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The Wise Virgins, in the Caligula Troper

The Wise Virgins, in the Caligula Troper

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1060

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Caligula A XIV

Item number: f.36r

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.

A depiction of the wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) illustrates the mass for virgin saints or the Common of Virgins. In two groups of four, the virgins hold a torch and two lamps, evoking the parable, and branches, which may represent palms of martyrdom to indicate heavenly status. References to the parable of the wise and foolish virgins and the hand of God above urge readers to prepare for the Second Coming. Although related images of the 'choir of virgins' are known in medieval liturgical books, this is unique in its adaptation of the parable's imagery.

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