“Every Book Has Its Own Story” Remarkable Illuminated Manuscript Returns Home To Princethorpe Colle…

Princethorpe College Archivist Mr Nick Baker has had one of the luckiest finds of his professional life. An extraordinary illuminated manuscript was located, by chance, at a book auction in Wiltshire last month. Its origins belong to St Mary’s Priory, which later became Princethorpe College. Its two artists were Sister Mary Walburga and Sister Francis de Sales who worked on the nine page, eighteen side volume at the start of the twentieth century. Bound in vermillion goat skin and inscribed with ornate decorate gold leaf borders the simple inscription Pax (Peace) adorns its front. Over two feet in length the manuscript is expansive; it’s meant to be seen and admired, used and responded to.

The history of medieval illuminations (from where the Sisters took their inspiration) is rich. Famed for their intricate depictions not just of the Bible but also of the natural world and science they believe the assumption that the medieval period was drab. Not at all. Just opening the first page of the St Mary’s Priory manuscript elicits an instinctive gasp out loud, its impact is that visceral. Nothing short of miraculous. Each page, handwritten in meticulous Latin script, details the story of the birth of Christ. The illuminations that quite literally lighten each leaf are astonishing. Dazzling, almost psychedelic colours pattern the parameters with drawings of saints, cherubs, dragons and flowers. The sheer craftsmanship of the nuns is unequivocal. It’s no wonder that during the medieval period these texts were sought after by monarchs and aristocrats alike.

College archivist Nick Baker goes on to say,

“It’s a delight that the manuscript has come home to the College. Every book has its own story and we’re still investigating the history behind this one. Already we have used the volume with Year 7 RS classes as they learn about Princethorpe’s past. Their reaction has been great. They can’t believe that each page was drawn by hand using paint and ink; they’re astonished by the use of gold and silver leaf and the delicate scratch work that gives the illuminations a three dimensional feel. The manuscript has galvanized discussions between pupils about the lives the nuns at The Priory used to lead. True to its original purpose it is still inspiring wonder and contemplation.”

Image shows Princethorpe College archivist Mr Nick Baker with the recently acquired St Mary’s Priory Manuscript