A Decorated Initial, In Aldhelm's 'De Virginitate'
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
The Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne, Aldhelm wrote 'About Virginity' ('De Virginitate') in two versions. He wrote the first about 705 in prose for Abbess Hildelith and the nuns of Barking. A few years later he produced a poetic version of the work. This manuscript presents the prose version and a copy of one of his letters. 'About Virginity' concerns purity as a Christian virtue. Aldhelm uses allegory to portray his subject, using elaborate images of the early Christian male and female virgin martyrs as warriors and athletes triumphing over evil. Aldhelm's style in Latin matches his elaborate images, full of obscure figures of speech and difficult grammar. Despite its difficulty, 'About Virginity' was copied in this manuscript at Winchester two centuries after he died. King Alfred the Great admired his writings, and it is possible that his admiration brought about this copy, following his program to revive learning.
The page's toiled-over look could be a result of many hours of hard study devoted to reading it, a history to which the many explanatory words (glosses), written in Latin between the lines, bear witness. The face in the large initial represents the artistic effort of a later reader.