Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI – Belser Verlag – Borg. lat. 425 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Rome (Italy) — Late 15th century

Still in use today for the Christmas Mass in St. Peter's Basilica: a magnificent Renaissance masterpiece with gold-glowing book décor made for the famous Borgia Pope Alexander VI

  1. Commissioned by Alexander VI (1431–1503), the Borgia Pope, this codex is used in St. Peter’s Basilica at Christmas

  2. 136 historiated initials with gold leaf dominate the imagery of the Renaissance masterpiece

  3. The manuscript has been handled with great care over the centuries, and is in terrific condition

Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

The Christmas Missal of Alexander VI (1492–1503) is a truly magnificent manuscript of the Italian Renaissance, containing prayers and chants for the Christmas Mass. The gold-decorated manuscript was commissioned towards the end of the 15th century by the equally powerful and notorious Borgia Pope Alexander VI from an extremely talented book artist, who decorated the Missal with beautiful miniatures, fantastical borders and numerous golden initials. The magnificent, large-format liturgical manuscript not only served Pope Alexander VI for his readings during Christmas Mass, but is still kept in the Vatican Library today and used every year for church celebrations in St Peter's Basilica. Despite this impressive usage history, the codex is preserved in astonishingly good condition, which speaks for a very careful use of the precious work.

Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI was one of the most colorful people of the Italian Renaissance. He originated from the powerful Borgia family, which is infamous for corruption scandals and intrigues. Alexander VI was not only the Supreme Head of the Catholic Church, but also an influential prince and political ruler. He lead a most dissolute life, carried on with mistresses, fathered numerous illegitimate children, and filled high clerical and political administrative bodies for a price. His lifestyle stands in stark contrast with our modern picture of a cleric, and alienated many of his contemporaries with his escapades. Nevertheless, sources also report on his genuine adoration of the Virgin Mary and strong work ethic. The highly educated and well-read pope commissioned numerous breath-taking manuscripts, which he authorized for ceremonial occasions in St. Peter’s Basilica. Among these manuscripts is his famous Christmas Missal.

What is a Missal?

A missal is a book for mass, in which are contained the prayers, hymns, and precepts for the regime of a liturgical celebration in the church. In the text of a missal, one finds not only prayers and songs with notation that are ordered after the flow of the service. It contains guidelines for the behavior of the priests, for example, recommendations for specific clothing. The unusually valuable Christmas Missal of Alexander VI is one of the most famous examples of this genre.

Valuable Book Adornment

The codex was commissioned in the late 15th century by the Borgia Pope. The quality of the Miniatures indicate a very talented and experienced master of the Renaissance. The Franciscan monk Antonio da Monza is possibly responsible for the design of the work. He created several miniatures that strongly resemble the style of the illustrations in the Christmas Missal. The manuscript contains numerous color pictures with gold adornment, including two full page illustrations. The text is ennobled with 136 gold initials.

A Milestone of Christian Liturgy

The magnificent manuscript survived the centuries. In his own time, Pope Alexander VI himself authorized the prayers and hymns from the magnificent codex. To this day, that manuscript is used for the ceremonial Christmas mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The numerous popes and high clerics, who were allowed to hold the work in their hands, handled it with great care. Today, the valuable book treasure is stored in the Vatican Library and is presented once a year at the largest Christian feast at the center of the Catholic Church.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Weihnachtsmissale Papst Alexanders VI.
Weihnachtsmissale des Borgia-Papstes Alexander VI.
Missa in Nativitate Domini Nostri Iesu Christi, hora tertiarum Pontifice Maximo celebrante
Libellus Missae papalis
The Pope’s Christmas Missal
Missale Pontificis
Size / Format
138 pages / 48.0 × 35.0 cm
Origin
Italy
Date
Late 15th century
Language
Script
Italian gothic script
Illustrations
136 mostly historiated golden initials, fanciful borders, and numerous miniatures including 2 full-pages
Content
Prayers and hymns for the Christmas Mass
Patron
Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503)
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI – Belser Verlag – Borg. lat. 425 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1986
Limited Edition: 600 copies
Detail Picture

Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

Mass of Saint Gregory

Appearing across from a Crucifixion scene, this exceptionally rich medallion miniature shows the veneration of the Eucharist before an image of Christ Crucified. According to legend, when Pope Gregory I was performing mass a woman doubted that the Eucharist was indeed Christ because she baked the bread. After praying for a sign, a vision of Christ with the wounds of the Passion appeared on the altar and the legend became a popular subject for illuminated manuscripts and altarpieces alike.

Weihnachtsmissale Alexanders VI
Single Page

Missale Pontificis - Christmas Missal of Alexander VI

The Nativity / Escutcheon and Portrait of Alexander VI

This incredible commission of the infamous Borgia Pope is still used in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Christmas mass today. Likely created by Antonio da Monza, the only thing more impressive than its miniatures are the 136 gold initials adorning the text, including the incipit page at hand.

The contents of this splendid codex are begun with the words “A child is born” – Puer natus est. A typical but refined nativity scene is contained within the splendid historiated initials, which consists of floral motifs of red, blue, and green set against a brilliantly burnished gold background. In the bas-de-page miniature, the escutcheon and portrait of the dissolute Pope appear set against blue backgrounds reminiscent of the night’s sky.

Weihnachtsmissale Alexanders VI
Facsimile Editions

#1 Weihnachtsmissale Alexanders VI

Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1986

Publisher: Belser Verlag – Zurich, 1986
Limited Edition: 600 copies
Binding: Full calfskin with contemporary tooling and stamped gold emblems. 2 shell-shaped hinges in handworked brass
Commentary: 1 volume (64 pages) by Adalbert Roth
Language: German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) 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.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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