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A hermit prays in the forest, in 'The Desert of Religion'

A hermit prays in the forest, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.3r

Length: 25.5

Width: 20

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Allegory, or extensive use of symbolism in a moralising story, has a long tradition in Christian literature. 'The Desert of Religion', a poem in a northern English dialect, uses the symbol of a forest to expound the daily spiritual battle of virtue and vice. This copy has tinted half-page drawings of devotional figures with verses inscribed around them. Facing them, diagrams in the shape of trees bear the names of virtues and vices on their trunks and leaves, giving visual form to the poem's allegory. The book was made for a religious community, the location of which is now unknown. The 'Desert of Religion' verses are arranged in a column, and the picture with separate verses fills the other half of the page. Usually these are figures of saints. Here, an unidentified hermit saint prays in the 'desert', or forest, indicated by a tree on a small hill in the background. The fine drawing shows his face with a quiet expression and open eyes, gazing slightly upward toward a hovering angel who holds a large red shield bearing 'I H S' (an abbreviation of Jesus)

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