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Spiritual Battles, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Spiritual Battles, in 'The Desert of Religion'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1425

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Faustina B VI, vol. II

Item number: f.19r

Length: 25.3

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 thick trunk and sturdy branches of this tree may indicate the strength or prowess needed to withstand the onslaught of vice. This is the tree of spiritual battle, according to the caption below, 'The root of this tree that here springs, in ghastly battle the banner brings.' Each of its large, frilly-edged leaves bears verses beginning, 'Battle of,' such as 'Battle of the flesh.'

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