Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Two Unpublished English Elevation Prayers in Takamiya MS 56

Academic journal article The Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscripts and Printing History

Two Unpublished English Elevation Prayers in Takamiya MS 56

Article excerpt

Takamiya MS 56, a nearly six-foot long (1730 x 80 mm) vellum roll in the private collection of Toshiyuki Takamiya, Professor Emeritus at Keio University, Tokyo, includes two unpublished English elevation verses on the face of a prayer roll otherwise dominated by Latin texts. Four miniatures depicting the empty cross, instruments of the Passion, and the side wound encourage affective meditation. A curious inscription on the dorse matches the roll's length of five feet, eight-and-one-eighth inches to the height of the Virgin Mary. An extra piece of vellum tacked with tiny modern nails guarantees the roll's verisimilitude: "Thys moche more ys oure lady Mary {longe}." Part of the dorse inscription, which runs the entire length of the roll, instructs: "And a woma[n] that ys quyck wythe chylde {girde} hir wythe thys mesure and she shall be safe fro[m] all man[ner] of p[e]rllis." The roll's date and location indicators suggest production between 1435 and 1450, possibly near Tewkesbury Abbey. (1) This dating suggests Takamiya MS 56 can be identified as an early English birth girdle, a paper or parchment manuscript roll that simulated the apotropaic powers of metal or fabric girdle relics of the Virgin Mary and other saints. (2) Scholars have identified six other English manuscript rolls, most dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth century, as likely birth girdle candidates. The list includes Wellcome Historical Medical Library, MS 632; British Library, Additional MS 88929 (formerly Ushaw College, MS 29); British Library, Rotulorum Harley MS 43.A. 14; British Library, Rotulorum Harley MS T.11; Pierpont Morgan Library, Glazier MS 39; and Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, MS 410. Birth girdle usage persisted into the English Reformation, as indicated by a 1533 printed birth girdle from the workshop of Wynkyn de Worde (STC 14547.S) and Bishop Nicholas Shaxton's 1538 injunctions against midwives' dependence upon "girdles, purses, or measures of our Lady, or other such superstitious things." (3)

The prevalence of both Latin and English prayers that could be recited at the elevation of the host or in private meditation on the Passion implies that the scribe or commissioner of Takamiya MS 56 envisioned a roll that "doubled" as a spiritual guide while also providing protection during childbirth. (4) Even the border designer of the dorse, where the childbirth inscription runs as a single line between two brown borders marked with evenly spaced circles, may have left the circles blank for later insertion of the "IHS" or "IHC" often inscribed on the wafer of the host in manuscript miniatures depicting the elevation. (5) Or, as in the symbolic elevation of Beinecke MS 410, the inscribed host is positioned within the steeple of the Gothic architectural frame for the birth girdle's first miniature--the crucified Christ embracing the cross while standing among other instruments of the Passion. (6) Images of the five wounds, especially the side wound and the cross, often associated with eucharistic devotion, characteristically appear in English birth girdles. The prevalence of Arma Christi devices such as the lance, the sponge, and the ladder prominently displayed in Takamiya 56 and in later English birth girdles may reflect a distinctively English appropriation of these images for protection during childbirth. The vestiges of eucharistic texts, even though no other verses categorized as elevation prayers are among them, in the late fifteenth-century birth girdles and the continuing replication of eucharistic images suggest that the English birth girdle tradition may have emerged from the eucharistic devotion that Takamiya MS 56 exemplifies.

As a first step in exploring such a eucharistic origin, I examine two vernacular elevation verses in Takamiya MS 56, "Hayle holy bodye of criste ihu" and "Hayle precyous blode of god cryst ihu." These two unpublished verse-prayers resemble other published and/or catalogued elevation verses in some of their content, but a search of the Digital Index of Medieval English Verse (DIMEV) does not reveal witnesses for these two particular verses. …

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