St Guthlac, In A Passionale
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
A passionale was a book of stories of martyrs which was read from during the early morning prayer services of canons, monks and nuns. Each reading would be followed by short sung verses. From Christ Church cathedral, Canterbury, this passionale has beautifully decorated letters beginning each story. The decoration served a purpose--to mark the beginning of each section for reading. In this book, the style of the decoration looks forward to later art of the period called Romanesque.
During the 7th and early centuries, important regional saints of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms emerged. In late 7th-century Mercia, St Guthlac, a remorseful young nobleman, entered the monastery at Repton and discovered the ascetism of the early Christian desert father, St Anthony. With two companions, he exiled himself into the 'desert' of the Lincolnshire fens at Croyland and became the friend of Penda's nephew, Aethelbald, who stayed at the hermitage. As he was dying in 714, Guthlac prophesied that Aethelbald would become king. Felix, an otherwise anonymous monk, wrote the 'Life of Guthlac', dedicating it to King Aethlbald. His 'Life' begins with a richly decorated large initial with over-sized flower and plant forms that gain a place in fully developed Romanesque ornament.