Coxe MS. 11
Gregory, XL Homiliarum in Evangelia, in Latin

[England, mid-15th century]


A 15TH-CENTURY PRIEST'S BOOK, IN THE COLLEGE'S EARLIEST BINDING

 15th-century Priest's book
Click here to see a flat image of these pages
 

St Gregory the Great (d.604) is considered one of the four Latin Church Fathers (the others being Sts Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome), as author of some of the foundational works of theology. His 40 Homiles (i.e. instructional sermons) on the Gospels here begins with an alphabetical subject index, added by an owner who wanted to be able to find appropriate material more easily: the 7th-century author found a new lease of life in the late Middle Ages with the rise in interest in sermons and preaching materials. The second main text is Gregory's treatise on the responsibilities of the clergy; both texts together would be of particular use to a 15th-century parish priest.

The volume is modestly decorated in a typically English style: the initials are all in blue (in other countries one might expect to find red and blue initials alternating) flourished primarily in red penwork, and the penwork forms leafy patterns from the undecorated parchment. Perhaps only one in a hundred medieval manuscripts retain their original medieval binding, having been rebound at least once in the intervening centuries due to damage or changes in taste; the interest of the present volume is therefore increased by being in its original binding of oak boards covered with pink-stained (now faded and dirtied) tawed leather. One near-contemporary inscription on the last page records its price: 14 shillings, and another shows some of the Latin words that caused a reader trouble: Latin 'apiarium' is glossed into Middle English as 'behyvve' (bee-hive).

Given to the College by Philip Bisse (1540-1613), Archdeacon of Taunton, who inaugurated Wadham's library with a bequest in 1613. To record this gift and encourage others, a printed slip was stuck to the first page of the main text.

Text kindly provided, especially for this exhibition, by Peter Kidd