The Berthold Sacramentary,
Purchased by J.P. Morgan, 1926
© The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
My words will never pass away
Jesus told his disciples a parable: ‘Think of the fig tree and indeed every tree. As soon as you see them bud, you know that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that the kingdom of God is near. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.’
Reflection on the Sacramentary Cover
Yesterday, we look at an illuminated manuscript page from a medieval sacramentary. Today we are looking at the cover of a different sacramentary. A sacramentary refers to a liturgical book used by the priest and clergy during the celebration of the Mass. It is a compilation of prayers, chants, and instructions specific to the celebration of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. The term "sacramentary" is derived from the Latin word "sacramentarium," indicating its association with the administration of the sacraments. It is different from a missal. The missal is a more comprehensive liturgical book that includes not only the priest's parts of the Mass (which are found in the sacramentary) but also the texts for the responses and participation of the congregation. It contains the complete order of the Mass, including the Ordinary (unchanging parts) and the Proper (varying parts based on the liturgical calendar).
Our Gospel reading today ends with Jesus's words 'my words will never pass away'. How true. Jesus' life-giving words are captured forever in sacred scripture. Each time we open our Bibles, we find the treasure of God's Word inside.
This treasure of the Word often then found artistic expression when skilled craftsmen created true treasure of the covers and binding that would hold the Word of God: an external treasure to house the treasure of the Word. The artwork we are looking at today is adorned with pearls, diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and precious metals. These types of covers are appropriately called 'treasure binding'. Skilled metalworkers were employed to emboss patterns of silver and gold and to set precious stones to create these lavish-looking works of art.
The example we are looking at, The Berthold Sacramentary, is named after Berthold, the abbot of Weingarten from 1200–1232, who commissioned it. It is one of the most luxurious German manuscripts and a major monument of Romanesque art. Although the manuscript was formerly known as the Berthold Missal, it is, in fact, a Sacramentary. The book still retains its original tooled metal and precious stone inset binding, which includes representations of the abbey's patron saints (Martin and Oswald) and Abbot Berthold himself.
Not many treasure-bound manuscripts have survived the centuries. Many bindings and covers have disappeared... but Jesus's word itself will never pass away….
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