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Van der Weyden, Descent from the Cross
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Manchester, John Rylands Library MS Eng. 895

Described by: Ryan Perry, described from MS analysis in the John Rylands.
Revision Date: June 1st, 2010


Liber Aureus de Passione et Resurreccione Domini, mid-C15(?)

Condition of the MS

The MS preserves its original binding, but it is in a state of decay, with the quires now completely detached from the vestiges of the cords. Some leaves have been lost from the book- see Collation.

Number of Items


Title(s) of Pseudo-Bonaventuran Text(s)

The text in the Liber Aureus de Passione is an amalgamation of combination of Meditationes de Passione, Gospel of Nichodemus and the canonical Gospel of John.


  • Text begins imperfectly, “lete hym go þus a lyue”, cf. Stonyhurst College MS B. XLVIII, 22v line 11 (where the text begins on 21r).
  • The page on which the Passion/Resurrection section ends and the Gospel of Nicodemus material begins is missing.



Secundo Folio



  • Fol. 79v: At the end of the treatment of the Passion, a non-scribal but contemporary hand adds, “Explicit &c Here endeþ þe processe of þe passione and by gynneþ þe Ressureccion”.

  • " Now god for hys muche myght yeue us grace suche byleue to haue. Wher þorowe we mowe come to endes blysse. Amen."
  • Languages of the MS

    English, with some sections of Latin text (in red ink).

    Detailed Description of Contents

    A damaged text of the Liber Aureus de Passione with commentary and with spaces perhaps originally intended to contain miniatures. See Decoration below.

    Estimated Date of Production

    Ker dates the production to the mid-C15, presumably on paleographic grounds; it is possible that the hand might be earlier than this.

    Writing Support



    125 fols, foliated in pencil in top right (medieval foliation see Ker).

    Dimensions of Page and Writing Space

  • Leaf size: 233 x 140 mm (approx.)
  • Writing Space: 145 x 65 mm (approx.); on fols 115r-117r the frame narrows to 55 mm (approx.)
  • Collation

    118 -4 (wants 1, 2, 17, 18); 2-912, 1012 -4 (wants 1, 2, 11, 12) ; 11 12 -5 (wants 5, 6, 7 8, 12 [blank]).


    1 column, 21 lines; frames and lines ruled (in crayon/plummet?) with signs of pricking tpwards the rear of the book.

    Rubrication/ Ordinatio

  • Initials: Major divisions are signaled by 4-5 line blue initials with red pen-work flourishes; important sections of text within these divisions begin with 2-line capitals with red pen-work flourishes; some lines begin with 1-line red capitals.
  • Titles, Headings, Rubrics: sections of Latin text are penned in red ink.
  • Other: red paraph marks mark subdivisions in the text.
  • Illustration

    There are a number of spaces left in the MS, presumably left for a cycle of images; the spaces can be found on:

  • Fol. 2v: follows Mary Magdalene washing and anointing Christ’s feet.
  • Fol. 14v: follows the account of the Last Supper
  • Fol. 19v: sandwiched between the Latin and English versions of Christ’s prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane.
  • Fol. 24v: sandwiched between the Latin and English versions of the Archangel Michael’s response to Christ.
  • Fol. 33r: Mary’s doleful prayer to God the Father to spare her son.
  • Fol. 40v: follows the scourging of Christ
  • Fol. 46v: follows Christ carrying the cross to Calvary and precedes the Crucifixion.
  • Fol. 57 or 58: Follows the death of Christ- this may have been planned to receive the image of Christ crucified, with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and John beneath the cross.
  • Fol. 62v: following the account of the pain of Mary.
  • Fol. 66r: Christ being taken down from the Cross.
  • Fol.69v: Christ buried in the Sepulchre.
  • Fol. 79v: A 10-line space which follows the imprisonment of Joseph of Aramathea, the guilt of the disciples and the preparation of the ointments for the body of Christ. It is not entirely obvious which image may have been intended to fill this space.
  • Fol. 100r: follows a number of accounts of the resurrected Christ’s appearances.
  • Number of Scribal Hands


    Style of Hands

    An attractive, calligraphic, bastard Secretary hand; single lobed 'a', sharp, tapered spike-like descenders on f and long s; anglicana w with hooked ascenders; open-descender on g; the scribe punctuates expertly, using dots, punctus elevatus and thin forward slash punctus strokes- small i is not so much dotted, as topped with a faint curling stroke; N.R. Ker believed that BL Egerton MS 2658 (another copy of the Liber Aureus de Passione) and Trinity College Dublin MS 71 (Rolle's English Psalter), were "probably" penned by the same scribe. Only the Egerton MS has been assessed against the John Rylands hand as part of the project, and in this case it is almost certainly so that the same scribe was responsible.

    Estimated Date of Hands

    Ker dates the hand to the mid-C15 (Ker), but the script may be earlier, perhaps dateable to the first or second quarter of the C15. The hand might be compared in many of its features to that reproduced by Jane Roberts from BL Harley MS 4866, fol. 88r- a presentation copy of Hoccleve's Regement of Princes dated to between 1411-20 (see Roberts 214-5).

    Scribal Annotation


    Notable Dialect Features

    • The dialect of the text has been profiled in LALME, vol. I, p. 138; vol. III, pp. 651-2, LP 5331. Grid 394 131. This places the dialect in the vicinity of Tisbury in Wiltshire, about 12 miles west of Salisbury. It is almost certain from the spelling forms used by the main annotator (eg. she: 3ho, and wax: wyxe), that this writer comes from around the same area.
    • Sample of forms taken from the main text


      them: hem


      said: sayde, seyde, saide


      they: þei, þey


      much: muche


      again: a yen


      against: a yens


      life: lyf


      self: self, selfe, silf, sylf


      if: yif, yf, if


      two: tweye, twey


      yet: yit


      will: wole, woll, wolle, wil


      will (intention): wyl, wyll, will


      word: woord


      who: wham


      gathered: gadred


      together: to gedres


      hill: hull


      one: oo, oone


      her: hure, hur, huyre


      should: shuld


      their: huryre, hure, huere


      gave: yaf


      give: yeue, y yeue


      called: clepiiþ


      hither: hedyr


      it: hit, it


      first: first


      second: secunde


      not: noght


      she: she


      bury: burie


      buried: buryed


      when: whan


      where: whare


      hand: honde


      through: þorowe


      turned: torned


      any: eny.


    • Sample of forms taken from the main annotator

      third: þrydde


      much: muche


      they: þey


      them: hem


      hand: honde


      weight: wy3t


      might: mi3t


      than: þen


      less: lasse


      gave: 3af


      it: hit


      heard: hurde


      word: word


      which: whiche


      her: hur


      should: schulde


      self: self


      one: oo


      she: 3ho


      again: a 3en


      any: eny


      wax: wyxe

    Localisable on Google Earth
    (click markers to view sample dialect forms)

    Annotation and Marginalia

    There is a great deal of annotation, and most is attributable to a single hand, often adding apocryphal stories with relevance to the text. The annotator usually encloses the annotation within rectangular shapes, and with a line indicating where to begin reading his additional material.- it is likely that this is the same person who adds a number of maniculae in the MS (which often signal the cruelty of the Jews to Christ). The main examples of annotation include:

    1. At the arrest of Christ, and the initial fear of his captors to seize him, the annotator glosses Christ’s identification of himself to the soldiers, “Here he spake to hem in þe godhede st [sic] þen þey had no power to sette honde on hym”, 28r.
    2. Just before they proceed to arrest him, “here he spake to hem in his manhede & þen þey toke hym”, 28v.
    3. After Christ replaces the ear that Peter cut from the soldier, the annotator fleshes out the text’s account with the direct speech of Christ: “and seide to Peter ; Pytte þy swerd in to þy sheþe / ho so takeþ þe swerd wiþ swerd he shall perysshe // Trowystew nat þt y my3t pray my fader / and he wold send me mo þen XII legiones of angels to helpe me But how schuld þen holy writte be fulfuld , ffro(?) þus nedys hit must be”, 28v.
    4. The annotator adds Christ’s testimony (again using direct speech) to the ‘bisshop’, where he asks for people to bear witness as to the evil that he has supposedly preached within the temple, "þese bisshop exampned Ihc of his disciplis & of his doctryne & Ihc answerd & seyde // opynlich y haue spake in þe world & oft haue y tau3t in þe temple . þere as all þe Iewes come to geder & in pryueyte spake y no3t // Exampne hem þat hurde me þere & whate þat y seide // And when þat he had seide þus wend to him one of þe seruantes of þe house & 3af Ihc a boffet & seide to him // so answere oure bisshop . Then seyde Ihc // 3if y haue spake euyll þen bere wyttenesse of euyll / 3if y haue woll y spoke . whare to[?] smytest me[?]", fol. 31r.
    5. Concerning Pilate when he would have had the Jews choose Christ, rather than Baraban to be freed, “ffor as muche as understode þat þey acoused him of envye", fol. 36r
    6. Pilate advises that Christ is freed after Herod cannot find fault with him, “so þat þis was þe þrydde tyme þat pylate feyned him to deluver Ihc fro þe euyll wille of þe Iewes”, fol 37v.
    7. Fills out the story of the Crown of thorns, beginning on fol. 41v, “þe story rehersed in a noþer place þat when crist was take he was exampned ; & þen y crowned wt þe branches of white þorn whiche grewe in þe gardyne þat þey had exampned him Inne //and þer for þat þorne hath grete vertu / for ho so euer ber a braunche of him he deer he not doute of Vondir . ly3tnyng ne oþertempest ne none euyll spirit may a byde in þe house þat hit ys Inne // þen was he brou3t þer hens in to a gardyn of anneys þe bishope & exampned & crowned of þe newe wt þe þornes of berberye . & þat haþ grete vertue for me makeþ oynementes of þe leves þer of // þen was he bro3t in to Cayphas gardyn (42v) & exampned & crowned wt þorne clepid Englentere / þen þe ferþ tyme he was brou3t forþ in to a gardyn to for Pylate & þer Priuelich exampned & crowned wt see Ionkes þat was more byttlich prykkyng þen eny of þe oþers & þer for hit haþ more vertu þen eny of þese oþer// And hit ys y seyde þat haluyn deele of þulke crown of see Ionkes ys at parys & þat oþer haluyn deele þer of ys at constantynople”. The source for this information is almost certainly Mandeville's Travels, and there is some examples of word for word correspondence that are particular to either or both standard and defective versions (Kohanski and Benson ll. 180-9; Seymour, p. 10, ll. 1-21) and the annotation here.
    8. The reader is directed back to a mark * (on fol. 41v) for the beginning of the apocryphal story of the cross, 42v.
    9. Within the Legend of the Cross (the account of the building of Solomon's Temple), the annotator adds the story of “Maximylla”, the “furst martyr þat euer was by for þe Incarnacone":

    þen cam forþ a womman . clepud Maximylla . after tyme þat þe tree was cast downe in to þe temple. 3ho wend & stode þer a pon to see in huire þe seruyse of þe temple/ & as 3ho stode þer on þe heme of hur cloþes rounde a boute gon to wyxe a fuyre & þen of prophesye 3ho seyde Ihu crist haue mercy on me / whiche name þe Iewes dispiseden & þen þey steened hur wiþ stoones to þe deeþ / 3ho was þe furst martyr þat euer was by for þe Incarnacon (43v).

    I can only find reference to this tale in the Cornish Ordinale, and given the dialectal location of the main scribe in the West Country, it is plausible that the annotator knew the Cornish drama or that there was a localised knowledge of this element of the Legend of the Cross..
    10. “de longitude & latitude (stere?) crucis”, 44v.
    11. Adds the name “symeon, Elisaundres foder”, and brief circumstantial detail about the man who carried Christ’s cross, 46r.
    12. Fleshes out the brief textual mention of the sharing of Christ’s clothes by the soldiers- rather than cutting his ‘cote’, they ‘cast’ for it, 51r.
    13. Adds the story that “Jerome reherseþ” of how the thief came to be saved by Christ (he was the young son of Knight who let Mary, Joseph and Christ escape to Egypt and recognizes Christ’s divinity when on the cross), 53v-4r.
    14. Explains that Christ’s pain exceeded even the pain of hell; directly beneath the annotator notes, “The day þat crist was putte in þe crosse was chepyng day in Jerusalem & þe hye way lay fast by & men wiþ her bestes comen fro þe market”, 54v.
    15. Notes that the precious ointments brought by Nicodemus were, “þe wy3t of an c . lb”, 63r.
    16. Annotator records that “These grete doctors of þe lawe..seelyd þe lydde to þ stone of þe sepulcre…”, 74v.
    17. Records among other things, that Christ’s tomb was intended for JoA, placed just after the women finding the tomb empty, 84r.
    18. Glosses that the 40 furlongs mentioned in the text (the distance between the ‘castell of Emaus” and Jerusalem) “maketh v. myle.”, 91r.
    19. Adds more detail as to Christ’s movements (between ‘paradys and þen after…he wende a 3en to þe disciples), 93r.
    20. Latin note, beside further accounts of Christ’s appearances.

    Other Annotation

    A small marginal cross marks the death of Judas, 38v.
    Another annotator writes, “o deus o deus salue salue”, (penned above Christ’s death) fol. 55v.


    On fol. 51 several lines have been struck through with thin strokes of black ink ; the censored lines are: “And in reproof to hym þey henge oo þeef an in oo side of hym / and a noþer ; in þat oþer side.”


    There are a number of little scribbles and drawings in the book- outstanding among these is a medieval ship, complete with rigging, and a stock of stones and spears in the Crow’s Nest on fol. 66v- the drawing might date to the C15.

    Names recorded, signatures, ex libris marks

  • Fol. 57r: “The condicon of this oblygaton/ is suche that where one John/ Senleger knight late executor/ Per me John Senlegerr”- an attractive and unusually formal (given its context as a legal scribble) C15 hand.
  • Fol. 125v: "Robert Worthye", C15-C16.
  • On the exposed inner back board: "Iohn Hockm[_] 1576"; above it is, "Iohn Hockmon 1576 Tho: Taylor 1756".
  • Notes

    Like Love’s Mirror, the text includes 2 accounts of the crucifixion, each equally gory; first is the account of the upright crucifixion, with the use of three ladders, and then:
    ”And som men saye whan Ihus was broght forþ to be crucified ; þat þe crosse was leyde flat on þe ground . and þat oure lord was leyd up right þer a pon” (fol. 49r-v), “so þat he henge on þe crosse y streyned lyke as a parchement skynne ys streyned a brood on þe harowe so þat noo þing helde þe body and þe lymes to gedres saue onely þe synowes and þe skyne” (fol. 50v).


    The annotation in the MS provides some fascinating evidence for intertextual reading; the annotator certainly knew Mandeville's Travels from which an account of the Crown of Thorns is taken. The annotator also drew on some other source for the story of Maximilla, a character who appears in the Cornish Ordinale as part of the legend of the cross. See Norris pp. 211-222.

    References and Other Resources

    W.H. Hulme, ed., The Middle English Harrowing of Hell and Gospel of Nicodemus, (London, 1907) xxxvi ff.

    Laelius, 'Greek Tradition of the Wood of the Cross', Notes and Queries (Dec., 1866), 478.

    Tamarah Kohanski and C. David Benson eds., The Book of John Mandeville (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2007).

    Edwin Norris, ed. and trans., The Ancient Cornish Drama, vol. 1 (Oxford: OUP, 1859).

    Jane Roberts, Guide to Scripts used in English Writings up to 1500 (London: The British Library, 2005).