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Pembroke College : Gospel lectionary (selective)

Pembroke College

<p style='text-align: justify;'>This Gospel lectionary manuscript was probably copied in the 12th century, although it has been suggested that it is a product of the 13th century or later, produced in deliberate imitation of the style of an earlier period. The inclusion of a feast particular to the liturgical calendar of Constantinople (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(82);return false;'>f. 39v</a>) may indicate that it was produced in the Byzantine capital, though it could merely reflect the reproduction of a feature of the exemplar from which it was copied. Its elegant and somewhat unconventional minuscule script is unusually large, a feature probably related to its similarly unusual content, which is much more limited than that of a conventional lectionary and differently arranged.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>In the usual arrangement of a lectionary, the early part of the book contains the <i>synaxarion</i>, the readings of the movable calendar beginning from Easter, followed by the <i>menologion</i>, containing the lections of the fixed calendar beginning from 1 September, sometimes followed by miscellaneous readings. While the selection of lections in the <i>menologion</i> varies greatly between different manuscripts, the <i>synaxarion</i> normally falls into one of two standard varieties. The "weekday" type, typically for monastic use, includes lections for the whole week, except in Lent, when the New Testament was read only on Saturdays and Sundays, while the "Saturday-Sunday" type generally used in other churches contains only the lections for those two days, except in Holy Week and the period between Easter and Pentecost, when weekday lections are also included. In this manuscript, however, not only is the range of feasts included in the <i>menologion</i> very small, but only a handful of the most important days in the movable calendar appear. The order is also unconventional, since the readings of the <i>synaxarion</i> for Lent which are included appear after the <i>menologion</i> rather than preceding it. Given the focus on major festivals, it is likely that at least some of the lections of Holy Week would have followed, but much of the later part of the manuscript is missing, including its end.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The size of the script implies a superfluity of funds, since it constitutes an inefficient use of expensive parchment. Other manuscripts of this rare type include exceptionally opulent examples such as <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href=''>Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana, MS Med. Palat. 244</a>, whose text is gilded throughout. A degree of conspicuous consumption is also suggested by the very existence of such a book, whose content was completely inadequate for the day-to-day needs of a church, and implies that an institution already possessing a lectionary sufficient for its needs acquired an additional one for special occasions. However, the availability of funds may not have remained consistent throughout the project. The use of gold for headings, ubiquitous in the early folios, subsequently becomes more restricted and then disappears entirely, though reappearing towards the end. Gold does, however, remain in use throughout for the ornamented initial letters of each lection and other decoration.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>The opening folios are, most unusually, written entirely in red ink, usually reserved for headings, before abruptly switching to the more usual brown, in the transition from recto to verso of the same folio (<a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(9);return false;'>f. 3r-3v</a>). The accompanying ekphonetic musical notation, which guided the chanting of the text and was normally written in red, appears instead in blue on the pages written in red, before reverting to its more normal colour at the same time as the text. Since text for gilding was usually written in red ink before being covered with gold, this could imply that this lectionary was at first intended as a truly deluxe production like the Laurentiana manuscript, but that this ambition was curtailed at an early stage, before the further reductions in the use of gold already mentioned. However, the use of blue ekphonetic notation suggests that the initial intention was for the main text to remain red, calling for the use of a different colour to keep the notation clearly distinct. The early abandonment of the initial scheme may nonetheless reflect a reduction in resources, but from a somewhat more modest starting point.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Three of the lections are accompanied by later notes in Arabic to identify them. This indicates that the manuscript spent part of its history in use by an Arabic-speaking Christian community in the Middle East, whose members retained Greek as their liturgical language but did not understand it well, and would thereore find such annotations helpful in finding the right text. One of these annotations, however, in fact identifies the lection incorrectly. Its provenance remains somewhat mysterious, since it was brought to Britain in the early 20th century by a man who then died without revealing where he had acquired it. Ellis Minns, the Librarian of Pembroke College who subsequently purchased it, reported that the sand and variety of dead insects which he found between the leaves led him to suppose that it had spent time in a desert monastery.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>By this time, as well as losing many of its folios and suffering severely from water damage, the manuscript had lost its last binding, and it remains unbound apart from its damaged endbands and small remnants of its sewing. It is presently protected by a loose leather wrapper which was clearly once the covering material of a book, and whose appearance would be consistent with the kind of provenance suggested by Minns. However, this cover was evidently not that of the manuscript's own former binding, since its structure implies that the book for which it was made had a different sewing arrangement.</p><p style='text-align: justify;'>Dr Christopher Wright</p>

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