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Letter of Aldhelm to Heahfrith

Letter of Aldhelm to Heahfrith

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 995

Shelfmark: Royal MS 6

Item number: f.5r

Length: 28.2

Width: 15.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne (died 709), wrote a treatise 'On Virginity' for the nuns of Barking and their abbess, Hildelith. This manuscript contains a copy of the treatise along with some other material. Aldhelm even today is notorious for his difficult writing style. This and most other manuscripts of his works have glosses or explanatory words written between the lines and in the margins. Most of the glosses in this late 10th-century manuscript are in Latin but also some were added in Old English by the first decades of the 11th century.

The letters of Aldhelm provide some interesting comments about his times. In this letter to a certain Heahfrith--possibly one of his pupils who just returned from his studies in Ireland--Aldhelm promotes English education over Irish. The glosses can be seen between the lines and in the margins. The interlinear glosses tend to address single words: Aldhelm loved obscure vocabulary and complicated figures of speech. The initial 'D' of the letter is formed of imaginary bird and beast heads which sprout from a pattern of vine stems and leaves. The style of tinted, drawn decoration can be seen in other late 10th- to early 11th-century Anglo-Saxon manuscripts.

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