Two Contemporary Hand Illuminated Liturgical Books from the English Benedictines

Ever since the invention of Gutenberg's printing press in the mid fifteenth century, hand illuminated books have become more and more rare. While medieval manuscripts are those which most of us find ourselves thinking about when considering such books, there are some more modern examples. Two examples I am happy to feature today come from two Benedictine Abbeys in the United Kingdom: Ryde and Farnborough. 

The first example is from St. Cecilia's Abbey, Ryde. As the title page shows, it is the solemn rite of profession according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Regrettably, I can provide you little more information than to say it is a contemporary work that was produced by the Benedictine nuns of Ryde. It is an absolutely exquisite piece of craftsmanship.

To really get a sense of the work, we need to focus in on some of the illuminated capitals, which show not only the great clarity and colour of the works, but the beautiful gold leaf which augments it. Shown here, we see the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple -- apropos for a book of this nature for certain. 

While the text is stylized, it is entirely legible. Here we see an illuminated capital showing the Holy Trinity. 

A better look at the layout of the whole. The clarity of the work is stunning. 

The Benedictine nuns of Ryde are not the only English Benedictines to have produced their own hand illuminated liturgical books in contemporary times however. So too have the monks of St. Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, who have various hand illuminated graduales and antiphonales that were illuminated either by themselves or by the same aforementioned nuns at Ryde. 

The style of the Farnborough illuminations shown here are slightly more contemporary in their feel, but equally striking in their presentation, colour and layout. 

The chant pages and illuminated capitals are right out the medieval period. In fact, one could be forgiven for simply assuming they were well preserved medieval pages. 

So often people today assume these things are no longer possible, and while certainly not feasible in the main, they are most certainly still possible as particular exceptions to what is now the printing press rule. 

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Since we are on this subject, I will take this opportunity to share one other example that is reasonably "modern" (in the broadest sense) but not contemporary. It is a hand illuminated Requiem Missal from from the latter part of the 17th century.

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