The British Library has acquired a unique medieval prayer roll that once belonged to Henry VIII and contains one of only three surviving examples of his handwriting from before his accession in 1509. It is a rare example of a late medieval prayer roll, for, unlike medieval obituary rolls (of which there are hundreds), very few prayer rolls survived the Reformation.
Produced in England in the late fifteenth century, the prayer roll consists of four parchment strips sewn end to end and measures some four metres long when fully unrolled. The roll contains thirteen illuminations – images of Christ, focusing on the Passion, its Instruments and the Sacred Blood, as well as depictions of various saints and their martyrdoms. Accompanying these is a two-column text, with prayers in Latin and rubrics (religious instructions) in English. The rubrics promise that the recital of certain of the prayers will offer safety from physical danger, sickness or disease; others will shorten, by specified amounts, the agony of Purgatory, while the placing of the roll on the belly of a woman in labour will ensure a safe childbirth.
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