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An Eagle, in Gregory the Great's 'Moralia in Job'

An Eagle, in Gregory the Great's 'Moralia in Job'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1110

Shelfmark: Royal MS 6

Item number: f.142v

Length: 33.2

Width: 24

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Pope Gregory the Great (590 to 604) transformed church administration, refined the practices of monasteries and wrote some of the most important Biblical commentaries of the middle ages, notably his 'Moralia in Job'. This manuscript is Volume 2 of a two-volume copy of the 'Moralia'. Made early in the 12th century, it belonged to the Cathedral of St Andrew at Rochester. The cathedral, named for the monastery in Rome where Gregory had begun his career, was founded in the early 7th century by Augustine, the missionary--also a monk from St Andrew's, Rome--whom Gregory had sent to Britain to convert the Angles. The medieval popularity of the 'Moralia' was due to its theme of personal, interior spirituality: how does one forge within oneself a Christian soul? The Book of Job, too, tells a great story. In this manuscript, each section of the 'Moralia' begins with a large historiated initial (first letter bearing a picture). The initial P of Book 28 has a grand eagle with halo and book. The lower end of the letter becomes a humanoid head which breathes out puffs of cabbage-shaped leaves. It is difficult to explain why an eagle would be depicted here. Usually eagles like this represent St John the Evangelist, but the connection here is not obvious. In any case, the letter is a good example of Anglo-Norman Romanesque decoration, while the idea of an historiated initial probably originated in 8th-century Anglo-Saxon England.

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