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150 years overdue - rare book returns to St Paul's library

A 500-year-old book with instructions for celebrating Mass, has returned to the St Paul’s Cathedral Library after an absence of more than 150 years.

The rare Missal, printed in 1502 and bound in green Morocco leather, contains all the texts necessary for the celebration of the Mass throughout the year. The volume pre-dates the Reformation of the Church in England, but alterations to the liturgical calendar and the coming changes in worship are reflected within it.

The volume, written in Latin, contains elaborately decorated initials, woodcut illustrations and typeset music - signs that the book is a work of great craftsmanship. It was printed in Paris by Jean du Pré, the dominant liturgical printer of the time, and was intended for sale among the book sellers whose shops clustered around St Paul’s Churchyard.

The book was first acquired by the Cathedral Chapter in a bequest of nearly 2,000 books from Henry Compton, Bishop of London from 1675-1713. The Bishop’s own armorial bookplate and the printed label explaining his bequest are present.

The book left the Cathedral in the early- to mid-nineteenth century and little is known of what happened to it following its departure, or of how it came to be in the Mendham collection, deposited by the Law Society in Canterbury Cathedral Library. It came to light again in July when items from the Law Society’s collections were sold at auction. An anonymous donor and avid bibliophile kindly donated the money for it to be purchased for the Cathedral.

Jo Wisdom, Cathedral Librarian said: "It is good that this book has ‘come home’ to rejoin the other volumes of Bishop Compton’s bequest. This recovered treasure is entirely appropriate to the library’s rich collections of material exemplifying the development of liturgy and belief in England.”

Today the service of Holy Communion is said or sung twice a day in St Paul’s. Details of all our services can be found at www.stpauls.co.uk/Detailed-Service-Schedule

For more information on the St Paul’s Cathedral Library visit: www.stpauls.co.uk/Library