One of the things I enjoy about being a music librarian are the range of unusual queries that readers come up with. In my time at the UL I’ve been asked about obscure T.S. Eliot quotations involving music, songs about Bovril, the musical heritage of limericks, the connection between sol-fa and a South African great-grandfather; and there have been a couple of attempts (mostly successful) to identify photos of unknown musicians and snippets of unidentified musical works.

Usually the departmental teams are great at solving most queries, but occasionally there’s one that just stumps you, and the latest puzzle is currently sitting not far away from my desk….

A particularly gruesome illumination.

A particularly gruesome illumination.

It’s big – 46 x 33 cm. Although at first glance it looks as though it’s a medieval manuscript, it’s actually a much more recent printing, and is most likely a publicity page that was sent out by the publisher to advertise, what was, presumably, an expensive facsimile, possibly published some time around the 1990’s.

The source of the original manuscript, and who published the facsimile however remain a mystery. A reader came across the item at a sale, and is eager to know anything further about the larger volume that it must have once been associated with. We would all like to know more about it now, as there are currently librarians across Cambridge puzzled by it.

It’s double-sided with luxurious capitals. The three pieces of music included on the page are the opening of Misso Herodes Spiculatore, which includes a particularly gruesome illumination illustrating the execution of John the Baptist.

Birth of the Virgin Mary - from an unidentified medieval manuscript.

Birth of the Virgin Mary – from an unidentified medieval manuscript.

Beneath John the Baptist a rather alarmed Virgin Mary looks upwards. Newly born, she is being bathed for the first time, and presumably having her already luxuriant locks washed, while her mother, Saint Anne, looks on. The capital is formed around the G for Gaudeamus omnes, the introit for the Mass to celebrate her birth:  Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore Mariae Virginis: de cujus nativitate gauden angeli, et collaudant Filium Dei. This appears to be a slightly less popular version of Gaudeamus omnes which was also used for the Assumption of the Virgin Mary or to celebrate All Saints.

On the opposite side of the page, there is a longer work – Justus ut palma with an Alleluia. The left hand side of the page has an illuminated column, which appears to show the disciples going out teaching and working, although it’s not entirely clear what the central storyline is here. Although it is a beautiful piece of work, the original scribe evidently had some problems as there are a number of corrections solely in the two pages that we can see, it makes you wonder what happened in the larger volume.

It’s an intriguing little item. Any ideas about its history would be most welcome.

STOP PRESS: Many thanks to everyone who publicised this, and hunted high and low for an answer. A bit of office teamwork finally revealed the origins of this puzzling work. The original is the St. Katharinental Gradual, ca. 1312 (Ms. LM 26117, Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, Zurich). Published as a facsimile edition by Faksimile Verlag, 1983.  Particularly fascinating (at least to me) is the belief held by some scholars that at least part of the manuscript was written / illustrated by the nuns who lived at the Abbey, several of whom are featured in the illuminated capitals.



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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