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3 - Latin and Vernacular Prayers in MS Digby 86

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2019

Sheri Smith
Affiliation:
Heinrich Heine Universität, Düsseldorf
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Summary

RELIGIOUS texts intended either for devotional or instructive purposes represent a significant proportion of Oxford, BodL, MS Digby 86 and contribute to its remarkable breadth, appearing in both prose and verse written in each of the manuscript's three languages. The importance of these texts to the compiler is signalled by the eventual ordering of the quires, which placed a collection of pastoralia written in the French vernacular at the miscellany's beginning, and by the compiler's later inclusion of a variety of prayers distinctive in purpose from those originally gathered. A significant number of the prayers appear in the manuscript's first section, described by Judith Tschann and Malcolm Parkes as ‘practical’ in its aims, alongside such texts as recipes, medicinal instructions and charms for protection and healing, strongly suggesting that these prayers are intended for use and expected to be efficacious. Throughout the manuscript, as in its first section, prayers appear most usually in clusters, or sequences. An examination of the key prayer sequences in Digby 86 demonstrates interesting differences in the compiler's approach to Latin versus the French vernacular. The manuscript contains evidence of anthologising tendencies in the prayer collections. Some are arranged according to language, form and theme, while others allow for thematic development, encouraging contemplative movement through a series of reflections. Such deliberate arrangement of texts is most pronounced in the French prayer sequences, and it is in these sequences that the Digby scribe exercises the greatest creativity.

In the miscellany's current form, the major prayer sequences occur towards the beginning and end of the manuscript. Its prayers, with very few exceptions, appear in six distinct clusters, of which five are organised by language. The majority of the prayers are in Latin, twenty in total. French prayers account for eleven of the manuscript's texts, and English only one. Besides these thirty-one prayers (one being a bilingual Latin/English translation), the miscellany contains a much greater number of ‘religious’ texts, both devotional and didactic. For the purpose of clarity, I designate as ‘prayer’ those texts marked with the rubric ‘oracio’, or otherwise directly addressed to God, Jesus, Mary or one of the saints.

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Interpreting MS Digby 86
A Trilingual Book from Thirteenth-Century Worcestershire
, pp. 42 - 54
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2019

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