reading across languages
Beinecke MS 590, a compilation of Latin and French texts with several Middle English notes, demonstrates the ease with which readers used all three languages. The manuscript is open here to a passage from Le roman de romans, an Anglo-French moralistic poem that follows on from a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae in Latin. Both texts were copied in England: Geoffrey’s history at the end of the twelfth century and the French poetry at the beginning of the thirteenth. They were put together in this binding in the fifteenth century.
Takamiya MS 96 is a devotional text designed to assist Christians in reflecting on what it means to live a Christian life. While the main text is in Latin, it also includes extensive commentary in Middle English prose and verse. On this opening we can see Latin text in black and Middle English verse in red with red brackets linking the verses. The readers presumably would not have found the change in language jarring and would have had equal fluency in both languages.
Beinecke MS 410, a deluxe indulgence roll, has prayers in both Middle English and Latin, with neither language predominant. The illumination at the top of the roll shows a collection of instruments of the Passion, the objects symbolizing the events of Christ’s trial and crucifixion.
Takamiya MS 20 is a copy of Nicholas Love’s Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ, itself an adaptation and translation of Pseudo-Bonaventure’s Latin Meditations on the Life of Christ. Pseudo-Bonaventure’s treatise was written for a female tertiary of the Franciscan order, and it encourages the reader to imagine herself present at the torture and execution of Jesus. This extremely popular text was translated into several vernacular languages, with Love’s translation and adaptation being especially popular; many copies survive. On the opening of this manuscript we see a Middle English text with Latin marginal glosses and chapter headings.
The benefactors’ book of the Candlemas Guild of Bury St. Edmunds, Takamiya MS 44, contains the accounts of gifts and bequests made on behalf of Jankyn Smith, a member of the guild, and his wife Margaret Odeham. The guild existed as a forum for the discussion of civic affairs as well as a means for insuring the continued funding of anniversary masses and other religious celebrations. As a record from a layman’s organization that necessarily dealt with ecclesiastic ritual, the book is a wealth of texts unself-consciously combining Latin and Middle English.
Takamiya MS 69, a trilingual prayerbook, is open to the table of contents, where one can see descriptions of the prayers in French, in red, followed by the titles of the prayers in Latin, in black. The prayerbook’s user would have been able to navigate the book's three languages without difficulty, understanding the logic of the prayers themselves being in the language of the liturgy while the texts explaining those prayers were in the two vernaculars.