An eleventh-century prayerbook for women? The origins and history of the Galba prayerbook

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London, British Library, Cotton Galba A. xiv, a small, charred, poorly written, and imperfectly reconstructed manuscript, attests a central but sparsely documented element of pre-Conquest religious life: private devotions. While gospel-books from the period survive in quantity and many manuscripts contain individual prayers, prayerbooks themselves are a relative rarity. Only six are known, four dating from c. 800 and two, including Galba, from the last generations before the Norman Conquest. Galba A.xiv has long been recognized as an enigmatic manuscript. It contains prayers in English and Latin for an audience of men and, apparently, women; its devotions link it to a high-status centre of production, but the institutional context in which it was produced and used remains elusive. Anglo-Saxon prayerbooks are generally noted for their calligraphic script and stylish production; in contrast Galba looks palaeographically uncanonical, even incoherent, its production suggesting aesthetic ambitions and standards of a different order altogether. Its multiple scribes, writing different varieties of Insular and Caroline minuscule, exhibiting varying levels of skill, some of them notably inexpert, produced a volume which opens up multiple questions about late Anglo-Saxon spiritual practice. This paper uses palaeographical evidence to discuss the construction of the volume and the context in which it was copied and used.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWriting, Kingship, and Power in Anglo-Saxon England
EditorsRory Naismith, David Woodman
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781316676066
ISBN (Print)9781107160972
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • Religion
  • History
  • Anglo-Saxon History
  • Anglo-Saxon script
  • Manuscripts, English (Old)


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