MS Kk.3.21
“Assumpta est Maria ad cælestia all[elui]a…” (“Mary is assumed into Heaven, alleluia…”), an eleventh-century acrostic figure poem in praise of the Virgin. MS Kk.3.21. (Original document not on display.)

The urge to give aesthetic form to prayer is observable from ancient times, and certain poems of thanksgiving and praise, such as the Psalms, have scriptural status. Private devotional verse has been a medium through which individuals have scrutinised and sustained their relationship with God, while hymns and liturgical verse have united communities in public worship. Narrative and hagiographical poetry has allowed more discursive explorations of the interactions of mankind and the deity.

Many poets have regarded the practice of their art as a vocation, and have considered the exercise of God-given talents to be a means of magnifying the creator. Religious poetry stands, like ecclesiastical architecture, as a demonstration of reverence and homage.

Items on display:

MS Kk.5.16: Bede, ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum’, c. 737, open at Cædmon’s Hymn. MS Add. 3203: Sephardi Bible, fourteenth or fifteenth century, open at the Psalms. MS Add. 4078: Hrabanus Maurus, ‘De laudibus sanctae crucis’, early twelfth century, open at a figure poem. MS Mm.2.3 (1): Dante, ‘La divina commedia’, fifteenth century, open at the commencement of the ‘Purgatorio’. MS Ee.3.59: ‘La estoire de seint Aedward le rei’, 1250-1260, open at scenes of Edward’s early life (view a digitised copy of this manuscript here), MS Add. 1666: Panchen Lama biography, eighteenth century. MS Add. 6447: ‘Speculum humanae salvationis’, fifteenth century.

MS Kk.5.16

An early printing of Cædmon’s Hymn, edited from MS Kk.5.16. Cambridge, 1722. 5.1.28.

Now must we praise the Guardian of heaven’s kingdom,
the Creator’s might, and his mind’s thought;
glorious Father of men! as of every wonder he,
Lord eternal, formed the beginning.
He first framed for the children of earth
the heaven as a roof; holy Creator!
then mid-earth, the Guardian of mankind,
the eternal Lord, afterwards produced;
the earth for men, Lord Almighty!

(Translation by Benjamin Thorpe, 1832. Printed document not on display.)