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Western Medieval Manuscripts : Alfred the Great's Old English translation of Gregory the Great's Pastoral Care

Gregory I, Pope, approximately 540-604

Western Medieval Manuscripts

<p style='text-align: justify;'><i>Alfred the Great's translation of Gregory the Great's <i>Pastoral Care</i></i> was the first work produced as part of a programme of translation of key works from Latin into Old English. Gregory's Pastoral Care (<i>Regula pastoralis</i> or <i>De cura pastorali</i>) was composed in the 590s, shortly after he became pope, as a handbook for his bishops and other leaders detailing how they should teach and guide their people. It became an enormously influential text, widely disseminated across Christendom. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In producing his translation in the 890s, Alfred added a prefatory letter and a metrical preface in the voice of the book. In the letter addressed to his bishops, Alfred sets out some of his reasons for translating the text. He laments the decline of learning in England and the scarcity of people who could now understand Latin in contrast to earlier times. He sets out the aims of his translation project, to provide English versions of 'those works which are most necessary for all men to know' and to send copies to all his bishops. The translations formed part of a wider programme of educational reform; the bishops are also instructed to educate young men so that they can read the books. </p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Of the six manuscripts of the vernacular Pastoral Care that survive, two date from Alfred's own time. London, British Library, MS Cotton Tiberius B.xi seems to be the exemplar from which copies were made and distributed but was badly burned in the Cotton Library fire of 1731 and survives as five fragmentary charred leaves - and one unburned leaf now in Kassel which was removed before the Cotton fire. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Hatton 20 is the copy sent to Bishop Wærferth of Worcester. Cambridge University Library, MS Ii.2.4 was copied in the eleventh century, testifying to enduring interest in the text. It is descended from the copy sent to Wulfsige, Bishop of Sherborne, as the opening line of greeting in the prefatory letter indicates.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The manuscript was acquired by Archbishop Matthew Parker in the 1560s, one of three copies of the text that he owned, the others being Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 12 and Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.5.22. </p>

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