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St Stephen as a Deacon, in the Caligula Troper

St Stephen as a Deacon, in the Caligula Troper

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1060

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV

Item number: f.3v

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Made up of fragments from a late Anglo-Saxon liturgical chant book, the Caligula Troper's illuminations introduce songs which would be inserted into the mass on special feast days and sung by a soloist, hence the book's small scale. The pictures' geometric abstraction of form and use of vibrant colours embellished with gold give an opulence that speaks of manufacture for use by an important figure. It is named for its 17th-century position in a bookcase supporting a bust of Caligula in the Cotton rare books library. Its selection of tropes (songs) and where it was in the Middle Ages suggest origins at Winchester or Worcester.

The illumination for the feast of St Stephen refers to the book's liturgical use, depicting the saint who, as one of the original deacons, would have sung the chants of the mass. By the 11th century deacons still sang some of the most beautiful chants such as the Exultet (the blessing of the paschal candle). The white stole (maniple) in his left hand indicates his grade as deacon, and the book and smoking censer (thurible) symbolise his duties as lector and assistant at the sacraments. His red dalmatic symbolises the Eucharist and martyrdom, while the branch represents the palm of martyrdom or the rod of Aaron, a reference to priesthood.

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