Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 579 / The Leofric Missal

Having been amended and extended over a period of more than two centuries at three different churches, the Leofric Missal contains an almost unique combination of materials and is the product of a complex history. The core of the book, which modern scholars have designated ‘Leofric A’, was produced in northern France at the end of the ninth century. This book was then imported to England and taken to Canterbury where many additions, including a brief collection of computistical materials and a calendar, were inserted between the first quarter of the tenth century and the first third of the eleventh. These additions are now known as ‘Leofric B’. Bodley 579 was then acquired for Exeter Cathedral by Bishop Leofric (1050–1072), after whom the book is named, and further insertions were made over a period extending probably into the early twelfth century, this time known as ‘Leofric C’. In Orchard’s edition the three ‘layers’, as it were, are helpfully distinguished with three contrasting fonts: A is set in normal type, B in smaller, finer type, and C in courier.

Though it was produced on the Continent, Leofric A seems to have been devised for use in England. The basic structure was derived from a primitive sacramentary of the ‘Gelasian’ type, much modernised with the help of a set of relatively recent service books from Arras; but various services of English origin—including an order for the consecration of a new church which has been adapted for one dedicated to St Andrew which can only be the cathedral at Wells (fols. 281v–284r) and a set of prayers and blessings to be used at the coronation of a king which will not have been of much use elsewhere (see below)—were incorporated by the main hand. Thus, the book’s most recent editor, Nicholas Orchard, has suggested that Leofric A was based chiefly on a sacramentary that had come from England, that it was always intended to be used in England, and that it was commissioned from a Lotharingian scribe (who was probably based at the Abbey of St Vaast) by an English archbishop who was probably Plegmund. He was archbishop of Canterbury from 890 to 923. One striking feature is the way in which the original scribe has noted cues for the sung parts of various masses in the margins with a view, perhaps, to helping the archbishop follow what the choir were doing as he presided over a service.

firebeastIt used to be argued that the Leofric-B materials were produced at Glastonbury Abbey and added to the whole when the book was re-assembled at Exeter: there are certainly connections with that monastery, but the current thinking is that these items comprise a long series additions inserted at Canterbury across the tenth century. At least ten scribes were involved. The most substantial of these insertions were a computistical section and the much discussed calendar on fols. 38–59; but they also included many supplements to the temporal and sanctoral—mostly, additional blessings. Considered as a whole these additions show that the manuscript continued ‘to be regarded as being a useful, working book’, but there is also something rather chaotic about them. They include, for example, ‘stray prayers, normally without superscription, slotted in where space could be found, regardless of the character of the surrounding matter’ (Orchard, p. 203). That the calendar was not copied at Glastonbury is clear from its references to the place: e.g. ‘In glaestonia sancti Ceofriþi abbatis’ (25 September). This kind of explanatory detail would have been unnecessary if the calendar had been produced at the abbey, but it helps to show that Glastonbury materials lie behind the present text. The calendar also has affinities to that found in the so-called Bosworth Psalter, a product of St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury (London, British Library, Additional MS 37517, fols. 2r–3r). These affinities include the use of the letters ‘F’ and ‘S’ before many of the saints’ names. It is not known exactly what words those letters stand for—the letter ‘F’ seems to indicate a higher grade of feast than the letter ‘S’. But they seem to indicate a common source, lying perhaps in a missal or a collection of computistical materials which was brought to Canterbury by Archbishop Dunstan (960–988).

Leofric C comprises the gamut of additions made after the book arrived at Exeter through the agency of Bishop Leofric. These range from items of local interest (such as the list of the relics possessed by Exeter on fols. 6r–v), through to some of the latest services to emerge from centres in France (such as the mass in honour of St Faith on fols. 375v–6r). Orchard interprets C as a reflection of Leofric’s eclecticism and of the extent of his personal network: ‘He acquired material from Winchester, Canterbury and North Elmham, probably with the assistance of Stigand, or one of Stigand’s deputies; he had access to books from Normandy and the south of France; and he had clearly managed either to obtain manuscripts in Lotharingia during his time there or have them sent later’ (p. 234). These insertions continued under Leofric’s successors: it seems more than likely that several of the eleven scribes by whom they were entered well-active some decades after 1072. Certainly, the obit for William the Conqueror was added to the calendar after his death in 1087 (9 September, fol. 43r).

Facsimile: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 579.

Printed Editions: Orchard, N. A. (ed.), The Leofric Missal, 2 vols., Henry Bradshaw Society 113–4 (Woodbridge, 2001–2); Warren, F. E. (ed.), The Leofric Missal, as used in the Cathedral of Exeter during the Episcopate of its First Bishop, A.D. 1050–1072, together with Some Account of the Red Book of Derby, the Missal of Robert of Jumièges, and a few other Early Manuscript Service Books of the English Church (Oxford, 1883). Note: Orchard’s account of the manuscript’s development entirely supercedes that offered by Warren.

Components for Discussion

  1. The Leofric–A Litany (no. 2300, fols. 266r–267v). A type of prayer which is thought to have originated in Syria, a litany comprised petitions or requests for intercession directed at named saints and other pretersensual agents with influence in the court of heaven. Litanies were incorporated into specific services such as that for visitation of the sick and the dying; but the present example is apparently free-standing, lying between the office for the dead and the pontifical portions of Leofric A. It belongs to the original part of the sacramentary which was copied in Lotharingia (or by a Lotharingian scribe). The grouping of the saints into the four usual categories (apostles, martyrs, confessors and virgins) is signalled by having the names of the first of each type written in red (Barnabus, Iustus, Arnulf and Oportuna).
        This litany is central to discussions of the origins and making of Leofric A. The saints include many of the major saints of Lotharingia and the Rhineland: Ragnulf, also associated with St Vaast; Firminus and Salvius of Amiens; Boniface and Albinus, both connected with Mainz; Maximinus, Paulinus and Modestus of Trier; Germanus and Ursus of Auxerre; Crispinus and Crispinianus of Soissons; Bavo of Ghent, Rictrudis of Marchiennes, Aldegundis of Mauberge, Remigius of Reims, Audoenus of Rouen, Bertinus of Saint-Bertin, Audomarus of Saint-Omer, Richarius of Saint-Riquier, Lupus of Sens, and so on. Written in coloured capitals, St Vedastus (Vaast), the patron saint of Arras, is the only name marked out for special attention. But a number of insular saints are also invoked—Alban, Boniface, Patrick, Cuthbert, Guthlac, Brigid, and perhaps Paulinus of York. These details suggest that the book was devised for an English patron, not least because Guthlac is unknown in Continental litanies until after the Conquest.
  2. The Royal Order (nos. 2458–66, fols. 302v–305r). Comprising a series of prayers and blessings to be used by the bishop presiding over the coronation of a king, this is the most discussed service inthe book. Attested in a number of manuscripts, the earliest of which is Bodley 579, it is the earliest coronation order now extant with a definite English connection. Known as the ‘First English ordo’, it is an integral part of ‘Leofric A’. The service is only found in a somewhat fuller forms in two other service books, the Ecgbert and Lanalet pontificals (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 10575; Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 368). The former was made for a house in southern England in the late tenth century, the other for Lyfing, bishop of Crediton (1027–46).
        Janet Nelson has shown that this service represents an English, or more narrowly perhaps a West-Saxon, version of the Carolingian anointing ritual. That is, it was devised in England in the mid ninth century, but it was later transmitted back to the Continent when it was used by Hincmar of Reims when he composed an ordo for the coronation of Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald who married King Æthelwulf in 856. Signs of its antiquity include the use of a helmet (galea) to crown the king, and the role played by the magnates (principes) in the ceremony. This form of the coronation service passed out of use in the first half of the ninth century when it was replaced by the ‘Second English ordo’, which is largely but not entirely comprised of materials drawn from the ordines used in western Frankia in the late-ninth century.
  3. Mass for the Feast of the Ordination of St Gregory (nos. 2912–14, fol. 373v). This set of three prayers, here designated for use on the feast of the Ordination of St Gregory, was added to Bodley 579 after it reached in Exeter in the second half of the eleventh century. It occupies a single folio in gatherings 44 to 48 (i.e. fols. 337r–377v), which contain a continuous body of additional matter comprising, for the most part, an assortment of masses and formulae for various occasions and saints’ days. Nicholas Orchard has identified the prayers of this particular service as having been derived from Italian services for the feasts of St Ambrose. He thinks that they were first adapted for use at the feast of St Gregory’s ordination in France in the eleventh century. Certainly, the earliest evidence for efforts to provide material for the celebration of this feast on 3 September, as opposed to its traditional date of 29 March occurs in late eleventh-century sacramentaries from Besançon and Rouen.
        The new date was adopted in England during the pontificate of Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109). The rubrics to the mass set in Leofric C make no mention of the date on which they were to be used, but the scribe who added the set (Drage’s Scribe 7) also added the feast to the calendar under 3 September (fol. 43r). Its appearance there is evidence for the rapidity with which the new date was adopted throughout England. Anselm seems to have introduced and promoted the new date as part of an effort to revive the cult of St Gregory. He seems to have wanted to stress that Gregory’s claim to being ‘the apostle of the English’. This idea does not figure in the Leofric C mass set, but that need not be very significant, since other materials proper to the day but now lost (a sermon, hymns, and so on) will also have been used for the celebration of the feast.

For texts and translations of all three items, please visit the Moodle website.


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  • Conner, P. W. Anglo-Saxon Exeter: A Tenth-Century Cultural History, Studies in Anglo-Saxon History 4 (Woodbridge, 1992).
  • Deshman, R. E., ‘The Leofric Missal and Tenth-Century English Art’, Anglo-Saxon England, 6 (1977), 145–73. Available at Cambridge Core and at MVB.
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  • Gerchow, J., Die Gedenküberlieferung der Angelsachsen, mit einem Katalog der Libri Vitae und Necrologien, Arbeiten zur Frühmittelalterforschung 20 (Berlin and New York, 1988), pp. 253–7.
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  • Hayward, P. A., ‘Gregory the Great as “Apostle of the English” in Post-Conquest Canterbury‘, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 55 (2004), 19–57. Cambridge Journals Online. For the context in which the mass for the ordination of St Gregory was added to the book.
  • Hayward, P. A., Review of Orchard, The Leofric Missal, in Speculum, 79 (2004), 817–9. JSTOR.
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  • Hohler, C., ‘Some Service Books of the Later Saxon Church’, in D. Parsons (ed.), Tenth-Century Studies (Chichester, 1975), pp. 60–83, 217–27. MVB7.
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  • Nelson, J. L., ‘The Second English Ordo’, in idem, Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London, 1986), pp. 361–74. Argues that the ordo was devised for the consecration of King Edward the Elder (899–924). MBS.
  • Pfaff, R., et al., The Liturgical Books of Anglo-Saxon England, Old English Newsletter Subsidia 23 (Kalamazoo, MI, 1995), pp. 11–14, 89, 93–94, and 100–9.
  • Rushforth, R., Saints in English Kalendars before AD 1100, Henry Bradshaw Society 117 (Woodbridge, 2008), p. 27.
  • Temple, E., Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts, 900–1066, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles (London, 1976), no. 17. Oversize VSRea.

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