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by Jennifer Robinson, MLIS'97

Normally the introduction of a new program at Western prompts Western Libraries to seek out and add the latest in research and scholarship for that field to the library collection; the newest books and cutting edge digital sources. However when the Faculty of Arts & Humanities announced earlier this spring a new minor in Medieval Studies at Western, the most prized addition to the collection supporting the work of our medieval scholars wasn’t exactly new, although it is new to Western. Canon Grandel’s prayer book, recently acquired by Western Archives, is a rare 15th century illuminated manuscript, a highly personalized text commissioned for a person of some means.

An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript that includes both text and illustrations, usually in the form of decorated initials, borders or miniature illustrations. Canon Grandel’s prayer book includes hundreds of such decorated initials illuminated with gold and text written by a professional scribe on parchment. It was produced sometime in the 1400s in Lille, (French Flanders) apparently for a man named Grandel, as a penciled annotation in French on the back flyleaf that identifies the book as “Canon Grandel’s Prayer Book.” (A canon would be a member of the attendant clergy in a cathedral, subordinate to the bishop.) The pages of the book are in excellent condition, with the entire manuscript being re-bound sometime in the early 1700s.

Based on its contents and small size, which implies the book was carried around and used by its owner for private devotions, Canon Grandel’s prayer book is clearly a highly personal book. According to James Grier, a professor of music history in the Don Wright Faculty of Music whose research includes medieval music, the collection of texts included in the prayer book are those associated with the Divine Office (a series of ceremonies that occur throughout the day) and Mass (the celebration of the Eucharist). All are in Latin although some of the directions for use of the texts are in French. The collection of texts is not systematic and is in fact very miscellaneous, including a very idiosyncratic collection of saints, all supporting the theory that the book was very personal to the owner. Canon Grandel’s prayer book also includes many musical items (i.e. literary text associated with music), hence Professor Grier’s interest, but no actual music.

Canon Grandel’s prayer book is the oldest complete illuminated manuscript held in Western Archives. It was purchased specifically by Western Libraries to support the new minor in Medieval Studies and is a welcome addition to Western’s collection.

This article appeared in the Alumni Gazette
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