Friday, 16 December 2011

A Medieval Mass for Christmas Day and the Carol of the Three Kings

There is a festive theme to this week’s Library blog post, which will be the final instalment of the year!  The first document I’ve selected relates to the celebration of Christmas Day in the twelfth century.  It is a fragment from a missal (or mass-book), which contains part of the third of three masses for Christmas Day along with masses for St Stephen (26th December) and St John the Evangelist (27th December).  This manuscript would have been very beautiful when it was complete; the colours of the initial letters are still striking today.

The second document is a copy of ‘A Carol of the Three Kings’ from Christmas 1915.  W. D. V. Duncombe, who wrote the ‘Three Kings’, sent this charmingly annotated version of his latest work to Ivor Atkins, the organist and choirmaster at Worcester between 1897 and 1950.

Duncombe declares on the first page that ‘The peculiar lumbering gait of the camel is imitated in the rhythm of the music’.  The camel theme is further pursued in the subsequent marginal notes, which include references to ‘camels getting tired’, and ‘camels flump themselves down clumsily, sulkily’.  So next time you sing ‘We Three Kings’, spare a thought for the plight of those grumpy camels!


Monday, 5 December 2011

Book of the Week (5th December 2011)

MS. F. 173, a Sacramentary of Old Minster, Winchester

This week’s book is of personal interest to your blogger, who has dabbled in the history of the liturgy in late Anglo-Saxon England!  MS. F. 173 is a sacramentary, a book containing the words to the various Masses performed throughout the Church year.  Sacramentaries were often made for monastic users, and this one is no exception.  It was made for the monks of the Old Minster, Winchester, during the first quarter of the eleventh century.  We know this because the prayers (‘collects’) appended to two Masses invoke Saints Birinus, Ethelwold, Grimbald and (perhaps most famously) Swithun, all of whom were connected with – and venerated at – Winchester.  The book must have been brought to the Cathedral before the Reformation because it is inscribed with the name of Worcester monk, John More.

The image below (folios 3v – 4) includes a special Mass for sailors (‘Missa pro navigantibus’).  It seeks God’s protection against adversities and asks that he provides a safe haven for those on board.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Conservation at the Cathedral Library and Book of the Week, 28th November 2011

Last Friday saw the return of one of the Library’s copies of John Foxe’s ‘Acts and Monuments’ (popularly known as ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’), earlier taken away for repair.  It was decided that the book, which was discovered in a cupboard in something of a parlous state, should be restored and re-shelved.  Bookbinder Glenn Bartley was drafted in to replace the missing front board, put in new endpapers and headbands, strengthen the spine and give it a new title label in gold leaf.  This book raised an interesting issue about the ‘authenticity’ of modern repairs, because while Glenn deliberately ‘aged’ the tooled title label to match the rest of the spine, he opted not to distress the front cover in order to match the back.  Personally I think the book looks great, and it is terrific that it can be seen, used and enjoyed again rather than languishing in a cupboard!  Below you can see the new cover, detail from the repaired spine, and Glenn's handiwork on the title label.

Glenn also brought along ten new boxes for our manuscripts.  It is important for the preservation of medieval books that they are stored in these bespoke boxes, made from acid-free board, which also help protect the contents from dust and buy us time in the event of fire and flood.  The Library runs an ‘Adopt-a-Book’ scheme, so if someone sponsors a manuscript a new box can be made.  Lately the Library has been able to press ahead with two conservation projects, thanks to the generosity of a charitable trust and the Friends of the Cathedral.  Their donations have enabled Oxford University conservators to carry out minor repairs to a selection of Worcester manuscripts and start the process of conserving a series of medieval and post-medieval monastic registers.

Naturally our Book of Week is the newly-repaired edition of Foxe’s ‘Acts and Monuments’ printed in 1684.  John Foxe (1516/7-1587) was a Protestant scholar and minister, acknowledged as one of England’s first literary celebrities.  His reputation is chiefly down to his ‘Book of Martyrs’, a history of the Church from the time of John Wycliffe (the first person to translate the Bible into English in the last quarter of the fourteenth century) to the reign of Elizabeth I, and a record of the many Protestant ‘martyrs’ persecuted or put to death under both Henry VIII and Mary I.  The first edition was published in 1563.  The second edition was in preparation as early as 1566 owing to the success of its predecessor.  This appeared in 1570, and was followed by a third edition in 1576 and a fourth in 1583.  The real martyr to ‘Acts and Monuments’ was Foxe himself; having spent over twenty years of his life devoted to the book and its various editions, he neglected his own health and eventually died in 1587.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Book of the Week (21st November 2011)

The 1875 ‘Mock Festival’ and the Tale of a Drunk Man’s Tail

In addition to its fine medieval manuscript and printed book collection, the Cathedral Library holds around 20,000 archive documents relating to the Dean and Chapter.  These documents range from early monastic registers to the latest Chapter minutes.  Among the more interesting and unique archives are the ‘scrap books’ which contain newspaper cuttings, poems and other ephemera connected to momentous events in the Cathedral’s history.  Today’s ‘Book of the Week’, compiled by the Lay Clerk, James G. Smith, in 1906, is one such example.

Now part of our music library, Smith’s book (A.1.10) records the controversy which arose prior to the 1875 Three Choirs Festival, an annual event organised by the Cathedrals of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester.  Following the extensive restoration of Worcester Cathedral during the 1860s and 70s, Dean Yorke and a number of his Chapter considered that it was no longer appropriate to stage secular music festivals in the nave.  This decision caused widespread consternation, both within the Cathedral itself and in the town and surrounding area more generally; the Festival was one of the highlights of the civic calendar.  Smith’s scrap book charts the escalation of the argument, including clippings from both the national and local press, and a satirical poem published in Punch magazine.  It also includes personal responses to the event, such as the wonderfully acerbic epitaph ‘In Memory of the Worcester Musical Festival, Died September 1875’.  Such was the ill-feeling in Worcester that effigies of Dean Yorke and Canon Barry, another vocal opponent of the Three Choirs Festival, were burned on Pitchcroft.  Although a Festival was staged in 1875, its programme was limited to sacred works, which critics were quick to dub the ‘Mock Festival’ or the ‘Sham Festival’.  Smith’s book even contains a copy of a satirical poster advertising the event (see image below).  The ‘Mock Festival’ remains one of the most colourful episodes in the history of the Three Choirs event, and this little scrap book is a fascinating document of contemporary accounts and attitudes.

‘Never before Suspected’:  Alongside the cuttings relating to the Mock Festival and the activities of Dean Yorke and Canon Barry, James Smith also included a couple of yarns which neatly reflect the Victorian taste for the absurd.  One of them relates the story of a drunken man knocked over by a 60lb dog with a milk-pan attached to its tail.  On impact the dog lost both the pan and a portion of its tail.  The inebriated man, sore from landing on his backside, noticed the piece of tail lying in the road and assumed that it had once belonged to him.  Bemoaning his failure to fully capitalise on his tail before he lost it, the man set off in search of his next drink!  One must certainly learn to expect the unexpected in a Cathedral Library archive...

Monday, 14 November 2011

Book of the Week (14th November 2011)

When is a book not a book?  When it’s a backgammon board!  This quirky piece of furniture, enabling games of both chess and backgammon, often goes undetected by those browsing the Library’s shelf of parish church bibles.  It was donated (among other books) to the Cathedral from a collection of books originally in St Nicholas’s church in Worcester.  Its ecclesiastical provenance reflects the popularity of both games (particularly backgammon) among the clergy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The eighteenth-century poet, Soame Jenyns, wrote that when one visited one’s local clergyman, one might expect to find

“Choice books, safe horses, wholesome liquor,
Billiards, backgammon, and the vicar”.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Canon J. M. Wilson and the Cathedral Library in the Early Twentieth Century

One of the most distinguished figures associated with Worcester Cathedral Library is Canon James Maurice Wilson (1836-1931).  Wilson was a mathematician, astronomer, historian, theologian, educational reformer and philanthropist (see our ‘Book of the Week’ below); in short, a true Renaissance Man!  Wilson read Mathematics at St John’s College, Cambridge and was afterwards appointed Maths and Science master at Rugby School. He remained at Rugby for 20 years before taking up the position of headmaster at Clifton College, Bristol.  During this time he composed lectures and treatises on morality and Biblical studies as well as work on geometry and double star formations.  He rarely struggled to reconcile scientific knowledge and religion, believing the former to be a revelation of divine power.  Indeed, he put up a passionate defence of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  In 1890 Wilson resigned his place at Clifton in order to enter the Church, firstly as the vicar of Rochdale, then archdeacon of Manchester, and finally canon of Worcester in 1905.  In 1907 he was appointed librarian of the Cathedral, and was reborn as a cataloguer, archivist and medieval scholar.  For 17 years Canon Wilson worked tirelessly to clean, classify, and in some cases transcribe and translate, a number of the Library’s manuscripts and documents.

The following photograph is a view of the Cathedral Library in Wilson’s time.  It was taken in 1906.  If you compare it with the snapshots I took below it you can see that the library has acquired a good many more books and shelves!  However, there are also a number of elements which have not changed, including the wheeled ladder which is still kept in the same place today.

Book of the Week (7th November 2011)

This week's pictures are taken from Add. MS. 121, a modern illuminated manuscript presented to Canon J. M. Wilson at the time of his retirement from Worcester in 1926 at the age of 89.  A thank-you note from Wilson slipped inside the front cover records his delight at the quality of the workmanship.

The book not only commemorated his time in the Cathedral, but also his extensive philanthropic works in the city of Worcester.  Wilson and his wife were instrumental in the foundation of the Worcester Infants’ Health Society.  They established an ante-natal clinic, paid for a nurse, and provided mothers with clothes for their young children.  Between 1906 and 1919 it is estimated that the Society’s work saved the lives of at least 500 children, and that if the rest of the country had followed Worcester’s example, some 400,000 lives would have been saved in total.

Canon Wilson also persuaded the council to give money to his Playgrounds and Open Spaces Society so that Fort Royal Park could be laid out and opened for public use.  He enlisted the help of his fellow clergymen to stock the rose garden and decorate the pergola!