fifteenth-century devotional manuscripts

Beinecke MS 27: Speculum humane salvationis, etc.

Beinecke MS 27. Speculum humanae salvationis. England, c. 1410. Gift of Elihu Yale, 1714. This manuscript is believed to be the first illuminated medieval manuscript to enter any American college library collection.

Beinecke MS 27 is an early fifteenth-century copy of an extremely popular fourteenth-century work of typological interpretation in which events in the Old Testament are considered to foretell events in the New Testament. The Speculum humanae salvationis was translated into most European vernaculars and had even been printed in sixteen editions before 1500.

Like this example, manuscripts of this work were often heavily illustrated. While this opening contains two scenes from the Old Testament, more commonly a scene from the Old Testament would be placed opposite one from the New Testament. The fact that this text is in Latin presupposes a fairly learned reader, though the illustrations encapsulate the subject of the page spread to assist the reader in interpreting the poem. The script is a Gothic textura.

Marston MS 243: Richard Rolle, etc.

Marston MS 243. Richard Rolle of Hampole, Works, etc. England, c. 1400-1450.

Marston MS 243 is also a devotional work of approximately the same age, but its contents and format present a striking contrast to the Speculum. The volume is a compendium of works attributed to the popular hermit and mystic Richard Rolle of Hampole, including the Emendatio vitae. This opening shows the beginning of the Speculum peccatoris. The opening leaf is laid out in typical English fashion, beginning with a large blue initial with red penwork in the left margin and the title information before the text in red. The text is written in a clear Anglicana book hand, which is apparent in the double-lobed a’s and the g’s that resemble 8’s. Blue paraph marks were included to organize the text for the reader’s eye.

The facing page was apparently left blank in the original book, but two annotators have filled the once empty parchment in very different hands. The upper annotation is the continuation of a Middle English devotional text added not long after the original text was written; although its Anglicana features are clear, it is more cursive than that used for the Latin text and more closely resembles a document hand. The bottom annotation, also fifteenth-century, is an unidentified prayer in Latin that may be related to indulgences copied earlier in the volume.

fifteenth-century devotional manuscripts