Bodmin manumissions


This illuminated gospel-book was copied in Brittany in the last quarter of the 9th century. At some point in the first half of the 10th century it migrated to the priory of St Petroc in Cornwall. This was initially located at Padstow but, after Viking attacks, relocated inland to Bodmin. The inhabitants of Brittany and Cornwall spoke forms of Celtic; throughout the early Middle Ages there were long-standing ecclesiastical and trading ties between the two areas, which were linked by the English Channel.

In the mid-10th and early 11th century, documents (known as manumissions) recording the freeing of slaves were entered on some pages of this manuscript. They are an important source for early medieval Cornish history and for the history of slavery in Anglo-Saxon England. Slaves appear in English sources from the earliest laws issued by Æthelberht of Kent (died 616) to Domesday Book, which records that in 1086 slaves formed twenty-one per cent of the population in Cornwall.

For unknown reasons, some of these records were erased and until very recently seemed to be illegible. Thanks to multispectral imaging conducted at the British Library by Dr Christina Duffy and Dr David Pelteret, certain of these texts can now be read. For example, one page that appears mostly blank to the naked eye revealed five manumission records. One of these reads as follows:

This is the name of that woman, Guenenguith, and her son whose name is Morcefres who[m] Bishop Comoere freed on the altar of St Petroc for the redemption of his soul in the presence of these witnesses ...

Bishop Commoire, who had the Anglo-Saxon name of Wulfsige, was bishop of Cornwall sometime between 959 and 990. He is known from other sources, but the only evidence for the existence of Guenenguith and Morcefres comes from this newly revealed text.

Full title:
Gospel-book with added Cornish records of manumissions ('The Bodmin Gospels' or 'St Petroc Gospels')
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 9381

Full catalogue details

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