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St Matthew's Passion, in a Passionale

St Matthew's Passion, in a Passionale

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Arundel MS 91

Item number: f.2r

Length: 31.8

Width: 22.4

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

The daily round of prayers recited by monks (divine office) drew upon a number of different kinds of books: the psalter, Bible, hymnal, and collections of stories of saints' lives. The latter contained accounts of the deeds of the saints that marked them holy people. Excerpts from a saint's life might be read as part of the office on his or her feast day. This English martyrology or passional was made in the early 12th century for the monastery of St Augustine, Canterbury. Few contemporary English passionals have decorated initials (letters beginning a section of text), and this one has ingeniously designed decoration which may present a saint's story within the initial's interior. According to the passional from Canterbury, St Matthew was commemorated in October, and it gives an unusual version of his martyrdom. For some reason, Matthew's life after the dispersal of the apostles has several versions, so that he is martyred variously, by stoning, beheading, or burning. This one seems to mix his story up with the story of Jude and Simon. Here Matthew runs into the trouble-making duo, Zaroes and Arfaxat, magicians who operated the city of Nabdaber in a place called Ethiopia, which was not in Africa but somewhere south of the Caspian Sea, often referred to in medieval saints' lives as Persia. The historiated initial (letter bearing a picture) shows him being killed by sword before an altar as the evil King Eoglippus looks on.

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