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Freeing of the Slave Hwatu, In 'The Bodmin Gospels'

Freeing of the Slave Hwatu, In 'The Bodmin Gospels'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 900

Shelfmark: Additional MS 9381

Item number: f.133v

Length: 26

Width: 16

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

During the early period of Christianity in Britain, after the departure of the Romans and their legal system in the 5th century AD, the gospel book symbolised the ultimate authority of God and the church. A gospel book, especially in Celtic areas (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and western Britain) could be credited with the supernatural power of its church's founder saint. Displayed on altars and in processions, such a book had public and spiritual dimensions. All these factors made it a place to record legal actions, including manumission or the freeing of slaves. Probably made in Brittany, the 9th-century Bodmin Gospels, from St Petroc's Priory, Bodmin, Cornwall, is such a book. In the margin of this page presenting part of the list of gospel readings for each day's mass, a manumission was written in Old English probably about 1075-1100. It says that Alweald freed Hwatu 'for his soul' and calls the 'curse of God and St Petroc and all the saints of heaven' down upon anyone who violates the action. The supernatural power as well as the public authority of the gospelbook are enlisted to enforce and legitimise the manumission.

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