Manuscript: Additional MS 74236
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British Library, Additional MS 74236
(The Sherborne Missal)

Produced: England, c 1399-1407

Language: Latin

Illustrator: John Siferwas
Scribe: John Whas

Binding: French 18th century, with elaborate tooled gilt spine
Media: Vellum
Script: Gothic textualis prescissa

Folios: 347  Height: 54.3 cm   Width: 38 cm

Manuscript type: Missal

Location: British Library, London, England, United Kingdom

Family: n/a


Source: Janet Backhouse, 2001 (Medieval Birds in the Sherborne Missal) | Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission | Folio 192r


"...formerly the Alnwick Missal: England, probably the Benedictine Abbey of St Marys, Sherborne, co. Dorset; circa 1399-1407. This is the largest, most lavish late medieval servicebook to have survived the Reformation intact. Inclusion of the arms of Henry V as Prince of Wales, a title he assumed shortly after the accession of his father, Henry IV, in 1399 and of Richard Mitford, Bishop of Salisbury (1396-1407) indicate the probable date of production. The principal artist, John Siferwas ... gives his self-portrait on six occasions... At least four other artists were probably involved. Siferwas wears Dominican dress and we know from other sources that he was ordained an acolyte at Farnham, co. Surrey, by the Bishop of Winchester in 1380, that he was for a time a member of the Dominican house at Guildford, co. Surrey, and that he continues to be mentioned in Somerset wills of the 1420s. Siferwas also depicted the scribe, John Whas ... who wears a Benedictine habit and who was probably a monk of Sherborne Abbey. Whas inscribed a colophon: 'Librum scribendo Ion Whas monachus laborat, Et mane surgendo corpus multum macerabat' ('John Whas, the monk, this book's transcription undertaking, with early rising found his body sorely aching'. The Sherborne Missals ambitious and extremely extensive decorative programme seems to have addressed a number of agendas, for this world and the next. Sketches of birds probably made in northern England, to judge by the species represented (many of which remain native to the West Country), perhaps in the form of a sketchbook like the Pepys Sketchbook (Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys MS. 1916), were used as a source for the large naturalistic depictions of birds, labelled with their Middle English names, which adorn the Canon of the Mass. The Sherborne Missal was still in England during the Reformation, when images of the Pope and of St. Thomas Becket were defaced in compliance with edicts issued during the 1530s (Sherborne Abbey was dissolved in March, 1539). It had reached the Continent before 1703... Purchased by Hugh Percy, 2nd Duke of Northumberland ... in 1800 for 215. Remained in the possession of the Dukes of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle... until deposited on loan at the British Library (Loan MS. 82) by the 10th Duke in 1983 and obtained for the nation in July 1998...

The Missal is considered a masterpiece of International Gothic art... John Siferwas was the Missals principal artist but he was assisted by at least four others, either members of the Sherborne community or more itinerant bought-in artists like the Dominican Siferwas himself... The volume is fully illuminated in gold and colours to an exceptionally high standard. Every page carries decoration... The Ordinary and Canon of the Mass are distinguished by marginal depictions of British birds..." - British Library

Additional description

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