THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

29 November 2020

Sherborne Missal on the radio

Earlier this summer we digitised one of our greatest medieval treasures, the Sherborne Missal. Now this stunning illuminated manuscript is the subject of an episode of Moving Pictures radio programme, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 30th November 2020 at 4pm. You can also listen to the programme on the BBC website shortly after broadcast.

Moving Pictures is a radio series that offers listeners the chance to take a long, slow look at great artworks, photographed in incredible detail. You're invited to view a high-resolution image on Google Arts & Culture while presenter Cathy FitzGerald and a group of experts talk you through the details. The speakers on the Sherborne Missal episode are Kathleen Doyle (the British Library), Eleanor Jackson (the British Library), Alixe Bovey (the Courtauld Institute of Art), Paul Binski (the University of Cambridge) and Patricia Lovett (professional scribe and illuminator).

The richly decorated page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal
The page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216

Made in the early 14th century for the Benedictine abbey of St Mary in Sherborne, the Sherborne Missal is a particularly impressive example of a book containing the texts for the Mass. In the Moving Pictures programme, we will be focusing on the page for Easter Sunday, the most important feast of the Christian year.

The feast of Easter commemorates the Resurrection of Christ, which is the subject of the page’s glorious initial letter:

Decorated initial letter ‘R’ containing a scene of the Resurrection of Christ
Decorated initial letter ‘R’ containing a scene of the Resurrection of Christ, from the page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216 (detail)

Lower down the page, the patrons of the manuscript, Bishop Mitford and Abbot Brunyng, and the craftsmen, John Whas and John Siferwas, pay their respects:

Details of portraits of the patrons and craftsmen of the Sherborne Missal
The patrons Bishop Mitford and Abbot Brunyng (left), and the scribe and artist, John Whas and John Siferwas (right), from the page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216 (details)

And scenes from the Old Testament provide theological parallels, or types, for the Resurrection:

Details of small scenes showing Jonah and the whale, and Sampson and the lion
 Jonah and the whale (left), and Sampson and the lion (right), from the page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216 (details)

But why are these hairy men fighting?

Detail of two hairy wodewoses fighting
Wodewose fight, from the page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216 (detail)

And is that a bittern?

Detail of a bittern
Probable bittern, from the page for Easter Sunday in the Sherborne Missal: Add MS 74236, p. 216 (detail)

To find out, tune in to Moving Pictures on BBC Radio 4, 30th November 2020 at 4pm, or listen on the BBC website afterwards!

Eleanor Jackson
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