London, British Library, Cotton Vitellius D. xvii Osbern, "Vita" and "Translatio" of St. Ælphege, etc.; Homilies for Saints' Days, mostly by Ælfric

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A. N. Doane


256. London, British Library,

Cotton Vitellius D. xvii

Osbern, "Vita" and "Translatio" of St. Ælphege, etc.;

Homilies for Saints' Days, mostly by Ælfric

[Ker 222, Gneuss 406]

HISTORY: A composite manuscript formerly of at least 232 folios that contained a 11/126c copy of Osbern's "Vita" and "Translatio" of St. Ælphege (and a "Passio S. Paterni" [BHL 6480] now wanting), combined with an extensive mid-11c compilation of Saints' Lives from all three series of Ælfric's homilies (plus a few other Ælfric items) as well as the unique extant copy of the anonymous OE "Life of St. Pantaleon;' and a copy of "The Resting Place of the Saints;' the last now entirely lost (special features of OE contents discussed by Scragg 1996: 222); they are not arranged according to the Sanctorale. [Note: The first part, 22 folios before the fire of 1731, now ff. 1-3, was extracted from a Jumieges manuscript of saints' lives, the rest of which is now Bodleian Library 852 (2611), v + 84 fols., 11/12c, which has notes relating to Malmesbury on f. 1r (see Watson/Ker 1987: 48). According to a 15c list of contents on f. v verso in Bodl. 852, passions of Sts. Paternus and Ælphege came after present f. 67, so the extraction of these leaves and combination with the OE saints' lives is post-medieval.] The manuscript was owned by Sir Robert Cotton by 1621 (B.L. Harley 6018, no. 140). The manuscript was extensively damaged in the Cotton library fire of 1731, ultimately losing 141 leaves, but its contents and order can be reconstructed because Humphrey Wanley had published a detailed description in 1705 including an accurate account of the foliation. The volume remained unprotected in its burnt state for more than a century and losses must have occurred in this interval. In the 1820s and 30s Josiah Forshall, Keeper of Western Manuscripts at the B.M., attempted to flatten some of the least-damaged leaves by wetting them and making horizontal slashes at the edges to relax them. In the 1840s, under the supervision of Sir Frederick Madden, Forshall's successor, the damaged leaves of many burnt Cottonians, including this one, were permanently stabilized by Henry Gough, who devised a method of inlaying the separate leaves in paper mounts, in which they are preserved to the present day( Prescott 1997: 405-7, 415-16). The mounted leaves of Cotton Vitellius D. xvii were bound in incorrect order and with many leaves reversed. The mounts protect the burnt edges, but the worst-damaged leaves remained fragile, with various holes and tears in the middle of the sheets. This ensemble was rebound and repaired in 1964 (the incorrect order of the leaves was kept, except for a few minor adjustments); the 1964 work also involved covering many of the worst leaves, or parts of leaves, with fine steel conservation mesh, which renders many pages even more difficult to decipher than they already are and which makes photography very difficult, as the mesh diffuses the light away from the surface of the membrane. This description depends heavily on the previous descriptions of Wanley 1705: 206-8 and Ker, Cat. The Catholic Homily items have the siglum "fk" in the editions of Clemoes and Godden.

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