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'I prepare myself to die' in The Desert of Religion

'I prepare myself to die' in The Desert of Religion

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.2r

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 book opens with a double-page picture illustrating verses from a poem, 'Vado mori' ('I prepare myself to die'). At top of the second page, the Trinity look down from heaven holding banners with rhyming verses in northern dialect. Rising from below, the crowned Virgin, displays her breast in a gesture emphasising her motherhood of Christ and her power to intercede on behalf on humans. Below, the soul of a dying man, shown as an infant, floats upward from his corpse, which is pierced by a skeleton (Death). The soul's plea for help emerges from its mouth and rises to the Virgin. An angel and a demon reach out for the soul.

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