Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

MS 66, p. 069Richard Fahey, a PhD candidate at the University of Notre Dame, just wrote a blog post about the mythological treatment of Woden in Anglo-Saxon genealogies, using CCCC MS 66, p. 69 to illustrate. Click through and compare MS 66’s illustration with that of the British Library’s Cotton Caligula A.viii.

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William StukeleyCopyright National Portrait Gallery

William Stukeley, F.R.S.
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

Almost 400 years after the death of William Stukeley there is a resurgence of interest in his life and work. Stukeley studied medicine at Corpus, and was a contemporary and friend of Stephen Hales, inventor of the ventilator. His room at Corpus was, Stukeley records, “generally hung round with Guts, stomachs, bladders, preparations of parts and drawings… I sometimes surprised the whole college with a sudden explosion; I cur’d a lad once of an ague with it by a fright”. The Parker Library has a dozen or so Stukeley manuscripts, including notebooks and drawings, bought from the Sotheby’s sale of February 1963.

Stukeley was a member of the Royal Society, Royal College of Physicians, and the re-formed      Society of Antiquaries, and numbered amongst his friends and acquaintances Hans Sloane,     Edmond Halley, and Sir Isaac Newton. He travelled far and wide, and his best known works,  Abery and Stonehenge, resulted from extensive work on the stone circles there.

Stukeley was a distant cousin of the Stucley family of Hartland Abbey in Devon, where an exhibition, “William Stukeley, Saviour of Stonehenge” opens in May.  Have a look at Lady Stucley’s blog about Hartland Abbey here.

Stukeley medals (1)In the Modern Archive here in College are two medals, one with the head of William Stukeley, on the other, a picture of Stonehenge, together with Stukeley’s death date.  Because the Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die – which is unusual for the time – they may be devices from which a medal, now in the British Museum, was made.  The Corpus medals are cast, rather than struck from a die, which is unusual for that time.

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With the cardinals assembling for the conclave to elect a new pope, commentators speculating and bookmakers laying odds, it’s a good time to take a look at a strange medieval text full of prophecies about popes known as the Vaticinia pontificum or Vaticinia de summis pontificibus. A copy is found in CCCC MS 404, a collection of prophetic texts put together by Henry of Kirkstede, the monk-librarian of Bury St Edmunds in the fourteenth century.

The Vaticinia consists of a set of illustrated prophecies about a succession of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century popes, many of which were written after the actual papacies they claim to predict. Both texts and illustrations are opaque, with images of serpents, unicorns and angels alluding to political intrigues among powerful Roman factions. Here, for instance is the first in the series:

Pope with bears (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

Pope with bears (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

The unhappy looking pope under the title principium malorum (‘source of evils’) accompanied by a bear suckling its young is identified by Henry as Pope Nicholas III (1277-80), a member of the Orsini family (orso, bear). In Dante’s Inferno, Nicholas describes himself as the ‘son of a she-bear, eager to advance the cubs’. He appointed several members of his family as cardinals, including his brother Giordano and his nephew, Latino Malabranca.

The Vaticinia manages to be an apocalyptic warning of the end times, a call for spiritual reform and a political propaganda treatise aiming to influence papal elections. It is closely associated with the Spiritual Franciscans who quarrelled with numerous popes over differences in their approach to evangelical poverty. Indeed the only pope who escapes criticism in the text is the saintly Celestine V who has become well-known recently as the last pope to retire voluntarily in 1294.

Pope Celestine (CCC404, f. 89v)

Pope Celestine with a sickle and an angel (CCC404, f. 89v)

Henry of Kirkstede fails to identify the bearded, barefooted figure in this illustration as Celestine, though other manuscripts of the work make it clear that he is the intended subject of this prophecy and the one who prefigures the coming of the angelic pope, as indicated by the angel in his left hand. The sickle in his right hand is a sign of renewal.

The combination of text and images lent itself to numerous interpretations and adaptations. Versions of the Vaticinia exist in over one hundred manuscript copies and twenty early printed editions. The text was often incorrectly attributed to the mystical writer Joachim of Fiore; Henry of Kirkstede’s title note reads, ‘Incipiunt prophecie Joachini abbatis de papis’.

Henry of Kirkstede's title for the work (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

Henry of Kirkstede’s title (CCCC MS 404, f. 88r)

CCC MS 404 belongs to the earliest version of the text, which survives in nine manuscripts, including Yale, Beinecke Library, Marston MS 225, ff. 15r-22r (plus images) and Oxford Bodleian Library, MS Douce 88, ff. 140r-146v.

For more on the Vaticinia, see the edition by Martha H. Fleming, The Late Medieval Pope Prophecies: The Genus nequam Group (Tempe, AZ: ACMRS, 1999).

Post inspired by a Beinecke blogpost about their Vaticinia manuscript.

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Perspectives on filming

Professor Mary Beard, our local multimedia star, has an interesting blog post about film crews. When they were coming to film in her space, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, she was irritated by the disruption and by how they always seemed to overrun their allotted time. Now that she’s the presenter out on location, she appreciates how hard the crews work and how tight the timing. Certainly the film crews we’ve had in the library have all been very well-behaved; almost every one of them has overrun their time but they all seem to be working incredibly hard to fit in as many hours of shooting as possible in any given day.

Along the same lines, the curators of manuscripts at the British Library have written on their blog about the vexed question of white gloves. Every library that allows its manuscripts to be filmed being handled receives feedback about the fact that we don’t oblige readers to wear gloves. There are lots of good reasons not to wear gloves while handling manuscripts. On the advice of conservators, we much prefer (and insist on!) clean dry hands.

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