The Pearly Gateway: A Scrap from a Latin Missal or Breviary

April 26, 2020 in Manuscript Studies, Uncategorized

The Pearly Gateway:
A Scrap from a Latin Missal or Breviary

[Published on 25 April 2020]

A scrap of a late-medieval Latin manuscript joins the company of fragments from religious texts for collective use, including missals and breviaries, and also that of medieval manuscript fragments retrieved from secondary reuse in binding other forms of text.  See the Contents List for this blog.

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment front side.

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment back side

Recently a small fragment of a leaf was acquired for a private collection from an unknown Latin manuscript.  We had the opportunity to examine and photograph the fragment, and we offer images of it here, along with preliminary observations.   Perhaps you recognize the script or text?

The scrap retains part of a single column of text, including some of the upper margin of the leaf.  The text amounts to one side of the column and 7 of its lines, plus the top of a next line.  One side of the scrap holds the opening, or left-hand side, of the column of text; the other holds the ending, or right-hand side, of its column.

The shape of the scrap shows that it was excised or trimmed down to its present limited extent by an uneven vertical slice both at the left of the column and through its middle, and an uneven horizontal slice through the top of its line 8.  It may have seemed unnecessary to cut through the upper margin, so perhaps the present height of the margin is the same as it was when the spoliation occurred.

Other forms of damage affect the scrap, including fold-lines, creases, tears, stains, and pigment offsets.  The patterns of folds, rubbed portions of text, and the losses probably from a mitred corner may show that this scrap came from a reused piece of vellum which served as the covering of a binding for some other text.  If so, the trimming of the part-column would have followed the retrieval of that reused vellum and its division into smaller portions for individual distribution, that is, sale.

Fuller leaves deformed by reuse in bindings have passed through our blog.  They show more of the folding and mitering patterns which such reuse would have entailed.  For example, A Leaf from Gregory’s Dialogues Reused to Bind Euthymius:

Verso of Leaf from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, Book III, chapter 7. Photography by Mildred Budny

Verso of Leaf from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, Book III, chapter 7. Photography by Mildred Budny

Script and Layout

It is not clear whether the original leaf originally held a single column or double columns of text.  The margin to the right of the column might represent part of the inner margin of the leaf or part of the intercolumn separating the 2 columns (let us call them ‘a’ and ‘b’ from left to right).  If it came from a double-column format, this scrap would represent the first part of column a or b on one side, and the last part of the reverse (column b or a) on the other.  The distance textually between those remnants, as yet unknown, could help to assess the length of the columns as well as their number per page.

The text is written in ink, with rubricated elements in red pigment.  That pigment remains bright, without discoloration, probably indicating its vegetal (rather than metallic) origin.  Line 1 stands below the top ruled line of the framework for the text.  The ladder-like framework has outlined ‘rungs’ upon which the lines of script stand.  The lines of the framework are made in ink on one side of the scrap, but partly in ink and partly (in the lower part) in red pigment on the other side.

The text is written clearly in upright Gothic textura, with a few capitals.  The script employs a few abbreviations, low points for punctuation, and diagonal hairline strokes rising to the right as the dots over the i‘s.  The letter a has a firmly closed double-compartment bow.

Side 1

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment back side

Private Collection, “Margaritas” fragment back side.

Lines 1–3 on Side 1 correspond to part of De Uirgine que Martyr Fuerit in the published Missal of Saint Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, Appendix B, page 167. Here.  Andreas Falow observed that the passage belongs to the Responsonium
Simile est regnum caelorum homini negotiatori.

From these sources we supply, within square brackets [thus], the missing parts of each line opening the column.  Line 1 begins mid-word.

Line 1

[ne-/]gociatori queren[ti bonas]

margaritas. [inuenta u-]

[-]na preciosa ma[rgariti]

dedit omnia sua [et conp-]

Line 5

[-]aruit eam.  [ . . . ]

[]ue erineit ?est i[ . . . ]

[-]te us’ op die feria [ . . . ]

[ . . . ]

The passage in full would begin on at the bottom of the preceding column of text, either on the same page (in column a for column b in 2-column layout) or on the preceding page (in the single column in 2-column layout or in column b for 2-column layout).  Depending upon the location of this damaged column, it if stood at the left on the recto, the preceding column would have belonged to the preceding leaf.  By these words, we might recognize it, if it comes to light among surviving fragments.

The Response:

Simile est regnum caelorum homini negotiatori,
quaerenti bonas margaritas;
inventa una pretiosa margarita,
dedit omnia sua
et comparavit eam.

In German:

Das Reich der Himmel gleicht einem Kaufmann,
der schöne Perlen suchte.
Als er eine kostbare Perle fand,
gab er all das seine
und kaufte sie.

As Chris Nighman observes, the passage refers to the Parable of the Pearl, related in Matthew 13:45–46:

45 iterum simile est regnum caelorum homini negoiatori quaertenti bonas margaritas
46 inventa autem una pretiosa margarita abiit et vendid omnia que habuit et emit eam

In the King James Version:

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

That passage, known as the Parable of the Pearl, or the Pearl of Great Price, alludes to the rarity and value of pearls both as physical and as symbolical treasures.

Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art. Jan Vermeer, "The Pearl Merchant" or "Woman holding a Balance"(circa 1665). Image Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Washington, D. C., National Gallery of Art. Jan Vermeer, “The Pearl Merchant” or “Woman Holding a Balance” (circa 1665). Image Public Domain via Wikimedia.

Side 2

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment front side.

Private Collection, “Margaritas” fragment front side.

Line 1

[ . . . ]s et [ . . . ] eligit eam

[ . . . ]tare  [ . . . ]au[?]i facit

[ . . . ]uaci [ . . . ]o suo In

[ . . . ]le uii[ . . . ] Au’ de lau-

Line 5

[ . . . ]feria [.]s. Cap[itu]l[um] in

[ In] ecclesiis altissi[-]

[ -m]i apieret os su-[um . . . ]

In the Breviarium Remense (1830), In ecclesiis altisimi apieret os suum is a Response in Dominica I post Epiphianium in II Nocturno.

The Columns of Text Reconstructed

The portions of text which we can so far reconstruct through their recognition in other sources establish that each column had short lines, of which the scrap retains about one-half to one-third the former width.  Such presentation may indicate that the original manuscript had double columns.

Front & Back

It is not yet clear which side of the scrap was the front, or recto in the manuscript.  More research may clarify the issue.

But we can see which side of the skin is which.

The whitish flesh side of the animal skin stands on the side of the fragment which opens its column of text and places the word margaritas (“pearls”) in line 1.

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment back side, lines 2-5.

Private Collection, “Margaritas” fragment back side, lines 2-5.

The darker hair side includes a few short hairs from the animal on the partly-healed hole which interferes with the lower part of the o of os in the last line.  The slice through the leaf below this line bisects the hole.

Private Collection, "Margaritas" fragment front side, lines 4-7.

Private Collection, “Margaritas” fragment front side, lines 4-7.

It was the hair side which the leaf turned outside when it was reused to cover a binding.


Do you recognize this scribe or the texts?

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