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Dry-point compilation notes in the Benedictional of St Aethelwold

W. Schipper


THE Benedictional of St Aethelwold (Add. MS. 49598) is one of the great treasures of the British Library. Produced between 971 and 973 expressly at the request of Aethelwold, Bishop of Winchester, by his chaplain Godeman, as the dedicatory poem near the beginning of the book makes clear, the manuscript not only is significant for understanding the art of tenth-century England, but also contributes to our understanding of the history of handwriting during the period, and represents a significant contribution to Anglo-Latin liturgical writing at that time. With its elaborate illustrations and elegant English Caroline script the manuscript is, in Michael Lapidge's words, 'the most lavishly produced manuscript which has survived from Anglo-Saxon England', and in many respects represents the apogee of Anglo-Saxon book illustration of the last third of the tenth century. The manuscript has been intensively studied from a variety of vantage points by specialists in different disciplines. Its paintings have been carefully scrutinized and analysed many times since the book was first described in print in 1832, while still in the library of the Dukes of Devonshire; and no study of the art of the late tenth century seems complete without reference to this book. Since the publication of the Roxburghe Club facsimile in 1910, the script too has received attention from palaeographers, such as T. A. M. Bishop and David Dumville, whose work has greatly expanded our understanding of the hand and its connection to continental and English books of the period. Nor have the contents of the volume been ignored. The facsimile included a transcription of the entire text, though another sixty years would elapse before the benedictions themselves were more closely studied by Derek Turner and Andrew Prescott.

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