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Richard the Hermit (Richard Rolle), in 'The Desert of Religion'

Richard the Hermit (Richard Rolle), in 'The Desert of Religion'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.8v

Length: 25.1

Width: 19.5

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. Next to a column of verse on a 'tree of great wickedness', a picture of Richard the Hermit (Richard Rolle) shows him sitting in the forest holding an open book on his lap and gesturing toward the golden letters 'ihc' (abbreviation of Jesus, called a 'sacred name') on his chest. Above, three angels emerge from blue clouds and hold an open scroll, which is inscribed with further verses. The saints and other figures depicted in the half-page illustrations usually are monks or nuns, a feature taken to connect the book with a religious community rather than to lay ownership.

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