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The Naming of St John the Baptist, in the Caligula Troper

The Naming of St John the Baptist, in the Caligula Troper

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1060

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV

Item number: f.20v

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 feast of John the Baptist begins with a depiction of his naming, a subject known in a few other Anglo-Saxon works and one appropriate to a troper because of its reference to the voice. Elizabeth, whose neighbours believe the child should be named for his father, holds her gold-swathed infant and insistently raises her index finger in speech. Zacharias, her husband who had been struck mute because of his disbelief at his aged wife's pregnancy, asserts her wish by writing in Latin on a wax tablet, "His name is John."

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