Christianity in 10 objects
Take a look at one of the largest surviving English medieval manuscripts. Richly decorated with illuminated initials, pictures and borders made from coloured inks and gold leaf, this manuscript is a work of art. However, this is a liturgical book called a missal, which was designed to hold all the instructions, readings and prayers needed for the celebration of Holy Communion, or Eucharist. It was created specifically for Westminster Abbey so you can also find information about coronation services. Can you read medieval Latin? If so, everything you could need is in this manuscript.
Fortunately, the Benedictine monks who lived, worked and worshipped at Westminster Abbey, who would have read this manuscript, were experts in medieval Latin. More than that, they were responsible for its creation. Nicholas Litlyngton, the head monk or abbot of the Abbey in the 1380s, asked for this manuscript to be created for use at the High Altar. He even paid for it himself. We don’t know much about the scribes and illustrators except that one of them, called Thomas Preston, lived in the monastery whilst working on it and then became a monk at the Abbey.
This manuscript gives us a detailed insight into a time when the Abbey was a monastery and monks called it their home. All this changed in 1540 during the reign of King Henry VIII when the monasteries were closed down and Henry separated the Church of England from the authority of the Pope. Many service books were destroyed, however this one survived. It is beautifully illustrated and incredibly informative, but it is also a reminder of how Christian history has developed during Westminster Abbey’s life.
Visit the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries to see the Litlyngton Missal, and many more objects, in real life. High above the Abbey floor, come face to face with the Abbey’s greatest treasures covering over 1,000 years of faith and history. Along with worship, examine objects that teach us about the building of Westminster Abbey, its role in national memory and its relationship with royalty.
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I feel very privileged to work here. I take so much pride in working for a beautiful place like the Abbey, it’s unique.