MISSAL The Missal of the Chapel of Saint-Pierre in Saint-Germain-Laval, near Lyon, Use of diocese of Lyon, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum

[France (Lyon)], n.p., [1401]


285 by 200 mm., 262 leaves (plus 2 original endleaves at each end), complete, collation: i10, ii-xxxii8, xxxiii4, catchwords (many with line drawn human faces and animals), contemporary foliation and modern pencil foliation (the latter followed here). Double column, 28 lines in the angular gothic bookhand of Geraldus Lombardus (see below), capitals touched in yellow or red (crucial capitals following decorated initials enclosing human faces, and one on fol. 141v topped with a squirrel), red rubrics, red and dark blue initials with ornate penwork in red and purple, 3-line initials in gold on red and burgundy grounds heightened with white penwork, larger initials in blue or pink heightened with white penwork, enclosing sprays of coloured foliage or tessellated shapes, on coloured and burnished gold grounds, terminating in coloured and gold foliage bars in margin (that on fol. 195v with a coloured dragon biting a bezant), initials on fol. 130r enclosing a coat-of-arms (those of Pierre Vernin: gueles with three trefoil crosses, on a chef argent charged with an onde azur) and an agnus dei, frontispiece with very large initial in same with full border of simple foliage with a dragon in upper outer corner, enclosing a coat-of-arms in bas-de-page (as before), eighteenth-century devotional print of Crucifixion pasted by modern owner to fol. 129v, trimming to edges of leaves with losses to edges of borders of frontispiece, some wear to edges of leaves with occasional damage to edges of borders, some small areas of text overwritten later, minor spots and stains, but overall in good and solid condition, modern binding of leather over wooden boards tooled in faux-medieval style.

This is a large and imposing codex, and a crucially important record of the liturgy and life of the towns of Saint-Germain-Laval and Lyon. While the quality of its decoration is not that of the very greatest artistic centres such as Paris or Rouen, it has significant charm, and without doubt this codex was the focal point of worship for the town of Saint-Germain-Laval throughout the late Middle Ages. It will have acted as one of the key symbols of Christianity and local identity to the worshippers there, and is almost certainly the sole surviving record of the liturgy of the community. Sachet had only room to print a brief codicological description and the contents of its calendar, much remains to be studied by specialists here.

Saint-Germain-Laval lay in the hinterland of Lyon in the late Middle Ages, and the latter was of equal importance and wealth to Paris. The position of Lyon at the hub of several overland routes leading out of northern Italy into mainland Europe ensured that the town would become the focal point for the trade of various luxury goods entering the main European market, such as silk, and Italian merchants had regular and permanent trade fairs there throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These trades placed a substantial amount of moveable wealth into the economy of the region, and created the need for a sophisticated banking system. Thus, Lyon became not only wealthy, but also the banking capital of France. The facts that the colophon records about this particular volume accord well with this: perhaps only in the hinterland of such a prosperous site as Lyon could a local lawyer and judge acquire enough wealth to found such a substantial expression of his devotion as an entire chapel, apparently also donning it out with the vestments and books needed for its use as place of worship. Moreover, the name of the scribe (and perhaps artist) of this volume, Geraldus Lombardus, points at a northern Italian origin and the source of this wealth. He was probably a member of one of the region’s prominent immigrant mercantile families.

The contents comprise: prayers and readings from Church Fathers; a Calendar; and Masses for the entire year, with lists of saints crucial for certain Masses and a Litany.

Provenance1. This manuscript stands among the tiny handful of surviving books from the Middle Ages which make explicit almost all parts of their creation through the addition of lengthy descriptive colophons. On fol. 262r, an inscription in red ink in the main hand at the end of the text records that it follows the Use of Lyon, and was made on the order of the nobleman Petrus Verninus, a practitioner of law and serving judge for the comte de Forez, for a chapel he had founded in honour of St Peter in the town of Saint-Germain-Laval (of which the tower still stands), and which was completed by the hand of Geraldus Lombardus on 16th day of June in the year 1401. A truncated version of the same has been added in the space left for the incipit at the beginning of the Missal text proper on fol. 13r, with an overspill of 4 lines onto blank space at the end of the calendar on the preceding leaf. A later hand has added “1401” at the head of the Calendar. As noted by Sachet it follows the Use of Lyon, in which diocese Saint-Germain-Laval lay, with numerous local saints such as St. Aubrin, the patron saint of nearby Montbrison.Notes on fols. 129r and at the front and end of the volume of devotional tracts and sayings, prayers and offices in sixteenth- and perhaps seventeenth-century hands, as well as the pasting in of the devotional printed image of the eighteenth-century, show its continual use by the community during those centuries.During the Revolution, Lyon and the inhabitants of its surrounding towns rose up against the National Convention, and in 1793 the region was invaded by the French Revolutionary Armies. The city of Lyon was besieged for two months, during which its hinterland was ravaged, with religious buildings destroyed and their contents looted. In Lyon itself some 2000 inhabitants were executed and most of the buildings around the Place Bellecour levelled following their surrender. The present Missal most probably passed into private ownership at this time.2. Ch. De Visser: his perhaps late eighteenth-century ex libris twice at the head of fol. 262v. 3. By 1895 it had passed to the local Lyon historian and prolific antiquarian author, the Abbé Alphonse Sachet (1848-1924), who served as the Licencié ès-lettres Professeur de Philosophie au Petit-Séminaire de Saint-Jean and was awarded the Prix Thérouanne in 1919. The volume was the subject of a short publication by him for the Lyon historical journal, Bulletin de la Diana VIII, pp. 3-24 (copy enclosed in volume), and the scholarly pen notes in the margin of fols. 3r, 111r and 131r et passim are probably in his hand.
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