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Secret Letters and Swords, in a Mystery Play, 'Infantia Salvatoris'

Secret Letters and Swords, in a Mystery Play, 'Infantia Salvatoris'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1500

Shelfmark: Harley MS 2399

Item number: f.58r

Length: 20.6

Width: 16.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

The people of medieval Cornwall loved mystery plays. This manuscript from Bodmin has a copy of a mystery play called 'The Childhood of the Saviour'. Written in verse, it has been marked up with red brackets indicating dialogue as an aid to performers when reading it aloud. Its subject is slightly unusual in that most of the Cornish mystery plays were on the Passion of Christ or Resurrection. A variety of inscriptions and drawings have been added to the margins.

On this page, cryptic or secret letters have been inscribed. Probably they were meant to have some sort of talismanic or protective function, and the prick marks within them were probably had some relationship to that intention. The drawing of five interlocking swords probably also was meant as a talisman, or it could possibly have had some heraldic association. At the top of the margin, a reader or performer has written his name: "Thomas Wen [?] he that myowth."

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