This manuscript contains an incomplete book of chants (called tropes) for religious services, made in late 11th-century England by a scribe who may have been trained in the Low Countries. Unusually for an early English music book, it is illustrated with 11 painted illustrations. These images introduce songs which would have been added to the mass on special feast days and sung by a soloist. The text is accompanied by an early form of musical notation known as neumes.
This very fine book is likely to have been made for a specific patron. Its origin is debated, but it may have been made for Wulfstan II, Bishop of Worcester (r. 1062–1095), the last remaining Anglo-Saxon bishop after the Norman Conquest. Before he became a bishop, he was in charge of directing the cathedral’s music from the mid-1050s to 1062.
The high quality of this manuscript shows the value some people in mid-11th-century England placed on a new repertory fashioned to enhance and elucidate the older Gregorian chants of the Mass.
The 11th-century music book was later bound with a 12th-century musical manuscript and a copy of some Old English saints’ lives. Comparing and contrasting the 11th and 12th-century parts of this volume shows how much musical notation changed in the space of a century: by the 12th century, musical notes had changed shape and were written on four lines. This volume is sometimes called the Caligula Troper or the Cotton Troper, because it belonged to the book collector Sir Robert Cotton (b. 1571, d. 1631), who kept it in a book case near a bust of the Roman emperor Caligula.
This manuscript was digitised with the support of The Polonsky Foundation.
- Article by:
- Nicolas Bell
- Christian religion and belief
Music played a central role in Christian liturgy throughout the Middle Ages. Nicolas Bell describes the evidence for this music in manuscripts made before 1200.