Description

Made between 1225 and 1230, this manuscript is believed to be the earliest illustrated English mortuary roll. It was created to commemorate the death of the first prioress of the Benedictine nunnery of Castle Hedingham in Essex. The prioress is only identified as Lucy, but she was probably a noblewoman connected to the de Vere family, as Aubrey de Vere (d. 1194), 1st Earl of Oxford, founded the nunnery in 1191.

The text begins with a letter written by Agnes, Prioress of Hedingham, asking for prayers for the soul of her predecessor. This is followed by the written responses of some 122 religious houses in the southern half of England, to whom the roll was sent. The length of time it took for the roll to circulate around these institutions and return to Hedingham is unknown and may have been several years.  Agnes’ letter is illustrated with three framed scenes: at the top, the Crucifixion alongside the seated Virgin and Child; in the middle, two angels carrying Lucy’s soul up to Heaven; at the bottom, Lucy’s funeral, with her body lying in a bier, surrounded by priests, clerics, and nuns.

A note on the back of the roll by the archivist and collector Thomas Astle (d. 1803) states that it was in the possession of the de Vere family until the beginning of the 18th century. The manuscript now exists in two parts (Egerton MS 2849/1 and Egerton MS 2849/2), which are stored separately.

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