Sunday 29 October 2023

An Unpublished Illuminated Calendar from the Abbey of Montier-la-Celle

This and the following images are used
Courtesy of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Interesting manuscripts can be found in unexpected places. At the CULTIVATE MSS conference in London a year ago [PDF programme], there was a presentation about the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust [Wikipedia], which was interesting but had very little to do with medieval manuscripts. One partly-medieval volume was mentioned and very briefly shown on screen, however, and after several months of emailing I was eventually able to get a complete set of images of the relevant part of it. One detail is shown above.

The volume in question is known as the Gregory Cartulary, described on the online catalogue as:

A manuscript volume containing several sections, bound up as a single item, probably by Arthur Gregory (1540-1604).

The most important sections are registers of deeds, compiled, c. 1300, by the monks of Coventry Priory and Stoneleigh Abbey, relating to their estates in and around Coventry. Other sections, registers of deeds relating to Kingshill and Stivichall, and an illuminated calendar, were doubtless also compiled there.

These registers, together with many of the original deeds, were acquired by the Gregory family in the late seventeenth century when they purchased lands in and around Coventry which had belonged to Coventry Priory and Stoneleigh Abbey prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Cartularies are not usually illuminated, and it would be easy to miss the mention of "an illuminated calendar" if one were skim-reading the description, which includes the suggestion that it was compiled in the area of Coventry. The calendar itself is later described summarily, with no indication of century or country, as:

pp. 7-18: calendar in red and blue with illuminated borders and twenty-four medallion miniatures, two on each page, depicting signs of the zodiac and seasonal occupations.

Here are a couple of full-page views:


and here are a couple more details of the roundels: 

A French origin and late-13th-century date was apparent from the original images I found online, and once I had higher-resolution ones it became possible to read the text and analyse the individual feasts in the calendar. Even at high resolution the text is not always easy to read, because the most important feasts were executed in gold, and this has often worn off, as will be seen below. 

First we will look at a few of the more legible entries (as usual, click the images to enlarge them):

St Aventinus, of Troyes (4 Feb.):

Sts Savinianus (12 lessons) and Sabina (Duplex), both of Troyes (24 and 29 Jan., respectively):

St Winnebaudus of Troyes (6 Aril):

St Mastidia of Troyes (7 May):


... and others in successive months, the last being:

St Flavitus, of Troyes (18 Dec.):

Clearly the manuscript was made for use in, or near, Troyes (south-east of Paris):


We can narrow it down. Among the most distinctive and highly-graded (but less easily legible) entries are:

The deposition of St Frodobertus, in gold, and "duplex" (8 Jan.):

The invention of St Aygulphus, in gold, and "duplex" (27 Feb.):

St Aygulphus, martyr and abbot, in gold (3 Sept.):

The translation of St Frodobertus, in gold, and "duplex" (16 Oct.):


with an octave, "In albis" (23 Oct.):

The presence of Sts Frodobertus and Aygulphus point conclusively to the abbey of Montier-la-Celle. The former was the founder and first abbot [Wikipedia], the latter was a saint of Lérins whose relics were moved to the abbey.

Although originally about a half-hour's walk from the centre of Troyes, the site of the (no longer existant) abbey of Montier-la-Celle has now been absorbed into its suburbs:

What an illuminated calendar from this French abbey is doing bound with an English cartulary, I do not know, but if any reader is interested in the liturgy or illumination of 13th-century Troyes, I encourage them to investigate further.

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