A winged missal


Looking for angel musicians through the over 700 pages of 'The Sherborne Missal' (1399-1407), one of the most lavishly illuminated English manuscripts from the late middle-ages, I was surprised to see that there were few angels

compared to contemporary manuscripts from the continent, and only few musical instruments can be devised in their hands.

Something that caught my attention besides the wealth of colors, the refined and varied ornaments and textures, is how the illuminator methodically depicts birds. Almost as if they have replaced musical instruments in the musical ornamentation of the mass. Many of them are accompanied by their Middle English names. In counterpoint to the chant, they create a colorful sonic picture, and if aided by imagination, they can create a surprisingly familiar sound of the music of the heavens.

"The Sherborne Missal is the largest, most lavishly decorated late medieval English service book to have survived the Reformation intact. The manuscript was made for the Benedictine abbey of St Mary’s in Sherborne, Dorset. It was probably produced between 1399-1407, since it contains portraits of Robert Bruyning, abbot of Sherborne (incumbent 1385-1415), portraits and arms of Richard Mitford, bishop of Salisbury (incumbent 1396-1407), and the coat of arms of Henry V as Prince of Wales (title held 1399-1413)."


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