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Zoomorphic Initial, In St. Aldhelm's Treatise 'In Praise Of Virginity'

Zoomorphic Initial, In St. Aldhelm's Treatise 'In Praise Of Virginity'

Medium: Ink on vellum

Date: 900

Shelfmark: Royal MS 5 F.iii

Item number: f.32v

Length: 24

Width: 17

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

St. Aldhelm (c.639-709), abbot of Malmesbury and bishop of Sherborne, has been described as 'the first Englishman who cultivated classical learning with any success'. He led a particularly austere life: it is recorded that when he was abbot he used to recite the entire Psalter standing up to his neck in ice-cold water. His main surviving work is 'In Praise Of Virginity', which he dedicated to the abbess and nuns of Barking. This manuscript of the text was in the library at Worcester Cathedral by the 17th century, and had probably been there since the early Middle Ages.

A fairly common motif in medieval art is an animal (or human) head, with foliage emerging from the mouth. Here the vertical shaft of the letter 'T' is formed of a dragon-like create with a lion-like head, and the cross-bar is formed of a part-plant, part-animal serpent.

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