Margaret. MS

Manuscript of the Life of St. Margaret (from a Fourteenth-Century French Book of Hours)


The Life of Saint Margaret


Books of hours often ended with accounts of the lives of saints and prayers to those saints. In both the manuscript and print eras, Latin remained the language of liturgical texts, but the lives of saints often appeared in the vernacular. This is the case in the library’s manuscript copy of the life of St. Margaret (MSS12455), written in Old French, as well as in the life of St. Margaret in Middle French that appears at the end of the 1597 printed book of hours in the Gordon Collection (Gordon 1597 .C38). These two accounts, though separated by two centuries, contain a very similar version of the hagiographic text, which underscores the degree to which printing technology served to perpetuate tradition as well as to spread new ideas.

The life, from Picardy, perhaps Amiens, consists of 16 leaves containing text in single columns of 14 lines written in a gothic book hand. Calligraphic capitals touched with yellow begin each line. Line endings are in colors and burnished gold, frequently with small animals, plants or geometric designs. Nine leaves contain two-line initials in gold and colors with marginal bar extenders terminating in ivy leaves.

Text, in Old French rhyming verse, contains portions of the legend of the martyred St. Margaret of Antioch as follows, gives her to Christian nurse to raise, she tends sheep, messenger comes from Roman governor Olybrius who wishes to marry her (3 leaves) 2) Margaret rejects envoy of Olybrus who sends for her, questions her, and plots to torutre her (3 leaves) 3) Margaret is tortured, pitied by the crowd, and meets the devil in form of a dragon (3 leaves) 4) Devil boasts to Margaret, she prays and counters his boasts, she suffers and is carried to Paradise by angels (3 leaves).

In addition to Margaret's legend, the final leaves contain the fall of Adam and Eve, the betrayal of Christ by Judas, and Christ before Pilate (2 leaves), and prayers invoking Christ (2 leaves).

Read more about the 1597 Hours in the Gordon Collection.