Manuscripts and Special Collections

The Religious Life: View Documents

Click on the links to view images of the original document, alongside transcripts and translations where available.

Transcripts and translations for manuscript items are also available for download:


Document 1

WLC/LM/38: Fragment of the Life of St Bridget (Brigid), from the ‘South English Legendary’ (composed 13th century, English) 
View image with transcript/translation

According to legend, Bridget was the daughter of an Irish chieftain, here called Duptak, and his servant or slave-girl, Brosech. This fragment contains two passages in which a sorcerer predicts that the unborn Bridget will have great powers.

Later in Bridget’s story, not present in our fragment, she wishes to become a nun, and asks God to take away her beauty so that the man she is intended to marry will not want her. God blinds her in one eye, and her father allows her to enter a nunnery. Once she has taken her vows, God restores her sight.

St Bridget was the founder and Abbess of Kildare Abbey, a monastery for both nuns and monks in Ireland, and died there in around AD 525.


Document 2

East Midlands Collection Periodicals, Lin: Injunctions relating to Markyate Priory (1442, English) from Visitations of Religious Houses Vol III, A.D. 1436-1449 , ed. A. Hamilton Thompson (Lincoln Record Society Volume 21; Lincoln, 1929), pp 230-231 
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These orders by William, Bishop of Lincoln, followed a Visitation (an inspection) of the Benedictine Priory of Markyate, Bedfordshire, which had brought to light a number of issues of concern. It gives a snapshot of life in this particular nunnery, and indicates the lifestyle and behaviour expected of Benedictine nuns.

It shows that the nuns were being distracted from their religious duties by domestic chores, mixing with ‘secular folk’, and spending too long on visits away from the convent. The Prioress, Denise Lovelyche, was ordered to rectify these faults or face suspension.

The last Prioress of the convent was Jane Zouche, who in 1485 had been subjected to the ordeal of abduction and forced marriage to Richard Willoughby.


Document 3

Me 3 D 2: Grant by Aubrey [de Vere, 1st] Earl of Oxford (c.1175, Latin)   
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This is a typical pious grant from a landowner to a religious institution. The Earl of Oxford gives a small piece of land in Stoke to the monks at Earl’s Colne Priory, Essex (a monastery founded by the Earl’s ancestor). The phrase ‘in pure and perpetual alms’ indicates that the gift is for a charitable purpose – in this case, in order to fund the provision of lighted candles. The Earl believed that the gift and the candles would benefit the souls of himself, his wife Countess Agnes, and other members of his family.

An instance of using candles in prayer for an evil purpose is shown in the extract from the 13th-century fabliau ‘La Veuve’.


Document 4

WLC/LM/11, f.1r: First page of a prayer book (second half of the 15th century, Latin)
MS 250, f. 241v: Illuminated page from the Wollaton Antiphonal (first half of the 15th century, c.1430, Latin

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All books were handwritten until the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. This made them extremely expensive to produce. The 15th century prayer book, probably used for private devotion in the home, has only been richly decorated on the first page. The Wollaton Antiphonal, on the other hand, is lavishly illuminated throughout. It is about twice as big as the prayer book, because it was intended to be used in church and needed to be seen by the priest and the singers. An illustration at the bottom right corner of the page shows three clergymen holding a book of church music.


Document 5

WLC/LM/7, inside front and back covers: Fragments of leaves from a Gradual with musical notation (14th century, Latin) 
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These pages from a church music book were cut up in the 15th century and re-used as binding material for a copy of ‘L’estoire del Saint Graal’. Such chance and fragmentary survivals are sometimes the only evidence of particular texts.

Two fragments of the life of St Bridget have survived thanks to their re-use as pastedowns to strengthen the binding of a Missal printed in 1520, which belonged to Sir Henry Willoughby. Other, complete, versions of the manuscript are known and have been published.

The single leaf containing a fragment of the story of St Zita however, is unique. It is the only evidence that a life of the saint was ever written in the English language and is therefore a crucial source for the study of lay piety and St Zita’s popularity amongst ordinary women.


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