A Decorated Letter and a Repair, 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. On the page presenting Chapter 39, 'the summary of masculine examples', the beginning of the section is indicated by a large first letter, decorated in red and green, in a simplified version of contemporary English manuscript art. Near the middle of the page, a rip in the vellum interrupts the precisely written lines. Perfect sheets of vellum, made from hides of calves, were few and far between, and dealing with holes and tears were all part of a day's work for a scribe. This rip originally had been sewn together, as can be seen from the needle holes on either side of it, and the scribe simply left a break in the line, writing around the stitched-up hole.