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12th Century Romanesque Medieval Manuscript Vellum Passion Of St Agatha Torture For Sale

12th Century Romanesque Medieval Manuscript Vellum Passion Of St Agatha Torture

[Carolingian and Romanesque manuscripts] [Roman Catholic Church - Liturgical books - Lectionary]
[Christian Hagiography and Martyrology - Virgin Martyrs - St Agatha]
[Passio s. Agathae] Office of matins for the feast of St Agatha A fragment of a leaf from a Romanesque decorated manuscript (Lectionary?) (circa 1150)

Written in Western Germany or perhaps the Low Countries, in the second or third quarter of 12th century (1125-1175). (Extracted from a German binding circa 1500, where it was used as a spine liner.)

Offered here is a handsome and rather large fragment of a manuscript leaf from a fine Romanesque Lectionary on vellum, containing part of the matin service (presumably, the second and third nocturn) for February 5, the feast of St Agatha, with extensive readings from the legend of her martyrdom. It is written in well-formed upright late carolingian miniscule, with several lines of interlinear diastematic neumes, and is embellished with one decorative initial in red and green.

Pre-1200 hagiographical fragments are quite rare on the market.

Physical description:

A tall rectangular fragment of a leaf from a decorative manuscript on vellum, measuring approximately 7-8 cm by 32-33 cm (about 3" x 13"), apparently, full height of the leaf it was cut from, and, width-wise, comprising most of the left column, original leaf having been in double-columns.

Containing 35 lines of text on each side (recto and verso) in a regular, well-formed, upright late-carolingian minuscule in brown ink.

Five lines of antiphons written in smaller carolingian minuscule at top of the recto side with some red highliting and interlinear diastematic neumes.

One painted lombard initial 'D' (2-line size) in red with some penwork decorations in green.

About the text of the fragment:

The text begins with several lines of the antiphon "...[agatha letis]sima & glorianter ibat ad [carcerem &] quasi ad epulas invitate [agonem suum] domino precibus [commenda]bat. Mens mea solid[ata est & in Christo] fundata. Agone [?..]", noted with interlinear diastematic numes. This is followed by a long hagiographical lection from the Acts of St Agatha for the second matin, relating some of the dramatic events leading to St Agatha's martyrdom, occupying both recto and verso of the fragment, beginning "Denega Christum & deos incipe colere: ne vitam tue iuventitis acerba [morte consumas]. Agatha dixit: tu infelix [tu nega deos tuos] qui sunt lapides & ligne. ..."

Included is Agatha's famous reproach to Quintianus: "Impie crud[elis et dire tyran]ne, non es confusus amputa[re in femina] quod ipse in matre su[xisit. Ego habeo] mamillas integras in [anima mea] ex quibus nutrio imnes [sensus meos]..." ("Impious and cruel tyrant, are you not ashamed to destroy in a woman, which you sucked in your mother! In my soul I have healthy breasts from which I nourish all my senses.. ").

Saint Agatha of Sicily (died ca. 251), born at Catania or Palermo, Sicily, is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs of Christian antiquity. She is one of only seven women (apart from the Blessed Virgin Mary) commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Agatha was put to death during the persecution of Decius (250-253) in Catania, Sicily, for her steadfast profession of faith. She is the patron saint of Catania, Molise, Malta, and San Marino. She is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients and wet nurses. Throughout the region around Mt. Etna she is invoked against the eruptions of the volcano, as elsewhere against fire and lightning.

Although the martyrdom of St. Agatha is authenticated, and her veneration as a saint had even in antiquity spread beyond her native place, there is no reliable information concerning the details of her death. According to Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea of ca. 1288, fifteen year old Agatha, from a rich and noble family, having dedicated her virginity to God, rejected the amorous advances of the low-born Roman prefect Quintianus, who then persecuted her for her Christian faith. He sent Agatha to Aphrodisia, the keeper of a brothel.

The madam finding her intractable, Quinitianus sends for her, argues, threatens, and finally has her put in prison. Among the tortures she underwent was the cutting off of her breasts (which became the peculiar characteristic of Agatha in the medieval Christian iconography). After further dramatic confrontations with Quintianus, represented in a sequence of dialogues in St Agatha's legend that document her fortitude and steadfast devotion, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake, but an earthquake saved her from that fate; instead, she was sent to prison. But there the holy virgin was consoled by a vision of St. Peter, who miraculously healed her. Eventually she succumbed to the repeated cruelties practised on her. Saint Agatha died in prison, according to the Legenda Aurea, in "the year of our Lord two hundred and fifty-three in the time of Decius, the emperor of Rome."

Her written legend comprises straightforward accounts of interrogation, torture, resistance, and triumph which constitute some of the earliest hagiographic literature, and are reflected in later recensions, the earliest surviving one being an illustrated late 10th-century passio bound into a composite volume in the Bibliothèque National, originating probably in Autun, Burgundy. Aelfric of Eynsham included the Passion of St Agatha into his Anglo-Saxon "Lives of Saints" (996-7), which contributed significantly to the spread of her legend in England from late 10th century.


Extracted from a binding, with concomitant wear and some losses. Some minor staining and light soiling. Vertical creasing down the middle from folding when used in a binding. A few small holes at the crease, and some adheasion traces. Verso somewhat more darkened and stained and with some of the ink faded (mostly at the crease). Otherwise a solid and attractive early Romanesque fragment with most of the present text still legible.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.

About carolingian minuscule and its evolution:

The Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne's rule in Western Europe coincided with the Carolingian Renaissance, which aimed for cultural and intellectual revival ("Carolingian Renaissance"). In the year 789, Charlemagne issued a decree that called for the revision of church book production. He appointed Alcuin of York the Abbott of St. Martin's monastery at Tours, France. While there, the Abbott set up one of the most famous scriptoria of all time. In this workroom, he created arguably the most influential calligraphic style of writing.

The Carolingian (or Caroline) minuscule "attained its fully developed form in the later 9th and 10th centuries. It is essentially composed [...] to obtain a perfect book script in accordance with the general norms for such a script: legibility, clarity, calligraphy (i.e. the use of 'structured' letter), avoidance of variant letter forms and strict limitation of the number of ligatures [...]

The srcipt that developed in the Carolingian empire, under the influence of the religious and educational reforms of a gifted ruler, is no doubt one of the greatest achievements of Western culture. It is one of the mysteries of history that this instrument of communication [...] was replaced from the twelfth century onwards by a fundamentally different script system. The main characteristics of Carolingian script - openness and differentiation of the individual letter form - gave way to the closed forms and uniformity of Gothic script.

The 12th century marks a period of transition in the history of the medieval book. It is the last great age of monastic book production. The quantity and quality of manuscripts produced and the spread of centers of production throughout Europe make it the most brilliant period in the history of the monastic book [...] At the same time it represented the birth of a new age with new religious, intellectual and aesthetic concerns, which transformed the Carolingian script into various forms of Pregothic..." (A. Derolez, The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books, pp.47-8, 55-6)

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The book will be shipped by FedEx FREE of charge to any US location. International Express shipping offered at discount cost.

12th Century Romanesque Medieval Manuscript Vellum Passion Of St Agatha Torture

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