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A Decorated Letter, in a Collection of Irish and Breton Law Books

A Decorated Letter, in a Collection of Irish and Breton Law Books

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 910

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Otho E XIII

Item number: f.2v

Length: 25.5

Width: 17.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Thought to have been compiled in the early 8th century, the 'Collectio Canonum Hibernensis' ('Irish Law Collection') represents one of the earliest efforts to organise all laws from foreign and native Christian authorities. This manuscript has a copy of it, along with other early legal writings: 'Book From the Law of Moses', letters of St Patrick, ancient Breton laws, 'Law of Adomnan'. Made in Brittany (early 10th century), it later belonged to St Augustine's, Canterbury. Its origin and later history tell part of the story of early medieval church law. Scholars think that Irish missionaries took the collection the Continent, where it became the basis of Carolingian church law collections. Manuscripts of the Irish collection, copied in northern France, went thence to Anglo-Saxon England. In 1731, it was severely damaged in the tragic fire at Ashburnham House.

Although damaged, part of a decorated letter can be seen, its ornament and colour vaguely resembling earlier Irish and Anglo-Saxon manuscript art but also clearly belonging to the Breton tradition. The handwriting style was developed in the late 8th and early 9th centuries at Tours. On this page, the agendas of early synods are summarised.

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