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Cyprian's 'Letter to Donatus'

Cyprian's 'Letter to Donatus'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1150

Shelfmark: Arundel MS 217

Item number: f.28v

Length: 24.5

Width: 15.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Books of all types on the Bible and theology were important to the monks of the Middle Ages. This manuscript, which belonged to the Cistercian abbey at Fountains in Yorkshire, contains a collection of the works of the Early Christian writer Cyprian. It would have been a scholar's book, read as part of the daily programme of Bible study. Images would not have been necessary, especially for the Cistercians, an order which had no objections to beauty but shunned elaborate decoration as distraction. Cyprian's 'Letter to Donatus' was not an actual letter but a monologue written as if Cyprian were sitting in his garden talking to a learned friend. It concerns divine grace and its powers to improve humans. Cyprian could write in a forceful, direct style but here pulls out all the stops to write in a fashionable style of eloquence, speaking of Roman frivolities and Christian seriousness. The note in the left margin points it out as a model of writing cited by Augustine.

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