One of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon manuscript art: a wonderful hybrid of Carolingian and Insular art from Winchester

Benedictional of St. Aethelwold

Old Minster, Winchester (United Kingdom) — 970–984

Benedictional of St. Aethelwold

Benedictional of St. Aethelwold

Old Minster, Winchester (United Kingdom) — 970–984

  1. Æthelwold (904/9 – 984), the Bishop of Winchester, was a leading reformer and art patron

  2. He was an important force for reviving and reforming the Anglo-Saxon church in the 10th century

  3. This manuscript is one of the highlights of Anglo-Saxon art during this Renaissance

Benedictional of St. Aethelwold

Alternative Titles:
  • The Benedictional of Aethelwold
  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology
Short Description

The Benedictional of Saint Æthelwold is a true highlight of Anglo-Saxon art that was completed in the Old Minster of Winchester in the year 980 at the behest of Saint Æthelwold himself. As the Bishop of Winchester, Æthelwold was one of the leading figures of the monastic-reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England that revived religious life in the kingdom. This manuscript features 28 full-page miniatures set within gorgeous floral borders that are exemplary of the Winchester style as well as 19 framed pages of text, two large historiated initials, and gold and red lettering throughout.

Benedictional of St. Æthelwold

After withstanding more than a century of Viking raids and outright invasions, Anglo-Saxon England was reunited and pacified under the reign of King Eadred (923-955). As a result, Anglo-Saxon art enjoyed a Renaissance in the second half of the 10th century, and one of the finest examples of this is the Benedictional of Saint Æthelwold. The manuscript was produced in the Old Minster, Winchester where it remained until the Reformation. Its history falls into darkness for the next few centuries until it resurfaces in the possession of Henry Compton (d. 1713). It then passed to William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, where it remained until it was acquired by the British Museum in 1957.

The Education of Æthelwold

Æthelwold (904/9 – 984), the Bishop of Winchester, was one of the leading figures of the monastic-reform movement in Anglo-Saxon England. After generations of Viking attacks, monastic life significantly deteriorated, but a revival of learning and the arts was made possible through the efforts of Æthelwold inter alia. He served in the royal court of King Athelstan (ca. 894-939) and was educated in grammar, metrics, and patristics at Glastonbury Abbey, where he rose to the rank of dean. During the reign of King Eadred, Æthelwold wished to travel to Europe to learn more about the monastic life, but Eadred refused permission, and instead appointed him abbot of the former monastic site of Abingdon, Oxfordshire, which was then served by secular priests.

The Bishop of Winchester

Æthelwold was consecrated Bishop of Winchester on 29 November, 963 and the following year, with the connivance of King Edgar and the support of an armed force led by a royal official, he had the clerics of Winchester’s Old and New Minsters expelled and replaced by monks from Abingdon. He refounded monasteries and aggressively reclaimed lands that were once owned by those religious communities, creating false charters if necessary. Enjoying the strong support of King Edgar (ca. 943-975), he established various Benedictine monasteries.

Benedictine Revival

The Benedictines were greatly superior to the secular clergy in their learning and their schools. Æthelwold personally taught the older pupils at Winchester, and their works show that they regarded him with great respect and affection. His surviving works in both Latin and Old English show that he was a great scholar, and his vernacular writings are believed to have played an important role in the development of Standard Old English. Some of the wealth he accumulated was used to rebuild churches, and he was also a major patron of ecclesiastical art, although unfortunately none of his works survive, and only written accounts remain. The artistic workshops he established continued to be influential after his death, both at home and abroad.

Æthelwold’s Work

A century later, Æthelwold acquired a great reputation as a goldsmith and was credited with the production of a range of metal objects at Abingdon, including many figures and objects in precious metal, bells, and even a pipe organ. Wulfstan's contemporary Life of Æthelwold mentions him undertaking other forms of manual work, in the gardens and in building, but nothing about metalwork, suggesting this legend was a later elaboration, though one that shows the high status of goldsmithing at the time. Æthelwold was certainly bishop during the period when the Winchester school of manuscript illumination reached its peak, and the most important surviving manuscript of the school, the Benedictional of Saint Æthelwold was commissioned by him. He also rebuilt the Old Minster at Winchester, completed in 980. After Æthelwold’s death in 984, there were claims of divinity cast at his grave, one said they were cured of blindness by visiting his tomb, others were cured by their proximity to his holiness, which included an 11th century episode in which a monk shows his devotion by plunging his hand into a pot of boiling stew.

On the Cutting Edge

The 10th century witnessed a revival of Anglo-Saxon and Latin literature in conjunction with a flowering of Anglo-Saxon art that produced many fine manuscripts, of which the Benedictional of St. Aethelwold is the finest. The monumental work is a wonderful hybrid of Carolingian and Insular art that reflects the wish of English monastic scriptoria to take their place among the leading centers of art in 10th century Europe and to realign their liturgical practices with those of the Carolingian Empire. This text is the product of a talented scribe working in various scripts: Godeman. Carolingian miniature was used for the majority of the text in addition to rustic Roman capitals. 28 full-page miniatures are set within gorgeous floral borders that are exemplary of the Winchester style and there are 19 framed pages of text, two large historiated initials, and gold and red lettering throughout that makes this one of the finest specimens of Anglo-Saxon manuscript art. As many as 15 miniatures may be missing, likely separated from the rest of the manuscript when the luxury binding was removed.

Codicology
Alternative Titles
The Benedictional of Aethelwold
Size / Format
119 folios / 29.2 × 22.5 cm
Date
970–984
Language
Script
Caroline Minuscule; Littera capitalis rustica
Illustrations
28 full-page miniatures; 2 historiated initials; 19 text pages with ornamental frames; red and gold letters throughout the manuscript
Content
Benedictions
Artist / School
Previous Owners
3 available facsimile edition(s) of „Benedictional of St. Aethelwold“

The benedictional of St Æthelwold Facsimile

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The benedictional of St Æthelwold Facsimile

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Commentary
1 volume by Andrew Prescott
Language: English
More Information
Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

The benedictional of Æthelwold Facsimile

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The benedictional of Æthelwold Facsimile

1 volume: This facsimile is not complete.
Limited Edition
Not limited
Commentary
1 volume by Robert Deshman
Language: English
More Information
Reproduction of folios 1r-118v of the original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The pages are trimmed at the expense of some marginal features of the original. The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.

The benedictional of Saint Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, 963-984 Facsimile

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The benedictional of Saint Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester, 963-984 Facsimile

1 volume: This facsimile is not complete.
Commentary
1 volume by George F. Warner and Henry A. Wilson
Language: English
More Information
Black and white reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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