New Minster Liber vitae


The purpose of a 'Book of Life' (or 'Liber Vitae'), was to record the names of members and friends of monasteries or convents: the belief was that these names would also appear in the heavenly book opened on the Day of Judgement. Some lists from religious houses are neat and well-ordered, but this page – from the Liber Vitae of the New Minster, Winchester – has a distinctly cluttered appearance, with several different inks and scripts. It is evidently a ‘work in progress’, clearly conveying the dynamic role that this text played in the monastery’s daily life. There is a big social difference between the names in the centre, all classically Anglo-Saxon, and those in the left margin, where we see the impact of a post-Conquest society: Ricardus (Richard), Baldwin, Simon, Roger, William – all names associated with a new Norman social elite, and reflecting the cultural shift that was beginning to distance England from its Germanic past. Few of the Anglo-Saxon names are still in use today. They all had a meaning, outlined below, which was doubtless of great significance to the bearer.

Male names:

Æþelbald – noble and bold
Cenhelm – brave helmet
Dunstan – black stone
Ealdred – old advisor
Ethelred – noble counsel
Godric – power of God
Hroðgar – famous spear
Leofric – beloved ruler
Sigeweard – victory guard
Wulfgar – wolf spear 

Female names:

Ælfgifu – elf gift
Æþelthryth – noble strength
Branda – sword
Eadburga – rich fortress
Ealdgyð – old battle
Frideswide – peace strong
Geodgifu – gift of God
Hildred – battle counsel
Mildryth – gentle strength
Sunngifu – sun-gift

Full title:
New Minster Liber vitae
c 1031
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Stowe MS 944

Full catalogue details

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