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The Betrayal, in the 'Book of Nunnaminster'

The Betrayal, in the 'Book of Nunnaminster'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 820

Shelfmark: Harley MS 2965

Item number: f.11r

Length: 21.4

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.

The accounts of the Passion of Christ as told in each of the gospels are excerpted in the Book of Nunnaminster. This page presents the beginning of the story in John 18, which tells of Judas' betrayal. The passion texts were assembled in the book for the reader to contemplate as an act of personal devotion. The first letter is one of the most elaborate in the book, but still its design and colouring are modest by the standards of decoration in the great gospel books, such as the Book of Kells. The animal and interlace decorating it are typical of the style of late 8th- and early 9th-century manuscript decoration in Mercia. The book's elegant script hints at the importance of its owner, but its small-scale decoration tells of its role an aid to personal prayer.

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