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Purification of the Virgin Mary, in the Stowe Breviary

Purification of the Virgin Mary, in the Stowe Breviary

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1325

Shelfmark: Stowe MS 12

Item number: f. 242v

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 feast days. The Purification of the Virgin (Luke 2:22-32) or Candlemass commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple to the priest Simeon, shown here in the historiated initial showing the Virgin holding him out to Simeon. Behind them, Joseph holds a basket with an offering of doves and a large candle--a reference to the medieval practice of passing out candles to the congregation. This signified the presentation of the light to the world, as in the canticle of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32), sung on that day.

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