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Gloria in excelsis deo

Nativity scene from the fifteenth-century Fagel missal (TCD MS 83 folio 20r)
Nativity scene from the fifteenth-century Fagel Missal (TCD MS 81 folio 20r)

To those who are used to looking at medieval illuminations, the illuminations in the Fagel Missal, wonderful as they are, are not unusual. What is unusual is that not only is the illuminator’s name known, but that she was a woman.

The Fagel Missal came to the Library along with the library of Hendrik Fagel (1765-1838), which was purchased in 1802. Fagel, a senior Dutch politician, was in difficult circumstances, exiled in England during the Napoleonic Wars; he was obliged to sell his family’s magnificent library. So large was his library that its arrival into Trinity increased the College Library holdings by forty per cent, in other words, it was over a mile of books. The collection is well-known among scholars and is about to become more so.  The Library and the Long Room Hub, along with Irish and international scholars, are making plans to make the catalogue more widely accessible online. Furthermore an excellent collection of essays on the matter called Frozen in Time has just been edited by Tim Jackson.

Detail of the nativity scene on MS 80 folio 20r
Detail of the nativity scene on MS 81 folio 20r

There was one manuscript in the collection, a copiously illustrated fifteenth-century missal containing instructions for celebrating Catholic religious services on different occasions. There are over 276 folios in this magnificent volume and the decoration is of the highest quality. Full and partial borders of flowers, fruit, foliage, and vine-stems are populated by birds and beasts – including hares and hens, lions and squirrels – as well as monsters and angels, all painted in gold and colours. There are two full-page illustrations including one of the Crucifixion. The manuscript was bound subsequent to its arrival into the Library by the Dublin bookbinder George Mullan in sumptuous blind- and gilt-tooled black morocco. The entire manuscript has been digitised and will be available to consult online in the near future.

What is unusual about this particular manuscript is that the scribe and illustrator signed and dated it, and she was a woman. This is extraordinary as very few late-medieval manuscripts are documented as having been written by women. On folio 213, on the page for the service of St Margaret, is written: anno domini m’o cccc’o lix’o Octobris ydibus est liber iste finitus, uirgo que scripsit nomen huius habens  (In the year of Our Lord 1459 on the ides of October this book was finished. The virgin who wrote it has this name); this text is carefully positioned beside the name Margaret. On folio 97 the scribe also recorded that her work was done in the monastery of St Agnes, a convent in Delft under the rule of St Augustine.

The nativity scene, painted by Sr Margaret, was chosen to accompany the Library’s Christmas card this year and it is with this that we wish all our readers a very happy Christmas. We look forward to your continued interest in our work in 2017.

'Gloria in excelsis Deo': detail from MS 80 folio 20r
‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’: detail from MS 81 folio 20r

Jane Maxwell

Marvin L.Colker, Trinity College Library: descriptive catalogue of the mediaeval and renaissance Latin manuscripts (Scholar Press, 1991).

Kathryn M. Rudy, ‘The Fagel Missal’, in W.E. Vaughan, The Old Library Trinity College Dublin, 1712-2012 (Four Courts Press, 2013) pp. 65-8.