happen to come here, of a holiday! If my son had not been at home, I should have been ready to cry for a week: and you might come any day the year through but a Sunday, and not meet with him any more than if he had never a home to come to.”
“If Mr Belfield’s home-visits are so periodical,” said Cecilia, “it must be rather less, than more, difficult to meet with him.”
“Why you know, ma’am,” answered Mrs Belfield, “to-day is a red-letter day, so that’s the reason of it.”
“A red-letter day?”
“Good lack, madam, why have not you heard that my son is turned book- keeper?”Fanny Burney. Cecilia: Or, Memoirs of an Heiress.
“Red-letter day” is one of those expressions we use quite frequently without really thinking about its ancestry. Everyone knows that a “red letter day” is one that stands out as important, or “Memorably happy,” as the AHD puts it. Behind the idiom lies an actual medieval calendar tradition.
In the middle ages, the wealthy had expensive and often luxuriously illustrated prayer books known as books of hours. These personal prayer boks provided prayers and readings tied to the various times of days, and to particular feast days in the Catholic ecclesiastic calendar. The book of hours associated the feasts days, saint’s days, and other religious days in the church calendar with specific images, and prayers. Each month of the year was represented, with a list of the important dates, and, typically, an image of a seasonal agricultural or aristocratic practice (hawking in May, for instance, or harvesting nuts in November) and an illustration showing the zodiac sign for that month, for instance Gemini in May and Scorpio in November.
The illustration was either accompanied by or incorporated into a list of dates for the particular month. This list or calendar used color-coding to indicate the really important dates from the less important dates. The major religious feast days like Easter were in gold leaf; while the lesser but still important dates were in red— hence “red letter day.”
To the left of this paragraph I’ve linked to an image of a calendar page (click the image to enlarge it) from a book of hours in the Glasgow University Library Special Collections Department. This particular Book of Hours manuscript is known as the Glasgow Hours and was made in North-East France in about 1460. You can click the image for a larger version. The “red letter” days displayed on the calendar are the feasts of Saint Nicholas (December 6), the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8) and the feast of Saint Nicasius (December 14). The particular saints and feasts recorded on a calendar in a book of hours often help indicate where the manuscript was produced, and when, since there were particular saints favored more or less in different areas and times. The phrase “red-letter day” is first noted by the OED in 1704; the quotation from Burney’s novel in the opening of this post was published in 1782. In the context of the passage, I suspec that “red-letter day” is meant to suggest that not only is it “special,” but that it is special in particular for Mr. Belfield, who works as a book-keeper, because the day in question is a bank holiday, and thus a holiday for him.