Chroniclers of History exhibition opens at St Albans Museum + Gallery

King Offa traditionally is held to have been the first benefactor of St Albans Abbey, in the eighth century.

King Offa traditionally is held to have been the first benefactor of St Albans Abbey, in the eighth century, and his is the first image in the book of benefactors, The Golden Book of St Albans, showing him offering the Abbey. The book will be on display in the exhibition. - Credit:  Cotton MS Nero D VII f3v, The British Library

A major new exhibition opens at St Albans Museum + Gallery this week featuring ancient manuscripts.

The Chroniclers of History is due to open in the Weston Gallery on Friday, July 30.

The exhibition brings together, from across the country, medieval manuscripts originally created in the Scriptorium of St Albans Abbey from as early as the 13th century.

Residents of 21st-century St Albans will be able to view at first-hand the works by which the Abbey and city became widely known and respected centuries ago.


What is on display in the Chroniclers of History?

The exhibition catalogue, written by Professor James Clark of Exeter University, who has advised on the exhibition, offers a clear guide to the manuscripts on display.

A number of planned events and activities, focused upon the exhibits, will allow visitors to participate more fully in the Chroniclers of History should they so wish.

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These include lectures, a study day of manuscripts and a family drop-in calligraphy session, all of which are bookable in advance.

A keynote lecture, given by Christopher de Hamel, an expert in medieval manuscripts, will take place in the Nave of St Albans Cathedral.

Verulamium Museum's David Thorold is curating the Chroniclers of History.

"Two names in particular are associated with the production of the chronicles in the Abbey Scriptorium. Matthew Paris, in the 13th century, is the earlier of the two.

"His meticulous recording of the important events of the day, and his skill as an artist, meant that Matthew Paris was requested by King Henry III to record his activities."

The exhibition will display some of the works of Matthew Paris, including his perfectly observed drawing of an elephant, an unexpected illustration to find in a 13th-century English volume.

This came about because King Henry III was a familiar visitor to the Abbey and had been gifted an elephant by King Louis IX of France. It lived in the Tower of London. The accuracy of the drawing indicates that Paris actually saw the elephant.

King Henry’s visits to the Abbey, and the fact that foreign ambassadors visited him there, help explain the accuracy also of the events recorded in the chronicles.

"The second name most associated with the Abbey chronicles is Thomas Walsingham," said David Thorold, "a monk and a fine and lively writer with a determination in the late 14th century to bring about another golden age of chronicle-writing and illustration at the Abbey, following on from the work of Matthew Paris.

"It was Walsingham who compiled The Golden Book of St Albans, on display in the exhibition, which lists all the benefactors who had donated to the Abbey."

It is from this work, which is on loan from the British Library, that the key image has been chosen to herald the exhibition: a richly coloured portrait of the eighth-century king, Offa.

King Offa traditionally is held to have been the first benefactor of St Albans Abbey, in the eighth century.

King Offa traditionally is held to have been the first benefactor of St Albans Abbey, in the eighth century, and his is the first image in the book of benefactors, The Golden Book of St Albans, showing him offering the Abbey. The book will be on display in the exhibition. - Credit:  Cotton MS Nero D VII f3v, The British Library

The Benedictine Abbey of St Albans was founded during his reign and traditionally he is seen as the Abbey’s first benefactor.

It is serendipitous that The Chroniclers of History opens as the great earthwork, Offa’s Dyke, is in the news as a subject for conservation.

The St Albans exhibition has been made possible by the generous loans from the British Library, The National Archives, The Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and The Bodleian Libraries in Oxford.

David Thorold added: "St Albans Museum + Gallery may be small, comparatively speaking, but in the Chroniclers of History we hope to have created a major exhibition of local and national interest.

"In gathering the manuscripts from across the country, the museum is bringing the works to St Albans for a short while, and we are immensely appreciative of the generosity of the lenders who have helped us to achieve this."


When does the exhibition run?

The Chroniclers of History exhibition will run from July 30 to October 31, 2021 at St Albans Museum + Gallery. Admission is free.

Bookings to attend events can be made online at museum@stalbans.gov.uk or by phoning the St Albans Museum + Gallery front desk on 01727 864511. Alternatively, tickets can be bought in person from the museum tills.

To book tickets online for the Christopher de Hamel keynote lecture in St Albans Cathedral, go to www.stalbansmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/medieval-manuscripts-st-albans-abbey or purchase by phone/in person as above.

The Chroniclers of History exhibition is part of a city-wide celebration of St Albans’ rich medieval history.

It is complemented by the Lives and Legacies exhibition at St Albans Cathedral which explores the rich tradition of gift-giving and benefaction. Lives and Legacies runs until September 3.


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