The Vernon manuscript contains 370 texts (though the total depends on what is counted). Among these are the most widely-known writings in English of the period. A great variety of texts is included, long and short, poetry and prose, old and up-to-date. On the opening page we are told that the book is called Salus Anime (the health or salvation of the soul) in Latin, Sowlehele translated into English.

The volume opens with the South English Legendary, a huge collection of stories about the lives of saints. The Northern Homily Cycle  is another huge collection, comprising expositions of the gospels and short stories designed to teach through entertainment. The Miracles of the Virgin is a collection of stories of miracles associated with devotion to the Virgin Mary. Many are anti-Semitic, revealing the prejudices of the day. The Estorie del Evangelie (Story of the Gospel) narrates the life of Mary and the infancy of Christ. Towards the end of the volume occurs Piers Plowman, a dream vision about English society, politics, and faith. At the very end, perhaps added as an afterthought, is a sequence of short lyric poems that remind the reader of the slipperiness and changeability of things in this world.  These are just a few of the poems in the manuscript. Prose texts are also well represented. Among the prose texts are several by mystics, such as Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton, and a version of the Ancrene Riwle giving guidance on living a contemplative life.

At the beginning of the manuscript, a Table of Contents gives a guide to the subjects and texts of the manuscript, page opening by page opening.

‘The Birth of Christ in the Stable’ (MP3), read by Wendy Scase (see Image 1).

‘How the Devil appeared to St Martin’ (MP3), read by Wendy Scase (see Image 2).

‘This World Fares as a Fantasy’ (MP3), read by Wendy Scase (see Image 5).


(All images protected by copyright. Please do not use without permission).

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