Cnut and Aelfgifu Present a Cross to the New Minster, in The Liber Vitae of New Minster and Hyde Abbey
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
The Liber Vitae ('Book of Life') of New Minster and Hyde Abbey contains a list of names of the members of the community and its associates and benefactors, living and dead, along with two unusual pictures, grants, historical accounts, material for church services, prayers and other devotional material. It is thought that Aelfwine, abbot 1031-1057, had the book made at the beginning of his abbacy and to commemorate the New Minster's associations with royal patrons. The name of the scribe, Aelfsige, a monk and priest who also wrote Aelfwine's prayerbook (British Library), appears on one of its pages. This manuscript is called the Liber Vitae because it was meant as a contribution to the Eternal Book of Life in which the names of the saved were believed to have been written. Every day, at one of the major church services held at Hyde Abbey, names were read aloud from the list at the high altar. In 1110 the New Minster moved from Winchester to Hyde.
King Cnut (1016-1035) and Queen Aelfgifu (also called Emma) gave a large jewelled golden cross to the New Minster. At the beginning of the Liber Vitae, a picture shows the royal couple's presentation of the cross at the high altar. Angels hold a veil over Aelfgifu, a crown over Cnut and gesture upwards toward a picture of Christ enthroned on a rainbow (as he was to appear at his Second Coming). The Virgin and St Peter flank him. Below the feet of the king and queen, members of the community look upward from arches, a reference to the powerful chain of rulers and saints, intercessors who pray on their behalf.