Medieval books, or codices, form a very significant element of the Library’s research collections. The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library collection was founded on the medieval religious books which had originally been collected by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656); he acquired many of them to assist with his investigations into the early transmission of biblical texts. The Library continues to build this collection, which represents the only significant body of medieval Irish and European religious works in Ireland.
Our most recent medieval acquisition is an illuminated breviary; it is Italian, written in Latin on vellum, and dates from the 15th century. A breviary is a service book containing texts used in church ceremonies; in this case it contains prayers for the Office of the Dead which would be read on All Saints’ Day, November 1st, or for a particular funeral Mass. The illuminated detail of the Virgin and Child has been selected to grace the Library’s 2012 Christmas card.
The original owner of this manuscript is unknown; if the coat of arms, which is included in the first-page illumination, could be identified, it might reveal the first owner’s name. It may of course simply be a design element made up by the artist.