Holey Prayers

Ben Parsons - English at Leicester

ben parsons

The image shows a leaf from Holkham MS Misc 41, containing the text I am currently editing – a sequence of unique prayers written in the early fifteenth century by an unnamed female author, and only surviving in this single copy. The manuscript shows obvious signs of deterioration: patches of mould and damp are all visible. However, one piece of damage stands out from the rest. A sequence of words on the top right has clearly been scratched off the vellum. Where the prayer asks ‘mercy’ for the ‘schepherdes of holi chirche’, its appeal on behalf of the ‘pope, and alle the cardinalis’ has been deliberately scraped away. Given the content, the damage was no doubt inflicted by a sixteenth-century reader, who found its commendation of the papacy intolerable. Yet the image shows more than simple hostility; paradoxically, this act of vandalism suggests that someone saw value in this medieval text and attempted to ‘amend’ it, albeit in a crude and clumsy way.