Between about 1023 and 1031, a small book of some eighty pages was compiled at the New Minster, Winchester, for Ælfwine, later abbot of the Minster (from about 1035) but at the time a dean, an important official under the abbot. One of the two scribes involved was probably Ælfwine himself. We can be confident that the book (now divided into two volumes, London, British Library, Cotton Titus D. xxvi–xxvii) was indeed Ælfwine's private prayerbook from the number of references to him throughout, including a prayer with his name as the supplicant.
More than half of the seventy-eight items are devotional texts, mostly prayers. There are also scriptural passages and a litany (a formal list of saints to be invoked as intercessors), and three full-page line drawings, including one of the Crucifixion. The book opens with an ecclesiastical calendar and tables, enabling Ælfwine to find the dates of the ‘moveable’ feasts of the church year, above all Easter, which are not fixed but depend on the phases of the moon. This would have been a vital resource if, as is likely, his job as dean necessitated frequent journeys away from the monastery. But there are also secular texts, several of them revealing a characteristic medieval curiosity about numerology and natural phenomena, and these include ‘prognostications’, which give, for example, days considered lucky or unlucky for the performance of certain activities, such as blood-letting.
Although the book is written predominantly in Latin, ten of the items are in OE, and another has an OE rubric. The longest is a vernacular version of Ælfric's De temporibus anni (‘On the seasons of the year’) but they include also a medical remedy for boils (which occurs also in Bald's Leechbook: see Text 3), and the three items presented below. Given here in sequence, they are among five short texts to be found on fols. 54v to 56v, between the work by Ælfric and an account of the passion of Christ according to St John.
The ‘Alphabet and Sentences’ is a curiosity, deriving it seems from the prognostic tradition, in which alphabet texts were used for dream interpretation. Several survive in Latin and in Middle High German, most of them written between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, but although there are analogies between these and Ælfwine's version, no direct connection is apparent.