circa 14th century medieval Breviary, Common Offices, manuscript, Latin


Common Offices of the medieval Breviary, in 25 leaves (50 pages of manuscript), with decorated initials, rubrication, and scribal abbreviation. In a limp vellum wallet binding in a style of the period. Includes the Office of the Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Plural Martyrs, Confessors Pontiffs, Confessors Non-Pontiffs, Virgins, Non-Virgins, Dedication of the Church, and the Blessed Virgin Mary; because it predates Pious V’s approved format, it’s difficult to say if The Offices are “complete”. Likely withdrawn from the end of a larger breviary; with a ghosted signature from a previous quire on bottom of 1st leaf and the last leaf (fragment) yellowed/hardened as though it was the end of the document.

I've photographed each leaf and uploaded the photos to a website; I can provide the link upon request (unable to post in the advertisement due to host site's rules banning links).


(Circa) 14th century Breviary, including the fundamental Common Offices. I received it as “14th century”, but a study of the handwriting seems to indicate that it could be either 14th or 15th century Gothic Textura script and there are no dates within the manuscript (that I've found).

Several sellers of manuscripts are adamant that the style of the decorated initials are of Northern Italy, but I find that they are relatively common in design and I would hesitate to state an origin of Italy without reservation; but, supporting the concept of an Italian creation, the text doesn't seem to ever stray into other languages or strange texts, which might indicate a close alignment with Rome's approved Breviary of the time.

About the Text

The 1st leaf begins, (at the large initial), "Fratres, jam non estis hospites, & advene.." This is the first scriptural reference (Ephesians 2) after the recital of the Psalms during the Common Office of the Apostles.

The verso of the 1st leaf has three initials, beginning: "Scriptum est..", "Quot ergo sunt", and "Certe iste ipse". These are labelled as Lectio I, II and III, but the Breviary approved by Pope Pious V in 1568 has those as IV, V and VI, which means this manuscript must predate Pious V's edict that all Breviaries produced follow the approved format.

The Office of the Evangelists begins on the verso of leaf 3 with the lection of Pope Gregory, "Sancta quatuor animalia...".

The Office of the Martyr's begins on the recto of leaf 5 with "Beatus vir, qui..."

Office of Plural Martyr's begins on the verso of leaf 7 with "Justorum animae in manu dei sun, & non..."

The Office of the Confessors Pontiff begins on the verso of leaf 10 with "Ecce sacerdos magnus..."

The Office of the Confessors Non-Pontiff begins on the verso of leaf 13 with "Beatus vir, qui..."

The Office of the Virgin begins on the verso of leaf 16 with "Fratres, qui gloriatur..."

The Office of the Non-Virgins begins on the verso of leaf 19 with "Confesitebor tibi...", but is truncated to three paragraphs.

The Office of the Dedication of a Church begins shortly thereafter on the recto of verse 20 with, "Vidi civitatem sanctam...".

The Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary begins on the recto of leaf 22 with, "Ab initio, et ante saecula..."

The last part of leaf 25 concludes a section of the Blessed Virgin Mary Office with, "... efficieris gravida, et eris amter semper inacta".

All of the above references have been extended for ease of reading/finding; in the text they are often abbreviated.

Physical Attributes

Wallet style binding measures 18 x 13 x .75 cm; hemp closure tie remnant on front flap. Paper pastedown endpapers (handmade, screen lines visible) and gold endbands. 25 vellum leaves (and one additional fragment at end), with 50 pages of text, double column. The 1st page has 34 rows, but all others I count after have 35 rows. Four quires, stitched between 5v and 6r, 15v and 16r, likely between 21v and 22r (can't see the stitches), and 24v and 25r (last two quires gatherings of two). Quire signatures at the bottom 10v and 20v match the first words on the facing leaves.


Wallet style binding has an old name on the front barely visible and not readable, and two tie holes at the top and bottom of the spine that are no longer used, leading me to believe it has been re-used (also, the fold at the flap was once a little farther out as evidenced by the fold lines).

Paper front endpaper has one tiny wormhole that doesn't go into the vellum; on the endpaper’s verso it has several small inkdots. Due to being in a limp vellum binding the parchment all has the slightest waviness but is in good shape, still feeling somewhat soft. The parchment leaves all show some signs of thumbing/wear, especially at the common thumb site. Thumbing spot slightly cockled (wavy). Also, all leaves have a title (in ink, seems older) and number in graphite (seems fresh in the top margin) at the top margin.

There is fading of the text at parts, but in almost all cases it is still readable (except: inner column inner text of bottom three rows of 10v and 11r; inner text of inner column bottom three rows leaf 20v). The rubricated word at the bottom of the 1st leaf recto ghosted from a non-existent previous quire. Leaf 7 has a word rubbed out and corrected in the margin. Rubrication on 14v and 15r smudged, also leaves 14 and 15 slightly more cockled; I believe the breviary was open to this point on a moist day in antiquity. There is a fragment of a 26th leaf, this one darkened/hardened and looks like it would have been, before the rebinding, the last leaf of the document. Glue visible deep in the gutter between the quires at 10v and 11r. Occasional number annotations in the margin. Brown mark on upper right fore-edge of leaf 10. Brown mark in top margin of leaf 19. One tiny wormhole at the very bottom of leaves 21-25, near the gutter (far from text).

Possible Use

I see this being very handy in a learning institution that studies the medieval period. The breviary has obvious importance in medieval society and this could be used as an example (portable, personal, etc.). Also, students could gather experience with scribal abbreviation, paleography and Latin. The date and place of authorship could be searched out further, likely based on a combination of the paleography and the elements of the Breviary that are present here. Other elements that could also be searched include: what do the numbered marginal references refer to, is there a name/city/saint that could further pinpoint point of origin, was the last leaf the Office of the Dead or further readings on Mary, and is the wallet style binding original/refurbished or a later addition.

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