A Very Unusual Manuscript Meant To Bring Comfort in the Midst of Plague

OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.

(Paris, second half of the 15th century). 320 x 205 mm. (12 1/2 x 8 1/4"). [73] leaves (complete). Single column, 21 lines and/or as many as seven four-line staves of music per page, in a pleasing gothic book hand. CONTENTS: Vespers of the Invention of Saint Sebastian (f. 1-7); Mass of the Invention of Saint Sebastian [celebrated 13 October] (f. 8-18); Mass for the Dead (f. 18-26); Office of the Dead, Use of Paris (f. 26-53); Prayers for the Commendation of the Dead (f. 53-67); Gloria and Creed (f. 67-70); Dies Irae (f. 71-73); Gospel of Matthew 24:42-47 (f. 73 v., in a bâtarde hand).

Excellent contemporary blind-stamped calf over wooden boards, covers with frames of plain rules and floral lozenge rolls enclosing a central panel with five floral vine rolls, brass corner guards, five brass bosses on upper cover and five (of seven) on lower cover, raised bands, vellum endleaves, skillful contemporaneous patch to leather on front cover. Rubrics in red, numerous one-line initials in brushed gold on a red or blue ground, frequent two-line initials in red or blue on a ground of the contrasting color, with brushed gold and white tracery, first page WITH A HALF BORDER OF WHITE AND BRUSHED GOLD COMPARTMENTS filled with blue and gold acanthus leaves and with floral sprays of red, blue, and green, and 52 INITIALS ADORNED WITH DELICATELY DRAWN AND COLORED HUMAN OR GROTESQUE HEADS OF GREAT CHARM. Folio 9 recto with early 16th century marginal notation: "Evangelium sancti Rochi invenies in fine libri"; final page at bottom: "1504 octobris 21, a magistro Adriano Martino, tum temporis diacono apud divum Paulum Parisiis"; front pastedown with engraved bookplate of Jean Geoffroy (see below for all). Short cracks at head and tail of front joint, and at tail of rear joint, head of spine with shallow half-inch chip, a scattering of tiny wormholes to boards, but the original binding solid, lustrous, and extremely pleasing. Occasional minor thumbing to lower fore-edge corner, half a dozen early repairs to vellum (not affecting text), isolated light dust soiling to margins, otherwise A VERY FINE COPY INTERNALLY, the vellum clean and fresh, the decoration bright, and the colors still rich.

This liturgical manuscript contains solemn text and music that reminds us of the ever-present threat of plague that hung over France in this period. The Offices of the Invention of Saint Sebastian commemorate the discovery of the relics of this saint invoked for protection against the plague. The figure of Sebastian pierced with arrows is a familiar theme from Medieval and Renaissance art, but few realize that the arrows did not kill the saint. A member of the Praetorian Guard protecting the Roman emperor Diocletian, Sebastian (d. ca. 288) became the object of the emperor's wrath when he was revealed to be a Christian. Diocletian ordered his soldiers to execute Sebastian with arrows; he was shot multiple times and left for dead. He was rescued and nursed back to health by a Christian woman, but was later beaten to death after confronting Diocletian about his persecution of Christians. Plague and pestilence were said to be transmitted by the "arrows" of an angry God, so the saint who survived many arrow shots was appealed to by the victims of these divine arrows. The bones of Saint Sebastian were brought to France in the ninth century by the monks of Saint-Médard de Soissons, and members of that community displayed some of these relics in Paris in 1445 in order to raise money. In 1466, around the time our manuscript was produced, 40,000 citizens of Paris died of the plague, which would again strike the city in the 1480s and in the first years of the 15th century. The marginalia here on f. 9 (in the middle of the Mass of the Invention of Saint Sebastian) invoke another saint who offered protection from the plague, Saint Roch. It directs the user to the Gospel readings for the feast of Saint Roch (Matthew 24:42-47), added at the end of this volume. It seems possible that these annotations were added by an early owner, Adrien Martin, Deacon at the Church of Saint Paul in Paris. In addition to the observances of Saint Sebastian, our volume contains the Mass and the Office of the Dead, as well as additional prayers for the departed--all no doubt in frequent use in a time of pestilence. In sharp contrast to the somber services here are the light-hearted caricatures which enliven initials throughout the text. Most of these are male rustics with lugubrious expressions, but there are also a few women, some in close-fitting caps and one in a furry pink hat. These delightful figures were executed with great delicacy, and the choice to use soft and whimsical pastel hues provides an interesting visual contradiction to the wicked humor on display here. Manuscripts of the offices of Saint Sebastian are quite rare: only two of the manuscripts in the collection of the French national Library (BNF) contain such offices (Leroquais, Livres d'Heures, II, n. 195, Rome; Leroquais, Bréviaires, III, 48). The present item is distinguished not only by the rarity of its contents, but by its aesthetic appeal and its exceptional state of preservation.
(ST12885)

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PJP Catalog: 70.482

OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS. WITH MUCH MUSICAL NOTATION A. VERY FINE AND EXTREMELY RARE VELLUM ILLUMINATED LITURGICAL MANUSCRIPT, IN LATIN.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.
OFFICES FOR THE INVENTION OF SAINT SEBASTIAN AS WELL AS OFFICE OF THE DEAD AND SIMILAR TEXTS.