St Ambrose, in 'About the Mysteries'
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
The library of the priory of St Andrew at Rochester cathedral held an impressive array of books. This 12th-century manuscript had commentaries on the sacraments and the letters of Ivo, bishop of Chartres. Probably it would have been useful for composing sermons as well as for theological and legal studies.
An address to the newly baptised, 'About the Mysteries or to the Initiates' by Ambrose, bishop of Milan (374-97), concerns the church's sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation and eucharist. Its first letter is decorated with a portrait of Ambrose, shown as a 12th-century bishop. He wears the skull-cap and pallium inscribed with crosses and holds the bishop's crosier and an open book. The beast head which is conventional decoration in 12th-century manuscripts doubles as the beast, sign of defeated death and evil, often depicted beneath the bishop's feet. In the lower margin, an inscription identifies the manuscript as property of the 'cloister of Rochester through the monk Andrew.'