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The Passion as Told in the Gospel of Luke, in the 'Book of Nunnaminster'

The Passion as Told in the Gospel of Luke, in the 'Book of Nunnaminster'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 820

Shelfmark: Harley MS 2965

Item number: f.4v

Length: 21.3

Width: 16

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

This prayerbook's small size speaks of its function as a personal devotional aid. Like other contemporary prayerbooks created in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia during the late 8th and early 9th centuries, it is made up of gospel extracts and prayers which centre on a theme, in this case the life of Christ. It resembles other books associated with Worcester, but inscriptions in the back of the book reveal that by the late 9th century it had travelled to the nunnery at Winchester (Nunnaminster). Not surprisingly feminine word endings suggest that at least one of its owners was a woman. It may have been given by Ealhswith, wife of Alfred the Great, whose name appears in the inscriptions, but this theory is unproved.

This page begins the Passion of Christ as told in Luke 24, and is one of four passion texts taken from each gospel. The reader would meditate upon the sufferings of Christ and identify with them as part of personal devotion, a practice having a very long history in Christian prayer. The first letter is enlarged but simply decorated with spirals and interlace that represent one of several early 9th-century versions of 'Celtic' art.

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