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Exaltation of the Cross, in the Stowe Breviary

Exaltation of the Cross, in the Stowe Breviary

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1325

Shelfmark: Stowe MS 12

Item number: f. 297v

Length: 29

Width: 17.4

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated Manuscript

Called the 'Stowe Breviary' because it was in the collection at Stowe House, this prayerbook may have belonged to a member of the clergy in the Diocese of Norwich. The exceptional quality of its handwriting and decoration suggest that the original owner was an important person. Two artists painted the pictures within letters (historiated initials) and another artist created the decoration. Their work resembles other East Anglian art, showing the superb skills of the region's 14th-century scribes and artists. Several parts, however, are lost from it, and a section at the end was added later in the 14th century. It has the prayer services used in much of England after the Norman invasion (Sarum usage).

The breviary gives hymns, prayers and readings, along with instructions, for the prayer services called the 'divine office' which were said several times each day, and provided the material appropriate to feasts and saints' days. This page has the offices for the Exaltation of the Cross, celebrated on 14 September. Opening with an historiated initial showing a monk adoring Christ on the cross, the office commemorates the 'bringing to light' of the true cross by St Helen. Prayers and texts to be read or sung are written in black, while instructions, for example, for ceremonies and selection of responses to hymns, are in red.

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