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Martyrdom of St Stephen, in the Stowe Breviary

Martyrdom of St Stephen, in the Stowe Breviary

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1325

Shelfmark: Stowe MS 12

Item number: f. 20v

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 day after Christmas (besides being Boxing Day) is St Stephen's Day. On this page, the first column has the prayers and hymns the clergy (or monks and nuns) would have read and sung on Christmas Day, with those for St Stephen's Day starting at the top of the second column, identified by the writing in red (rubric). The first letter of a kind of hymn called a responsory bears an abbreviated picture of the stoning of Stephen, who is dressed as a deacon. The striking head looking on from the border resembles some in another East Anglian manuscript.

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