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At a Meeting of the SURTEES SOCIETY, held in Durham Castle, on Tuesday, March 6th, 1923, the PREsident (Mr. WILLIAM BROWN) in the chair,
It was resolved,
"That the facsimile edition of Liber Vitae Ecclesiae Dunelmensis, under the general editorship of the Secretary, be the volume for the present year."
Once before, in the case of Rites of Durham, the Society has produced a new edition of a work which has appeared previously among its publications. In the present volume, it has departed still further from its customary practice in submitting to its members a photographic reproduction of the famous Liber Vitae of the church of Durham. The work, begun during the tenure of the office of secretary by Dr. Gee, has been carried out with much pains and skill by Mr. Macbeth; and the result, we are persuaded, will add new interest to this venerable record of the names once remembered at the altar of the church in the immediate neighbourhood of which the Surtees Society was founded and for eighty-nine years has carried on its work.
Mr. Stevenson's edition of the Liber Vitae, which formed the thirteenth volume of the Society's publications, contained the text of the MS. without any attempt to supply a commentary, and with very slight indications of the dates of the several entries. Since then, Dr. Henry Sweet printed a version of the early lists of names in his volume, The Oldest English Texts, published by the Early English Text Society, in which their linguistic and philological interest was the aim in view. In the second volume of the present edition an endeavour will be made to give a complete and accurate text, with an introduction upon the history and paleography of the MS. by Mr. J. A. Herbert, of the Department of MSS. in the British Museum. These will be supplemented by an alphabetical index of the names included in the text, with brief notes identifying, as far as possible, their bearers. For this work the general editor has secured the co-operation of Dr. H. H. E. Craster, Dr. William Farrer, and other scholars, whom he desires to thank in anticipation for their kind promises of help. The introduction to the present volume, prepared at the request of the Council, deals generally with the type of work to which the MS. belongs and supplies some key to the nature of its contents, without going into critical detail.
The Liber Vitae of the church of Durham is a composite document, of which the nucleus is the list of some 3,150 names classified according to their bearers' rank in the world and in the Church, composed in the ninth century at Lindisfarne. This MS., the penmanship of which is enhanced in beauty by the arrangement of the names in letters alternately of gold and silver, was probably brought to Durham at the end of the following century, when the body of St. Cuthbert found its final resting-place there. A verse, written on the title-page in a later hand, preserves the tradition that the leaves once were bound with a book of the Gospels:
Textus hoc argento tegmen fulgebat et auro;
After the Norman reformation of the monastery, the original
example of medieval handwriting of all periods, and many of the hands are neat and clear; but the variety of their character and of the methods employed by their writers offer a striking contrast to the orderly composition of the original document.
Such lists of names had their origin in the diptychs on which, in the early days of the Christian Church, the names of living and dead members of the Christian community were inscribed, those of the dead on the left hand, and those of the living on the right-hand side.1 The names thus commemorated were read after the mementos of the dead and the living in the canon of the mass, and were preceded on the diptych by the appropriate prayers which their recitation followed. It is obvious, however, that, as such lists increased in length, their detailed reading by the priest became impracticable; and, although custom may have varied in particular places, the habit of their public recitation as part of the canon was prohibited by the synod of Aixla-Chapelle in 789. There is evidence that, as late as the tenth century, certain lists were occasionally read privately to the celebrant by one of the assistant ministers, as at Reims, where the subdeacon at high mass read the names of the deceased bishops of the see daily in aurem presbyteri silenter during the canon. By this time the lists belonging to a church could hardly have been contained on the two sides of a diptych, and the insertion of parchment leaves within the covers must have become necessary. It is probable that the diptychon ampliatum, the diptych enlarged by inserted leaves, was the transitional stage between the early diptych and the later liber vitae.
This relationship is clearly shown by the Liber confraternitatum vetustior of the monastery of St. Peter, Salzburg, bis zum Ausgange des karolingischen Zeitalters, Ratisbon, etc., 1890, pp. 97 sqq.
1 The development of the liber vitae from the diptych is fully discussed, with abundant references to documents, by A. Ebner, Die klösterlichen Gebets-Verbrüderungen
2 Ebner, op. cit., p. 124.