Manuscripts from the Treasury of the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Spain

The Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Spain is a treasure trove of liturgical art. Previously we had shared some of their collection of sacred vestments and today we turn our attention to their impressive collection of manuscripts and liturgical books.  Some of the books shown here (such as those at the head of this article) were used within the context of the choral celebration of the Divine Office. Books such as these were, historically, quite large and those found here are no different -- in fact, it is said that some are so large that they actually have wheels on their base so as to make them more easily moveable.  If you wonder why they would make them so large, one needs to think of when, where and how they were used:

Shown above is a fresco, taken from the same monastery, showing the monks within the context of Divine Office, one of the large chant books clearly visible on the large lectern.  Here too is a photograph that will even better give a sense of the scale of these types of books:

So then why you might ask? The answer is that in earlier times, books were expensive and time consuming to produce and, as such, a number of monks would chant from the same book. This, as well as the less well lit conditions of the time, necessitated they be made in a larger size so that they would be legible and usable in this way. 

Not all of the books in the monastery's collection are sized so of course, but the common characteristic that they all share is that they are beautiful examples of the illuminated manuscript tradition. 

This first manuscript is a beautiful altar missal. Those who are attentive to the art as well as the Latin prayer shown on the facing page, will note that this is the proper of Easter Sunday, "Dominica Resurrectionis." The illuminated scene on the left shows a stunningly colour depiction of the same, while the border art is comprised of angels, flora and fauna, as well as fruits, likely all selected with symbolic purpose. 

Coming from the same missal, we also see the initial pages for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul which likewise contains a rather beautiful full page depiction of the two apostles. One might note here the Arabic influenced arches that frame Ss. Peter and Paul; given the Moorish influences and history to be found in Spain, this is hardly surprising and puts one to mind of similar influences in places such as Venice. 

Finally, here are some more views of the very large chant books that we began our discussion with. This first example includes a beautiful illuminated scene of Christ's Baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. 

In this next manuscript, our readers might notice the familiar liturgical text, "Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tol[lis peccata mundi" (Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.) The illuminated captial 'E' which leads the text shows a depiction of Christ and St. John the Baptist, words which were exclaimed by the Baptist upon seeing Christ (John 1:29). 

Finally, this last photo will show you a bit of the binding of some of these impressive volumes. 

What is always so impressive about books such as these is their beauty. It is a pertinent reminder that where divine worship is concerned, beauty should reign supreme. 

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