Produced in England around 1255-1265, this theological miscellany contains a collection of textual materials for a preacher, perhaps the Dominican friar who is depicted kneeling before Christ on one of the manuscript’s pages (f. 27r; image no. 2). The volume includes a copy of the Summa de vitiis (Summary of the vices) by the Dominican friar Willelmus Peraldus, also known as William Perault (d. 1271). This highly elaborate and learned work features a two-page illustration that explains the main Christian virtues and vices.
A Christian knight on a horse, carrying the Shield of the Trinity, prepares for battle against the Seven Deadly Sins. The knight’s armour and attributes represent Christian virtues: for example, the shield represents Faith; the lance Perseverance; the sword the Word of God; the hauberk Charity; the saddlecloth Humility; and the spurs Discipline. The knight is aided by doves that represent the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit as he faces 69 demons, which embody the Seven Deadly Sins and their sub-vices (ff. 27v–28r; image no. 3).
Another text in the compilation, De Sex Alis Cherubim (On the Six Wings of the Cherub) by Alain de Lille (d. 1203) provided the preacher with materials to discuss confession. In this book, it is accompanied by a full-page illustration of a six-winged cherub (f. 28v; image no. 4), standing on the seven-headed dragon of the book of Revelation. The dragon’s lower wings demonstrate how the virtues of confession (truth, integrity, firmness, humility, and simplicity) and making amends (renunciation of sin, flow of tears, chastisement of the flesh, largess of alms, and devotion in prayer) can overcome evil.
The manuscript also contains a bestiary (a ‘book of beasts’) that provides Christian allegorical lessons based on the characteristics and habits of animals found in nature and legend. The bestiary explains that the dragon is the largest of all the serpents on Earth and that it lives in caves in Ethiopia and India (ff. 58v–59r; image no. 1). The most dangerous part of the dragon is its tail. It hides near the paths where elephants walk so that it can ambush them and strangle them with its tail. According to the text, this is a metaphor for the Devil, who binds people with sins, and leads them to the eternal damnation of Hell.
- Article by:
- Alixe Bovey
Men with dogs’ heads, creatures with giant feet, griffins, sirens and hellish demons can all be found in the illustrated pages of medieval manuscripts. Dr Alixe Bovey delves into the symbolic meaning of a variety of monsters to understand what they can teach us about life and belief in the Middle Ages.
- Article by:
- Victoria Symons
- Heroes and heroines, Myths, monsters and the imagination
Victoria Symons puzzles out the meaning of monsters in Beowulf, comparing the hero with Grendel, Grendel's mother and the dragon.