A Decorated Letter, in a Copy of 'About Virginity' by Aldhelm
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
The Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne, Aldhelm wrote 'About Virginity' ('De Virginitate') in two versions. He wrote the first about 705 in prose for Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking. A few years later he produced a poetic version of the work. This manuscript presents the prose version and a copy of one of his letters. 'About Virginity' concerns purity as a Christian virtue. Aldhelm created elaborate allegories in which early Christian male and female virgin martyrs appeared as warriors and athletes triumphing over evil. He wrote Latin in a notoriously difficult style, packed with obscure figures of speech and grammar. Despite this, 'About Virginity' was still being copied centuries later.
This copy belonged to the Cistercian Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Newminster, Northumberland. Chapter XX of 'De Virginitate' begins with a reference to (H)Elias, The first letter of his name is enlarged to create a framework of straight lines and curves up and down the page to emphasise visually the division where one chapter ends and another begins. The design, colours and decoration are based on contemporary styles of manuscript art, but the styles of handwriting--the capital letters of the first lines of the chapter and the smaller letters--are reminiscent of late Anglo-Saxon styles.