The Sherborne Missal is the greatest surviving masterpiece of 15th-century English book production.
A missal is a book that contains the texts necessary, and sometimes the music, for celebrating Mass. This manuscript was made for (but not necessarily at) the Benedictine abbey of St Mary’s Abbey at Sherborne, Dorset. Here liturgical practices were slightly different from the rest of southern England.
It is the largest and most lavishly decorated English service book to have survived from the Middle Ages. The majority of manuscripts like this would have been destroyed after the Dissolution ordered by Henry VIII in the 16th century.
It is also unusual as, unlike in most medieval art, the patron, scribe and artist are identified and many portrait images of them appear throughout the manuscript. These include 12 portraits or images of the patron abbot Robert Bruyning, who appears on eight occasions with his religious superior the Bishop of Salisbury, Richard Mitford, the scribe John Whas, and the Dominican; seven of the main scribe, a monk called ‘John’ who, it is written, ‘laboured on the writing of his book, and his body was much debilitated by early rising’; and six portraits of the main illuminator John Siferwas., who was assisted by a team of at least four other artists.
The manuscript also includes 48 numerous highly naturalistic depictions of birds, many of which are identified by their Middle English names. These include the easily recognisable ‘ganett’, ‘moorhen’, ‘stork’, and ‘comerant’ as well as some that are harder to identify, for example the ‘wodewale’ (woodpecker) and the ‘roddoke’ (robin).
See more of the Sherborne Missal on Turning the Pages™
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- British Library
Wonder at these amazing hand-painted books of past ages and marvel at the vibrant colours used – these are works of art that were made for kings and queens, monasteries, bishops and counts.