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Night Prayers for Saints' Vigils and When to Say Alleluia, in the Rule of St Benedict

Night Prayers for Saints' Vigils and When to Say Alleluia, in the Rule of St Benedict

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1000

Shelfmark: Harley MS 5431

Item number: f.44r

Length: 22.8

Width: 8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Written in the 5th century by Benedict of Nursia, the Rule of St Benedict became the most widely accepted manual for religious communities in western Europe. It was written to guide communities of monks and nuns in a life of reasonable asceticism, establish a daily framework of prayer and outline spiritual goals. The early Anglo-Saxon monasteries were becoming familiar with Benedict's rule, but not until after the disruptions of the Viking invasions and subsequent reform of monasteries in the 10th century was it uniformly in place. This manuscript copy was made at St Augustine's, Canterbury, at the end of the 10th century when monasteries had begun to follow St Benedict. A chapter of his rule would have been read aloud from this manuscript each day after early morning prayers (called 'prime', at about 6 am). A good part of the rule is dedicated to laying out the particulars of the daily prayers, which included psalms, hymns and readings from the Bible and scriptural commentaries. On this page, some of the variables are explained. At the top, Chapter 14 tells how the night prayer service is to be organised for vigils of saints. This is followed by a chapter explaining when the joyful 'Alleluia' is to be said. It was not allowed at all in Lent but was prescribed for nearly all the sung parts of the prayers between Easter and Pentecost, its use decreasing for other times of the year. The beautiful large first letters of each chapter demonstrate the exceptional skill in drawing that is typical of late Anglo-Saxon manuscript decoration. Also the liveliness of the animal decoration, use of classically inspired plant-motifs and rhythmic, curving shapes of the letters with their inventive designs are good examples of the art style of the late 10th to early 11th centuries.

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