Stowe Missal - Cumdach


The manuscript retains its cumdach or book-shrine, a distinctively Irish form of reliquary case for books associated with an important religious figure; this is one of only five early examples. It is a box with metalwork plaques attached with nails to a wooden core of oak. The metalwork is elaborately decorated, with some animal and human figures, and one face and the sides probably date to between 1027 and 1033, on the basis of inscriptions recording its donation and making, while the other face is later, and can be dated to about 1375, again from its inscriptions.

The older "lower" face, which is currently detached from the case, is in silver-gilt copper alloy, with a large cross inside a border that carries the inscription in Irish, which also runs along the arms of the cross. The centre of the cross was later replaced ("severely embellished" as the National Museum put it), probably at the same time as the later face, by a setting for a large stone (now missing) with four lobed sections, similar to the centre of the lower face. The inscription has missing sections because of this, but can mostly be reconstructed: "It asks for a prayer for the abbot of Lorrha, Mathgamain Ua Cathail (+1037) and for Find Ua Dúngalaigh, king of Múscraige Tíre (+1033). It also mentions Donnchadh mac Briain, styled 'king of Ireland' and Mac Raith Ua Donnchada, king of the Eoganacht of Cashel (+1052) as well as the name of the maker, Donnchadh Ua Taccáin 'of the community of Cluain (Clonmacnoise)'." The four spaces between cross and border have panels of geometric openwork decoration, and there are small panels with knotwork decoration at the corners of the border and inside the curved ends of the cross members.

The sides have unsilvered copper alloy plaques with figures of angels, animals, clergy and warriors, set in decorative backgrounds. The newer "upper" face, of silver-gilt, is again centred on a cross with a large oval rock crystal stone at the centre and lobed surrounds, and other gems. The inscription, engraved on plain silver plaques, runs round the border and the spaces between cross and border have four engraved figures of the crucified Christ, Virgin and Child, a bishop making a blessing gesture, and a cleric holding a book (possibly St John). The inscription "invokes a prayer for Pilib Ó Ceinnéidigh, 'king of Ormond' and his wife Áine, both of whom died in 1381. It also refers to Giolla Ruadhán Ó Macáin, abbot of the Augustinian priory of Lorrha and the maker, Domhnall Ó Tolairi". Black niello is used to bring out the engraved lines of the inscription and figures, and the technique is very similar to that of the later work on the Shrine of Saint Patrick's Tooth (also in the NMI), which was also given a makeover in the 1370s, for a patron some 50 km from Lorrha. They were probably added to by the same artist, something that can only rarely be seen in the few survivals of medieval goldsmith's work.

Read more about this topic:  Stowe Missal

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