The mass magnified: the large missal in England and France c.1350–c.1450
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Collins, Alexander David
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The eleven illuminated missals at the core of this thesis share a distinctive scale that sets them apart from the majority of other decorated missals. Their scale was a key factor in the visual and ritual experiences they offered their patrons and their earliest users. Missals made in the later fourteenth century and the early fifteenth century included some of the physically largest examples of this genre of book ever made. Containing the text of the late medieval Mass, and read by its priest during the ritual’s performance, they were essential components of the ritual that resulted in the physical embodiment of Christ in the Eucharist. Large missals were a distinctive variation of the Mass book. However, existing scholarship has not offered sufficient reasons for a wide-ranging phenomenon of large missal patronage and manufacture. This thesis argues that the scale of these books was a central rhetorical device that magnified their significance and reception. At the heart of this adoption of the large-scale format was the aggrandisement of the Mass itself, reaffirming its place as the central rite of the Christian Church and contemporary devotions about the ritual. Study of these eleven manuscripts suggests that their exceptional size and the treatment of their interior designs supporting their visuality were issues for this particular period. Explanations for the adoption of large Mass books are given by examining their visibility in the Mass, as part of what is termed here the ‘altarscape’. Having established this, this thesis offers reasons for why patrons and clerics used a cumbersome large format for the text of the ritual. The missals unmistakeably reasserted orthodox values in the face of challenges to conventional understanding of the Eucharist from those holding non-conforming views. Simultaneously, the emphasis on expanded proportions arguably reflects contemporary practices of commemoration where being remembered was an essential part of dying well. And finally, the interior and exterior scale of these books was used for new devotional themes, including the Virgin.