Manuscript returns to Dublin 400 years after leaving

A manuscript of enormous research value has been returned to Dublin 700 years after its creation there and four centuries after first leaving the country.

The medieval manuscript which was bought by Trinity at auction has come home to Dublin after 400 years. Picture: Maxwells

Trinity College Library paid more than €250,000 at Christie’s auction last November for the document on more than 200 pages of vellum in a relatively modern binding — added in the early 1600s.

It was produced by monks of the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary’s in the centre of medieval Dublin, sometime home to the Irish parliament, to make good some losses suffered in a fire in 1304. Among the texts which their scribes copied into the manuscript are an account of the Trojan War and works by Gerald of Wales on the topography and conquest of Ireland.

Pictured on the occasion of the return of the St Marys Abbey Medieval Manuscript to Trinity College Library were: Trinitys Professor in Medieval History, Sean Duffy and Head of Research Collections and the Keeper of Manuscripts, Bernard Meehan. 

Trinity librarian and college archivist Helen Shelton said a considerable body of new information in it will help to re-evaluate 14th and 15th century Dublin civic life, as well as the abbey’s history and culture.

“We will be able to digitise it, conduct scientific analysis, textual and codicological [the study of books as physical objects] examination of the manuscript which will promote widespread research, scholarship and popular interest.

“It will also promote scholarship within Trinity across a number of schools, including history, classics, art and architecture, and the medieval studies centre,” she said.

Bernard Meehan, TCD’s keeper of manuscripts, said numerous bodies, individuals, and scholars in the university and elsewhere were among an unprecedented range of supporters who responded when the library told alumni and friends of its availability.

The manuscript fell into private hands after King Henry VII dissolved the monasteries in the late 16th century, first acquired by a bishop of Killala and eventually through several other owners to the first Earl of Somers, probably around 200 years ago. It had passed down through his family until being sold last year.

An ownership inscription translated from Latin reads: “A book of the community of the house of the nourishing Virgin Mary near Dublin.”

Other manuscripts from St Mary’s Abbey survive in the British Library and other major repositories in Oxford and Cambridge universities, and in Manchester.

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