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St Augustine's 'Lead Seal', in a Collection of Saints' Lives

St Augustine's 'Lead Seal', in a Collection of Saints' Lives

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vespasian B XX

Item number: f.2r

Length: 24.2

Width: 14.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Once belonging to the monastery of St Augustine in Canterbury, this manuscript has a collection of saints' lives, all of them associated with Canterbury. Several of the lives are the work of the biographer Goscelin, a Flemish benedictine monk who came to England with Hermann, Bishop of Salisbury, probably in 1053. He went on the road to gather material from all over the kingdom, writing the lives of the English saints as he travelled, finally settling at Canterbury. This manuscript may have been copied within a decade of his death, at Canterbury, making it an important record of his work and evidence of the cults of saints there.

This page begins a copy of St Augustine's 'bulla plumbea'--so called because of its lead seal. It is a charter said to have been written by Augustine, England's apostle and first archbishop, giving the monastery certain privileges. The abbey of St Augustine's had high status as a monastery founded by Augustine, the missionary monk whom Pope Gregory the Great sent from Rome late in the 6th century. Nevertheless it had to assert its rights against the attempts of the powerful archbishops of Canterbury to control its affairs and charge fees. It has been suggested that this manuscript was meant to assert the monastery's status and power by promoting its founder and by circulating the 'bulla plumbea'. Use of the Britons' name for Canterbury, Dorobernia, was an attempt to give it the ring of autheticity. The manuscript's 16th-century owner, Robert Cotton, inscribed his name in the lower margin.

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