Photographs of Music

The extract of music today comes from Lambeth Palace MS 457 and consists of four poems with music. As well as studying verse and notation, it will also allow us to look at the use and reuse of parchment and how, with modern technology, we can reconstruct missing or damaged pages in manuscripts. The text is a is a rebound set of three manuscripts dating from the 15th century and earlier and is written on paper and parchment. Aside from the two folios we shall look at the text is non-musical and consists of treatises, liturgical writings, and sermons, including the writings of Jerome and Seneca. Of the two pages containing music notation only one is visible to the naked eye. The other has been scraped away and a commentary on the seven deadly sins has been written over the top (palimpsest). This was a common occurrence in medieval manuscripts, whereby scribes and writers could reuse or correct previous writing by scraping the existing text away from the velum with a small knife and leaving a clear surface to write upon again.

The music itself is in a 13th century non-mensural script, this being literally non-measured notes, where the placement and form of the note indicate pitch but not timing or rhythm. This is not to say of course that there is no way to tell what the rhythm is meant to be. The interpretation relies on our understanding of cultural norms and rhythmic modes, as well as textual analysis looking at the stresses in the syllables and the rhythmic structure of the text. Examples of the rhythmic modes, like harmonic modes but governing rhythm rather than pitch, can be found in France around the 12th century.[i] These examples are attributed to Léonin (1150s-1201) who was a member of the Notre Dame school of Polyphony, which existed from 1160-1250. During this time, he established six underlying pulses or rhythmic modes to guide people in interpreting note values in a given piece of music. How far outside of the Notre Dame school in Paris this travelled is a matter of some contention as is the possibility of other schools using similar principles. That they likely existed can be surmised by non-mensural music that does not conform to his patterns and that was written some distance from Paris. It should be said however that the proliferation of this type of notation does not necessarily equate to multiple schools considering what we know of the movement of people and rapid diffusion of ideas during this period. This was superseded in the 13th as mensural music systems were developed and codified, the most well-known example was by Franco of Cologne who wrote Ars Cantus Mensurabilis in 1250-1280.

It is a common feature however that music based on pre-existing compositions was still written in non-mensural notation even after the 13th century. This is commonly seen for example in transcriptions of troubadour songs. This piece in MS 457 can be clearly defined as non-mensural by the lack of ligatures in the setting and by the positioning of breves and longs above one another where both must have the same value (for more information about this type of notation see A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke. Thomas Morley) Approaching this piece then one can see the limits of our understanding of this type of music. When one approaches with the wrong rhythmical system the carefully prepared dissonances and resolutions of voice leading, something that was very important in this form of music, are lost. This can result in further attempts to ‘correct’ errors in the music, which can then lead to very different interpretations. Examples of the approaches range from syllabic, each syllable having equal value with melasmas being quickened, to entirely unmeasured, the choice being up to the performer. One of the ways musicologists have attempted to reconstruct a more historically accurate basis is to look at instances where both mensural and non-mensural notation is used to depict the same tune.


Figure 1Bnf MS fr. 844 f78v 13century

In this example there is a dance (a vielle) beginning “Tant es gay es avinentz” written in mensural notation. On the right on the third stave down is a troubadour song by Blacasset vegining “Ben volgra que.m vengues mer[c]es” written in non-mensural notation. Both however use the same melody. This raises a whole host of interesting questions, about how one approaches this type of music and why the use of non-mensural notation persisted when more ‘accurate’ notation was available. It has been suggested by some musicologists that the very ambiguity of the notation was the point. Complaints by Elias Salomon in the 1270s, amongst others about church singers retarding, accelerating, anticipating, and improperly phrasing the notes suggest that the practice of treating the written music as a guide rather than prescriptive meant that depicting the exact rhythm was not only not useful but not required. The next question is that if this was the case why then also transcribe this work in mensural notation? The answer, I believe, has to do more with form than historical precedent. The first piece on the page is meant to be a dance. Without a regular rhythm this becomes much more difficult. Whereas for a song, particularly if there is a cultural expectation and performance practice of rhythmic expression, writing something out in strict metric rhythm would be unnecessary.


Returning to the manuscript, having looked at why the style of notation was used and discussed what remains and what does not, we can next consider the application of spectroscopy and the use of non-visible light spectrums when studying medieval or historical manuscripts. This has been revolutionary in what it has allowed us to see. Below are three examples the middle one showing the image as it would appear to the naked eye. The one on the right being a composite of under UV light showing a previously unseen trace of a border. The one on the left demonstrates the effect on pigments of this sort of technology.


In the above images of MS1370 you can clearly see how by viewing the page under different sources of light the image of an erased border can be seen. This is due to the different reactions of ink to different wavelengths of light. Pigments, simplistically, get their colour from the reflection of a certain, or combination of certain, wavelengths of light. The simplest and most common example in manuscripts is the use of carbon, in various forms, in black ink. This means that when looked at under UV or IR light the carbon particles absorb the wavelengths far more than the surrounding parchment. This can reveal text or line drawings that are otherwise obscured either because they have been erased or because they have been covered up. For example, when looking at illuminated pages in a manuscript under IR light the pigments used do not, by and large, absorb the light, thus allowing us to see the black lines beneath where the artist sketched out the design. This can reveal previous ideas or alternative arrangements of the image. Similarly, when the text is viewed under UV light the different pigments reflect differing amounts of UV light. With the right camera and equipment this can be rendered visible and, as you can see, reveal information about the pigments used and how they were applied.


Turning to MS 457, whilst the music on f 192v has been erased it can viewed under UV light showing a continuation of the music underneath the writing. This is done by shining a hand-held UV lamp at the page whilst taking images with the digital camera; a low-tech approach but suitable for our purposes.


With a slightly fuller picture of the work we can see that the music is divided into 5 distinct songs: The first is quite distinct in its rhythmic approach, which can be interpreted from the syllabification of the text and the placement of ligatures. The poem used is metric with a definite rhyme scheme. It is also probably English in origin, owing to the proliferation of thirds and the fact that similar tune has not been found in other continental sources. The work is harmonically interesting with prepared dissonances throughout resolving and reoccurring as the piece progresses


For the second piece the underlying tune is an Agnus trope, a copy of which can be found in a 14th century Sarum missal in the Bodleian (MS Don.b.5, f. 398). The rhythm of the piece is a modification of the duplum mode and lacks the thirds and dissonances of the previous piece. However, since the trope is from the Sarum we can assume the piece is English again.


The third piece of music is again based on a metrical rhyming poem leading one to believe it has a binary structure (aa bb or ab ab). Of interest however is the last five notes of the piece where a new third voice is introduced, giving what is probably an early example of English three voice polyphony


The fourth piece is where things become more difficult. The trope used is incomplete having two lines of music over one line of text. With the piece being through composed, that being music composed with a focus on voice leading and the individual melodic line rather than harmonic patterns, it is likely that the text continued on the next page with fragments of the second and third verses of the trope visible under UV light. Fortunately, the trope is recognisable and exists with different music in other sources. However, unlike the proceeding pieces the work is not metrically balanced and lacks an internal rhyme. This melody, as said, is from an Agnus Dei chant which, in this case, is found throughout England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, leading to clear difficulties in identifying the original piece.


This has hopefully provided a brief introduction into the difficulties in studying early manuscripts and the advantages that modern technology can bring to this process.

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February update from the Library and Record Centre

Lambeth Palace Library and the Church of England Record Centre regularly embark on new projects and acquire and catalogue new material, from rare books and manuscripts to modern publications.  Every two months, we post here a brief update on some of our latest acquisitions, projects and upcoming events, to keep you up-to-date with our most recent news.

This month’s new accessions

Some highlights from our recent new acquisitions include:


Upcoming events

London’s Unseen Chapels: From the Notebooks of Canon Clarke

Wednesday 22 March, 6pm-8.30pm (admittance, by ticket only, from 5pm)In Lambeth Palace Library Great Hall.

Page from Canon Clarke's notebook (Clarke/1/1)

An event to celebrate the life and work of Canon Basil Fulford Lowther Clarke (1908-1978). From the age of fifteen, Basil Clarke kept a record on the architecture and architects of Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches and Chapels which he visited, predominately in England and Wales but also in Europe, Asia, Africa and America. The Cathedral and Church Buildings Division, Lambeth Palace Library, and the Church of England Record Centre, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, are mounting a joint exhibition which brings to life the hidden world of London’s chapels.

The event will include a lecture by Dr Jennifer Freeman, architectural writer, lecturer, historian and former Director of Historic Chapels Trust, entitled ‘London’s Churches and Chapels; a Miscellany’, followed by a wine reception. Please follow the link to register your interest for this free event:

An evening with the Library’s Conservators

Thursday 6 April, 6pm-7.30pm (admittance not before 5.45pm).  In Lambeth Palace Library conservation studio.

Conservation studio
Library conservation studio

An opportunity to view the conservation studio and discuss techniques and treatments with the Library’s conservation staff.

Tickets £10 per head, to include a glass of wine. Numbers will be limited. Please note that the conservation studio is reached by a medieval spiral staircase. Please book in advance with Juliette Boyd, Lambeth Palace Library,  or telephone 020 7898 1400, not later than Friday 31 March. 

Liturgical Books and the Medieval Library: A talk by Dr Tessa Webber (Trinity College, Cambridge)

Tuesday 6 June, 5.30pm (admittance not before 5pm). In Lambeth Palace Library Great Hall

MS 455 f.28: Sarum Hours
MS. 455 f.28

It has long been conventional in the history of books and book collections of the Middle Ages to draw a distinction between liturgical books and library books. In practice, however, the use made of the books and the arrangements for their storage and custody suggest that the distinction was sometimes less clear-cut. Tessa Webber will examine such evidence to question how far the conventional bi-partite categorisation of books as ‘liturgical’ and ‘library’ reflects the way in which books were conceived during the Middle Ages.

In association with the University of London research seminar on the History of Libraries. All are welcome, but those wishing to attend are asked to register with not later than Monday 5 June.


Archives news: Runcie Papers, CFR, library records and digitised Book of Hours

Portrait of Archbishop Runcie from Lambeth Palace
Portrait of Archbishop Runcie from Lambeth Palace

Records from 1986 which form part of the papers of Archbishop Runcie were released for research. Cataloguing work was completed on the records of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) relating to the Orthodox Church in Russia and the Ukraine, and also included the CFR publications bureau which facilitated contact between clergy and others in the UK and contacts overseas. Descriptions of the photographs in the CFR archive are now also available. For more information on these collections please see the online archives catalogue. Work to re-catalogue the Library’s historic records 1785-1952 has been completed and has produced a new source guide on the Library website.

Additions to the image database include MS 3338, a late 15th-century Book of Hours (Use of Rome), written in Italy in humanist script. Further blog posts relating to the Library’s collections on the First World War cover army chaplains, and the ration book of the Lambeth Librarian, Claude Jenkins. Library material continues to feature on the website of the John Newton Project.

Record Centre update: Queen Victoria Clergy Fund, Hospital Chaplaincies Council, Mowbray Wippel and Warham Guild papers

The collections listed below have been fully catalogued. Links to the online catalogue are included in the names.

  • Queen Victoria, from Prints 023/142
    Queen Victoria, depicted in Prints 023/142

    Queen Victoria Clergy Fund – formed to raise support and funds both from diocesan bodies and the laity to augment the incomes of poor clergy, similar to the efforts made by Queen Anne’s Bounty (founded in 1704) and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (founded in 1836). It emerged directly from two lay organisations dedicated to ameliorating clerical hardship – the Tithe Redemption Trust (or Fund) in 1846 and the Church of England Incumbents’ Sustentation Fund in 1873 – both of which were ultimately absorbed into the Queen Victoria Clergy Fund (in 1899 and 1897 respectively). This collection contains materials relating to the operation of the QVCF and its subsidiary funds between 1848 and 1995,

  • Hospital Chaplaincies Council The Hospital Chaplaincies Commission was appointed by the Church Assembly in 1946 to enquire into the Church’s ministration to mentally ill people in institutions, to consult with the Minister of Health re. the future of the provision of such a service in the National Health Service (NHS), the specific training for the role, and the status of chaplains in other types of health institution.
  • Mowbray Wippel and Warham Guild papers This collection comprises designs and photographs of completed works by church furnishers A.R Mowbray and Company Limited; brochures and catalogues of church furnishing companies including A.R Mowbray, and material relating to the Warham Guild prior to its merger with Wippell Mowbray Church Furnishing Limited.

‘Books and their owners’: recently exhibited items from the Sion College Collection

Owl illustration from [A68.7/K52]
This week, an array of material from the Sion College Collection (now held at Lambeth Palace Library) was showcased in an exhibition focussing on books and their owners.  Highlights from the exhibition included:

  1. Eastern Orthodox Church. Pentēkostarion, Moscow, 1704 [A32.2/P38] Some of the books in the Sion College collection have travelled great distances over their long lives. They have crossed borders, survived wars and conflagrations, and passed through the hands of numerous owners. Inscriptions on the endpapers of this Russian liturgical text record that it was taken from Sebastopol during the Crimean War on 9th September 1855, the day after the fall of the Great Redan. Removed by Charles Kinnear, surgeon on HMS Rodney, it was then gifted to the Scottish epidemiologist, Dr James Ormiston McWilliam, who served as medical officer to the Niger expedition. The book arrived in Sion College in 1867 through an acquaintance of McWilliam’s, the Reverend Joseph Maskell.
  2. Antiquae musicae auctores septem Graece et Latine, Amsterdam: Louis Elzevir, 1652 [G81.1/M47] Though long regarded as a key work on the history of Ancient Greek music, the Sion copy of Antiquae musicae auctores septem Graece et Latine is especially notable for the rich provenance that it displays. As well as extensive marginalia, on the front flyleaf of the book there is a manuscript inscription which reads “J W Callcott. Bought of Mr. Faulder Bond St. out of the collection of Dr. Shepherd, Canon of Windsor” and it has proved possible to trace each of the individuals named and thereby understand the intriguing hands that the volume has passed through during its history. John Wall Callcott (1766-1821) was a renowned English composer, famed for the glees that he composed including Drink to me only with thine eyes. He purchased the book from Robert Faulder (1747/48-1815), a bookbinder and bookseller who operated from New Bond Street in the late 18th century, who was once hauled to court under suspicion of libel. Faulder acquired the book from the collection of Dr Anthony Shepherd (1721-1796) who rose to fame as an astronomer and held the position of Plumian Professor at the University of Cambridge from 1760 until his death in 1796. Described by one of his contemporaries as “dullness itself”, a little colour is added to his character through his friendship with Captain Cook, who named the Shepherd Islands after him. This brief example illustrates well the intriguing links and unexpected histories that can be uncovered through cataloguing.
  3. The alchemist's laboratory, seen in [A68.7/K52]
    Khunrath, Heinrich. Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae, Hanau, 1609 [A68.7/K52] Heinrich Khunrath (c.1560-1605) was a German physician, philosopher and influential alchemist who worked in the court of Emperor Rudolph II. His most famous work is the Amphitheatrum sapientiae aeternae [Amphitheater of eternal wisdom], a treatise on the mystical aspects of Christianity and alchemy which contains the engraving entitled “The first stage of the great work”, better-known as the “Alchemist’s laboratory”. This copy came to Sion College from the extensive library of Edward Waple (1647-1712), Vicar of St. Sepulchre’s and Archdeacon of Taunton. A lifelong bibliophile with a fine taste in books, Waple left more than 3,000 volumes to Sion College Library in his will. 


Screenshot from ColorOurCollections
Screenshot from ColorOurCollections

This year Lambeth Palace Library contributed to the #ColorOurCollections initiative spearheaded by the New York Academy of Medicine. Not only did we use the hashtag to highlight Lambeth Palace and Sion College Library material on social media (joining some 3,755 tweets on Twitter), but we also registered as one of 105 participating organisations on the main website and submitted a sample of colouring book pages for users to download and enjoy. Thus far the website has received over 300,000 views and has gained some media interest. You can see Lambeth’s contribution here (, but there are plans for a larger scale project form Lambeth in the future.

Don’t forget you can also keep up-to-date with our news and events, and enjoy glimpses of some of the treasures in our collections by following us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, as well as on our blog.

Annotated copy of the first Bible printed in England

A guest blog post by Dr Eyal Poleg, Queen Mary, University of London 

Lambeth Palace SR2 E75 is a peculiar book.  It is a copy of the first Bible to be printed in England – the ‘best of’ the Latin Vulgate, printed by Thomas Bethelet in London, July 1535.  But it is not the original text that is the most interesting about this book.  At first glance it appears to be a clean copy, with little to no marginal annotations and signs of reading.  A more careful look reveals a hidden layer.  At empty spaces at the end of prologues and sections, or at blank margins, a very thick paper was carefully pasted.  This was done so professionally that previous librarians have placed the library stamp and wrote the shelf mark on this pasted paper.

Pasted page with Library stamp
Pasted page with Library stamp

Naturally, one wonders why was this paper placed, and what lies underneath.  Having discussed the matter with the Library staff, a go-ahead was given to experiment with non-obtrusive ways of uncovering this.  Using long exposures and a light-sheet, Steph Eeles, the Library’s resourceful photographer, was able to reveal some of the happening underneath.  It revealed a mass of marginal annotations.  However, as the images merged texts from both sides of the paper, they were virtually indecipherable.

Images merging text from both sides of the paper
Images merging text from both sides of the paper

Help came from an unexpected place.  Dr Graham Davis from the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary University of London has long been developing innovative technologies and instruments for digital imagery within his discipline, as well as assisting medieval scholars and archivists (see  Seeing the images, he began developing ways of ‘subtracting’ one image from the other, thus clearing up the annotations.  Two joint sessions with Graham and Steph assisted in perfecting the images.

Photography in progress
Photography in progress

Graham then took the time to develop a software for image subtraction, which he trialled and tested.  Eventually it enabled the desired result of isolating the hidden annotations.

Isolation of hidden annotations
Isolation of hidden annotations

A full analysis of the annotations will be published in due course, but they incorporate an English table of liturgical reading, revealing the parallel use of Latin and English in the liturgy during the reign of Henry the Eighth.