Ms. Codex 1248: Liturgical miscellany

For Coffee With A Codex on Monday, December 13, we brought out Ms. Codex 1248, a miniature manuscript of music and prayers from a monastic context.

It’s very small, only 82 x 60mm (about 3 x 2 inches), the perfect size to fit in the palm of a not-so-large hand.

Although the bulk of the manuscript is chants of the sort you would expect to find in a liturgical manuscript, the size and other characteristics of the book imply personal use. The colophon on f. 121v identifies the scribe as “Frater Joannes de plebe”, who may have been an older, established monk who wrote this manuscript for his own use, which may have included a teaching role in a monastery.

Colophon in red on f. 121v, Ms. Codex 1248

Scholars posit that the scribe was a teacher because the manuscript has a pedagogical slant, beginning with the seven tones and some of the ordinary chants (Kyrie, Gloria, Ite missa est) written out repeatedly in different tones.

It ends with a diagram of a Guidonian hand, a tool attributed to the 11th-century musical theorist Guido d’Arezzo and used in the 12th through 16th centuries for teaching sight-singing.

Guidonian hand, f. 122r, Ms. Codex 1248

The last page of Ms. Codex 1248, f. 122v, includes a ladder diagram, notes stacked on a 12-line stave. Similar to the Guidonian hand it was designed as a tool for teaching or learning how to sight sing, however the structure of this diagram is apparently highly unusual. It is paired with the opening verses of the Gospel of John, surrounded by an intricate blue frame, the overlap suggesting that they are functioning as a single image. But the reasoning behind it is mysterious.

Ladder diagram and start of the Gospel of John, f. 122v, Ms. Codex 1248

Find out more about Ms. Codex 1248 by viewing the digitized version and reading the full catalog records on BiblioPhilly.

We host Coffee With A Codex every Monday (Wednesdays in 2022) at 12pm ET / 5pm GMT on Zoom. For a schedule three weeks ahead, visit our main page here.

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