‘An old popish Booke of homilies’: a Carthusian incunable

The myrroure of the blessed lyf of Jhesu Cryste was a highly influential English translation of the Meditationes vitae Christi, a tract attributed to St Bonaventure in the Middle Ages, but now regarded as the work of the fourteenth-century Franciscan Johannes de Caulibus. Its translator was Nicholas Love, the prior of the Charterhouse of Mount Grace in Yorkshire. A gospel harmony filled with didactic asides designed to counter Lollard doctrines, it was approved by Archbishop Arundel for ‘the edification of the faithful and the confutation of heretics’ in 1411. This imperfect copy, lacking a title page and the first gathering, has been annotated in a later hand: ‘An old popish Booke of homilies for every day of the weeke wth figures, in ye raign of H. 8’. By the late seventeenth century, incunabula, books published in ‘the cradle of printing’ had become the subject of as much antiquarian interest as ancient manuscripts. Avidly collected by bibliophiles, they were kept alongside fossils and medals as curiosities. For some earlier Protestants, literary remnants of the Catholic past were sources of danger. Here the Myrrour’s ‘popish’ origins are observed with no more than mild irritation. The annotator’s estimated date is mistaken, as the book was printed in 1494. AW

[The myrroure of the blessyd lyf of Jhesu Cryste], trans. Nicholas Love ([London]: Richard Pynson, [1494]), verso of front fly leaf and sig. b8v, showing Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, touching the pregnant belly of her cousin the Virgin Mary.

CUL: Inc.4.J.3.6 [3622]

This item was part of the collection of Bishop John Moore, and was given to Cambridge University Library by George I in 1715. It has the bookplate of the Royal Library.

Love’s Myrrour survives in fifty-six manuscripts, several of which are in the CUL.

Further Reading

The Mirror of the Blessed Life of Jesus Christ: A Full Critical Edition based on Cambridge University Additional MSS 6578 and 6686, ed. Michael G. Sargent (Exeter, 2005).

Anne Hudson, The Premature Reformation: Wycliffite Texts and Lollard History (Oxford, 1988), pp. 437–40.

Martha W. Driver, The Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late Medieval England and its Sources (London, 2004), ch. 6.

Daniel Woolf, The Social Circulation of the Past: English Historical Culture 1500–1730 (Oxford, 2003), pp. 171–3.

For other examples of CUL incunables, see Ed Potten and Emily Dourish (eds), Emprynted in thys Manere: Early Printed Treasures from Cambridge University Library (Cambridge, 2014). See also the digital exhibition of other CUL incunables: https://exhibitions.lib.cam.ac.uk/incunabula/.

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