Friday, 19 May 2017

Quires From a Rennes Breviary, now in New York

On a recent Saturday in New York I visited the Public Library and examined a few manuscripts that were - understandably - not considered sufficiently beautiful or interesting for inclusion in the 2006 Splendors of the Word exhibition.

One of these was a 12-leaf portion of a Breviary, described as follows in the 1962 Faye and Bond Supplement to de Ricci's Census:

In addition to not suggesting a date or place of production, this brief description is wrong on at least two counts. The first six leaves contain a calendar, and the second six contain the end of the Canticles, a litany of saints, petitions, and part of the Common of saints, ending imperfectly. Thus the latter does not come from a psalter, and cannot be the last quire of the original volume.

The description in Digital Scriptorium is considerably more precise, suggesting an origin in France in the late 15th century.

Further clues to the origin of the manuscript are some of the feasts highly graded in red:
  • 19 May. Yvo. Born at Kermartin; practiced law at Rennes and Tréguier, Brittany.
  • 17 June. Herveus. Reputedly the son of a Welsh minstrel at the court of King Childebert at Paris; born blind; adopted his father's profession, and travelled around Brittany singing, to support his mother. Relics at Brest and later Nantes. Venerated especially at Rennes and Nantes.
  • 16 Ocober. St Michael "i(n) mo(n)te tu(m)ba" (i.e Mont-St-Michel).
and some of those in plain ink, each graded with at least 9 lessons:
  • 16 May. Moderamnus. "Moderandi e(piscop)i redonen."
  • 1 July, and octave, 8 July. Golvinus. Bishop of St-Pol-de-Léon, Brittany; venerated especially at Rennes and Quimper.
  • 16 August. Armagillus (alias Armel, Arzel). Lived as a hermit at St-Arzel, diocese of St-Pol-de-Léon.
  • 29 October. The translation of Yvo.
  • 3 November. Gobrianus. Bishop of Vannes.
  • 3 November. "Dedicac(i)o ecc(lesi)e red'" 
  • 6 November. Melanius. "Melanii e(piscop)i redonen'". Bishop of Rennes; relics at the monastery of St Melaine, Rennes.
  • 15 November. Maclovius. Bishop of St-Malo; venerated especially at St-Malo and St-Brieuc
  • 12 December (an early addition). Corentin. First bishop of Quimper.
The feasts on 16 May and 6 November give us the necessary confidence to expand the place-name in the dedication feast on 3 November: "red'" = "redonen'" = Redonensis, i.e. Rennes.

The litany includes Ivo, Melanius, and Armagillus among the confessors.

If the place-names mentioned above are plotted on a map, it can be seen that they ring the (present-day) limits of Brittany:

The recent provenance is recorded in a loose note dated May 24, 1938:
"This fragment was found in
Reserve by Mr. Gerald D. McDonald
while cleaning up accumulations
in the cupboards of room 304
after the death of Dr Wilberforce
Gerald Doan McDonald (1905-70) was Chief of Special Collections at the Library; Wilberforce Eames (1855-1937) was Chief of the American History Division at the Library from 1911, and Bibliographer from 1916 [Wikipedia].


The full correct citation for the manuscript is:
"Renaissance and Medieval Manuscripts Collection, MA 147. New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations."


  1. Hi, I have a quick question. I am an MA student trying to find the provenance of a composite breviary. Would you recommend looking at calendar feast days as a good indicator? Kind regards, Sheridan

    1. Yes, the calendar is a good place to start. To begin with, just look at the feasts in red (or gold, or blue, if those colours are used). If there is one that begins with something like "Ded'o eccle" (Dedicatio ecclesie, often highly abbreviated) it may be the feast of the dedication of the church that the Breviary was written for.


Please include your name