A Passionale f.46v
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
A passionale was a book of stories of martyrs which was read from during the early morning prayer services of canons, monks and nuns. Each reading would be followed by short sung verses. From Christ Church cathedral, Canterbury, this passionale has beautifully decorated letters beginning each story. The decoration served a purpose--to mark the beginning of each section for reading. In this book, the style of the decoration looks forward to later art of the period called Romanesque.
St Alphege was one of the most important saints of Christ Church because he had been martyred when archbishop of Canterbury, in 1012. He was taken hostage by a band of Danes, who had been ravaging the Anglo-Saxons, and refused to pay the huge ransom they asked. About 1080 during a time when the martyr's sanctity was disputed, archbishop Lanfranc commanded the monk Osbern to write the 'Life of Alphege'. Osbern told of his saintly life, beginning as an anchorite at Deerhurst, becoming abbot at Bath, bishop at Winchester and finally martyred while archbishop. His story begins with a richly decorated initial bearing an icon-like portrait of Alfege blessing and flanked by angels and with portraits in discs on its vertical element of Christ, angels and a bearded saint.