Wednesday, February 10, 2010

15th century manuscript of Liber Visionum discovered at McMaster University

An unassuming 15th century manuscript kept at McMaster University in Canada has been identified as a version of the Liber Visionum or Book of Visions.

The Book of Visions is a work by John, a Benedictine monk from the monastery of Morigny located near Charles, France in the 14th century. McMaster's copy (MS 107) is a Latin text on vellum and paper, and bound in reinforced vellum with "Codex" stamped on the spine and slip cased as a "Prayer Book, C.1460." The manuscript is embellished with 12 decorations from the life of Virgin Mary.

The rare manuscript was the topic of a talk sponsored by the Department of English and Cultural Studies. Professor Claire Fanger of Rice University discussed the investigative nature of her work on the Book of Visions, which she published in her edited work, Conjuring Spirits: Texts and Traditions of Medieval Ritual Magic. Since the manuscript's initial discovery in the 1990s at McMaster by her colleague Nicholas Watson, the Book of Visions has been studied and translated by the two researchers.

The Books of Visions was an attempt to reconcile the goals of a condemned, medieval, ritual magic text, the Arts Notoria after which it was loosely modeled. The new magic text was a vision by the Virgin Mary to John, and unlike its predecessor, was pleasing to God and free of demonic corruption. However, the text was later considered heretical and sorcerous, and the purity of John's work was questioned. It was burned at the University of Paris in 1323.

Fanger has been working in archives across Europe and has unearthed seven extant manuscripts containing full and partial texts of the Book of Visions. She is currently working with Nicholas Watson on an edition, translation and study of the Liber florum doctrine celestis, a work including prayers, images, visions, and autobiographical materials also by John of Morigny.

The manuscript is now kept in the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at the McMaster University Library.