THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

24 December 2015

Christmas Eve Shepherds' Party

Every Christmas we publish gorgeous images of the Nativity from our manuscripts: tranquil scenes of the stable in Bethlehem, with the Christ child in the crib, a serene Mary, Joseph and the animals looking on.  Of course on Christmas Eve another amazing event was taking place not far away: the Angel Gabriel appeared to the shepherds on a hillside, and the news he gave them caused quite a stir.  The Annunciation to the Shepherds, usually depicted at the beginning of Office of Terce in the Hours of the Virgin, gave medieval illuminators more scope for creative interpretation – there is some wonderfully strange and anarchic shepherd-behaviour, and then there are the sheep, some cute and cuddly, some looking more like aardvarks !  This Christmas eve we have decided to share some of our favourite shepherd scenes with you.  

We have chosen our favourite image in various categories, but we invite our readers to make suggestions.

The best party atmosphere

Add_ms_47682_f013r copy
The Angel and Shepherds with sheep and dog,  England, S.E., c 1327-1335, from ‘The Holkham Bible Picture Book’,
Add MS 47682, f. 13r 

The most cuddly shepherds and sheep

Add_ms_50005_f036v
The Angel proclaims the Good News to two shepherds and a shepherdess, The Netherlands,  (Utrecht or Delft), c. 1410-1420, from a Book of Hours,  
Add MS 50005, f. 36v

The cheekiest shepherds  (with the most fashionable footwear)

011ARU000000157U00003V0b
Upper half of a two-part image of the Nativity, England, Central (Oxford), 1st quarter of the 13th century, from a Psalter,
Arundel MS 157, f. 3v

The happiest dancing sheepdog

K134327
Angels appear to the shepherds and sheepdog, France (Tournai), c. 1480, from a Book of Hours,
Harley MS 2923, f. 66

The most relaxed shepherd

Kings_ms_9_f099v
Seated shepherd with angel above and strewn border, Netherlands, S. (Bruges), c. 1500, from 'Anne Boleyn's Book of Hours',
Kings MS 9, f. 99v 

The shepherds with the best dancing style

011LAN000000431U00074V00 copy
The Annunciation to the Shepherds, England, E. (East Anglia?) 1st quarter of the 13th century, from a Psalter, Lansdowne MS 431, f. 74v

The most excited sheep

Royal_ms_6_e_vi_f008r copy
The angel appears to two shepherds on the hillside, England, S.E., c. 1360-c. 1375, from the ‘Omne Bonum’, Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 8r

The shepherds with the most flexible necks

C1309-06a
The Annunciation to the Shepherds, France (Paris), last quarter of the 14th century, from the 'Hours of Nicolas Rolin', Yates Thompson MS 45, f. 53

The weirdest-looking shepherds  - note the hat and bagpipes !

Add_ms_36684_f043v
Historiated initial of the Annunciation to the shepherds, with full border, France, N. (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c 1320 from the ‘St Omer Hours’, Add MS 36684, f. 43v

We wish all our readers a festive Christmas Eve!

-  Chantry Westwell

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