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Early sixteenth century Flemish manuscript on vellum

This music manuscript is designed for use by a choir singing a service. It contains nine settings for the major church festivals, each introduced by a historiated initial letter: 1. God speaks to Zechariah; 2. the nativity; 3. the circumcision of Jesus; 4. the baptism of Jesus; 5. the women at the tomb; 6. ascension; 7. Pentecost; 8. the Trinity; 9. ecce panis.

The border to accompany the women at the tomb contains two heraldic shields, one with an abbot’s or bishop’s crozier, indicating the original owner. In addition, there are many shorter liturgical pieces each introduced by a decorated initial. The text is Latin throughout, with notes in Dutch or Flemish at the beginning of some sections. The music has a four-line stave with minimal notation except to indicate some longer notes. The score shows evidence of having been used for services: some lines have been changed or corrected and there are occasional annotations.

The manuscript retains its original binding with heavy bosses and incised decoration. It was rebacked and repaired at the Bodleian Library sometime in the later nineteenth century.

Its provenance is unrecorded. There is no indication how it came to belong to Radley. There have been suggestions that this was the manuscript which ‘sorely tempted’ William Sewell on a visit to London which had ‘belonged to Bishop Heber who gave £200 for it.’ However, that is described as a fifteenth-century manuscript (although the close identification of manuscript material should not be taken as evidence from this period), and ‘sorely tempted’ implies that he did not, in fact, buy the book. Moreover, the catalogue of the library in the inventory of goods pre-1862 lists ‘An old illuminated manuscript, and ditto in vellum’ indicating that there were at least two unidentified ‘medieval’ manuscripts in the library. The inventory also lists chapel music, and it is much more likely that this manuscript would have been intended to be a part of the musical tradition had it been part of the school’s holdings in Singleton’s and Sewell’s day. The only indication of an early date for this manuscript’s arrival in Radley is the design of the bookplate, of which there are no other examples and which incorporates an early drawing of St. Peter.

Future plans for this manuscript include its digitisation to create a ‘Turning the pages’ online version, funded by the Radleian Society. The choir also intend to transcribe and record some of the music, which will then accompany the online version.