To say thank you to all of his blessed readers, the Anglo-Saxon Monk has picked three of his favourite Christmas scenes from the British Library's collection of illuminated manuscripts. And he's even thrown in a few words of monastic commentary for your delectation. What a generous soul!
What's a Christmas Nativity scene without a donkey? This lovely example from Swabia, South Germany, has it all doesn't it? The rather splendid twelfth-century columns and arches of the humble stable, the generously bedecked, wooden bed for the Virgin Mary (nice pillow), and even the "I'm perplexed" gesture of Joseph. (Is he, I wonder, still finding it difficult to believe the Archangel Gabriel's story?)
I must confess that I'm a bit concerned that the face of the Christ Child seems to be aged about fifteen, but that's just my personal opinion. And I suppose you've noticed that Donkey, and his friend Cow, do look like they're nibbling the Christ Child's blanket, and so not simply engaging in a bit of anthropomorphised adoration. "Naughty Donkey!" says the Virgin, wagging her finger at him.
This is exquisite isn't it? As long as you don't mind those long faces!
The enlarged detail is an historiated initial 'H', which forms the word 'Hodie'
(Latin, 'Today') along with the text to the side. Thus it marks the beginning of the choir response for morning prayers (lauds) on Christmas Day.
It is amazing how much detail has been packed into a painting that measures only about 40x40mm (not even 2x2 inches, my blessed US readers). Like the Swabian Nativity scene, above, the Virgin Mary has a rather lovely pillow (note the floral bobbles on its corners), and it also has those familiar stable animals, Donkey and Cow, complete with delicately painted muzzles, no doubt to stop any blanket nibbling.
I can't help wishing the artist had taken the trouble to make Mary and Joseph look just a little bit cheerier. I'd even go as far as to say that she/he made Mary look a tad disappointed. But at least Joseph is acknowledging the swaddled Christ Child on high (a very high manger, wouldn't you say?). So come on, Blessed Virgin, radiate some heavenly joy, for you've just given birth to the Saviour of Mankind!
OK, you sharped-eyed art historians! This is not the Nativity. But it is Christmas. In fact, it's a depiction of King Edmund I of East Anglia (r. 855-869), surrounded by his blessed bishops and other clerics at his coronation on Christmas Day. Talk about making an impact or, should we say, basking in someone else's heavenly glory?
But we will ignore the possibility of the latter by reminding ourselves that this most saintly of Anglo-Saxon kings was a bit unfortunate, for in the year 869 he was martyred by those terribly nasty, heathen Vikings!
Never mind, he had a lovely Christmas Day in 855. Just look at the splendour! OK, it's true that we don't really know he was crowned on Christmas Day (it's a later medieval invention probably), but nothing will take away my joy at those amazing cloaks that the two bishops in the foreground are wearing. They are just so Christmassy! I would kill an Anglo-Saxon king for one like them. But not to be. For I am just the humble Anglo-Saxon Monk.
A blessed Merry Christmas to you all!