A Glossed Page With A Decorated Letter, 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.
This page displays one of the many decorated letters which begin sections of text in this manuscript. The first letter 'h' is in lower case because of the style of the script. It is formed of an early 10th-century decorative feline with a crest arising from its head. Its body becomes only a braided tail, which flicks down to the lines below. Packed in between the lines of the text, explanatory words in Latin or Old English, mostly added in the later 10th century, were added to help the reader cope with Aldhelm's difficult prose. Some letters within the text may have been touched with red pigment, as a way of marking beginnings of sections of text, but often the red pigment which was made from oxidized lead, has decayed to a metallic grey colour.