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This bifolium comes from the oldest, most important, extant manuscript of a text by the earliest major English author, St. Aldhelm of Malmsbury. Although De Laude Virginitatis (In Praise of Virginity) was one of the most influential texts in early medieval Europe, Aldhelm’s hermeneutic Latin prose was notoriously dense with difficult grammar and somewhat obscure references. Readers consequently carefully glossed their copies of his works, around which a rich interpretive tradition developed. Accordingly, the contemporary Anglo-Saxon glosses present on this bifolium represent further extraordinary contributions to early English vernacular, literary tradition.
The original manuscript was potentially owned by St. Dunstan (c. 910-88), the royal court scholar of King Edgar. The manuscript was taken apart hundreds of years ago. It is a miracle that, after an incredible odyssey of more than 1200 years, the present bifolium has survived nearly unblemished. It is the last known piece of this treasure still in private hands and is, moreover, quite an exceptional piece as it bears a decorated initial. Apart from the bifolium at hand, thirty-six sister leaves survive in five of the most renowned libraries across the globe.
Insular manuscripts with any decoration are exceedingly rare, and very few are found outside public institutions. The present bifolium offers an elegant, interlocked GL on f. 2r that ceremoniously opens the section beginning “Gloriosas itidem” with sweeping, fishhook-like ascenders enclosed within a series of coloured dots.