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A Decorated Letter, In Juvencus's Poetic Life of Christ

A Decorated Letter, In Juvencus's Poetic Life of Christ

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 950

Shelfmark: Royal MS 15 A.xvi

Item number: f.2v

Length: 21.2

Width: 13.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Containing mainly poems and treatises on verse, this manuscript is known to have belonged to the monastery of St Augustine, Canterbury, in the middle ages because of an inscription on one of its pages. Most of its pages were copied in the 9th century, almost certainly in France, but a short section in it was copied in England during the 10th and 11th centuries. The poems for the most part are religious, and the monks of St Augustine would have read the manuscript as part of their personal devotion. Those who wrote verse may have studied and imitated some of the works in it.

The poem beginning on this page is the work of "Juvencus, Spanish priest of very noble family", as the title, in capital letters at the top of the page, informs the reader. Writing in the time of Constantine, about 330, Juvencus transformed the gospels into a poetic life of Christ as a counter to the epics of the ancient poets Homer and Virgil. The handwriting on this page is in a style developed by Carolingian scribes in the 8th and 9th centuries. Foreign to Anglo-Saxon art, the curving leaf and flower patterns of the large first letter would be more at home in Charlemagne's empire. Between the lines of writing, Anglo-Saxon scribes added explanatory words (glosses) as aids to the reader.

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