Textus Roffensis, folio 119r (Rochester, 1023/4). Press release image. Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care, John Rylands Library.
Textus Roffensis, detail of folio 119r: A head of a mythical beast occupies the page's gutter.
Pardon the excitement. I can't help myself. To actually get to examine the Textus Roffensis, the book that contains a unique copy of the oldest surviving piece of written English, which also happens to be the oldest English law, well ... it’s enough to make a monk remove his hood!
On Wednesday evening, whilst speaking at Rochester Cathedral about its wonderful Textus Roffensis, I managed to slip in a little appeal to be allowed to see the manuscript in the flesh.
(It's actually in storage at the moment during the extensive renovation works being carried out on the cathedral’s crypt, where the Textus will go on permanent display next year.)
I was explaining the significance of the illuminated initial 'R' (above), when I pointed out that even with the incredible digitised facsimile that is now available through the John Rylands Library, I couldn’t quite see the head of the beasty which hides in the gutter top left.
And I really needed to know!
Well, it just so happened that the archivist at Medway Archives & Study Centre happened to be in the audience. And before I had time to say Textus de ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulfum episcopum, it was arranged for me to meet her the following morning.
The Keyholder! She who, if I was really well behaved, would unlock the pleasures of the Textus Roffensis for me.
Someone once said to me that trying to see manuscripts in one rather famous British institution (I dare not name it) was like getting past Grendel and his mother.But, to my relief, Alison Cable was nothing like that.
It's true she did indeed have to retrieve the Textus from a secure safe – this book is insured for more than just a few Anglo-Saxon sceatts, you know – but once she had opened the medieval clasps of the binding, I was very kindly given an hour to salivate over it (mentally not literally).
I knew without a doubt that I just had to go straight to the folio with the decorated initial 'R'.I was desperate to see the face of the beasty who forms the rounded part of the letter.Well, with great care, we managed just that.
It’s actually a strange, hybrid face. It’s unlike the face and head of the dragon, who forms the leg of the 'R', though its ear is a similar shape (you might just be able to make out the ear in the photo above).
The head is far shorter than the dragon’s, the face more human with its forked beard, and long side whiskers.
It was possible to see a big eye, and, interestingly, what looks like a red-edged crest atop its head.
Ooh! What is this fascinating beasty? I think I will call upon my longsuffering readers to provide me with suggestions.
Take a look at my close-up photo (above), and also the basic shape of the beasty which I've traced out in green (below).
Leave a comment, not forgetting your answer, and then in a week's time, I will tell you what I think it is.
(That's a way of saying I don't really know and I have to go away and do some extra research.)
Best answer gets ... a free sign of the benediction.
By the way, lots more stuff to come on the Textus Roffensis, including ten things you need to know about it, and links to my readings of some of its Old English (my native tongue).
What's that beasty whose head is in the page's gutter?
Would I get past the dreaded Keyholder?
Insured for more than just a few Anglo-Saxon sceatts!
I could just manage to see its eye, a forked beard and what looked like a red crest on its head.
What is this fascinating and strange beasty? I need your help.