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The Menaion for the month of June


Last week we published a mysterious inscription from this manuscript on Tumblr.  In response to requests for more information, we’re also sharing these excerpts from a recently prepared book history.

Written in the Raifa Monastery, near Kazan’ (Russia) in October 1624 (1623?) by the Elder Barsonophius.


Manuscript on paper 15.3 x 20.7 cm, 4to in 8s, 228 leaves; all quires intact.

Written in Church Slavonic in a single hand on a medium weight paper. Original ms. side notes, contemporary ms. record of date, scribe name and place. Light water stains, occasional spots of wax, a few edges a little frayed, tiny ink holes in two leaves, small worm trail at gutter in lower blank margins of one gathering. A very good clean copy with its original wide margins.

Bound in high quality Russian morocco over thick wooden boards. Metal bosses and centerpieces lost, remains of original brass clasps.



The Menaion (from Greek, μην, “month”, Church Slavonic minea) is the name of several liturgical books in the Orthodox (Greek, Russian, Romanian, Georgian, Serbian, etc.) Church.

The Christian calendar comprises two series of offices. There are movable feasts, falling on the days of the ecclesiastical year dependent on Easter (which is determined by the Jewish, i.e. Lunar calendar); and immovable, set to certain days of the month by the solar calendar, such as the feasts of our Lord: His Nativity (Christmas) Transfiguration, Theophany (Epiphany); of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints. The offices for these “fixed” feasts are contained in the menaia (pl. for menaion). In the Roman breviary it corresponds to the Proprium Sanctorum.

A menaion, one for every month, contains the offices for immovable feasts, according to the liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Church.


The Menaia are used by clergy for daily services. This particular menaion is of specific interest because it antedates the extensive reform by Nikon (1605-1681), the seventh Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, c.1654, revising all service books according to the Greek liturgical tradition, a fateful event that led to a deep schism in the Russian Church.

After this reform many of the pre-existing copies were discarded or burned as redundant.

All Russian service books antedating 1624, whether printed or written, are extremely rare and valuable.


The text has, sometimes substantial and important, variant readings from the standard Menaion for June. Grammatical mistakes signify that the Menaion was read aloud to the scribe rather than copied from another manuscript.


 The ms. contains 29 gatherings, 228 leaves. All gatherings contain 4 bifolia (8 leaves), except the first and last quire, which have 7 and 5 leaves respectively; apparently, first blank leaf of the first quire is used as paste-down, and two blank leaves at the end – one is cut out, the other is used as paste-down.

All quires are numbered in Church Slavonic numbers, apparently by the scribe.

Leaf numbering made in a different ink, by a different (19th cent.?) hand in Arabic numerals at the top right corner.


The text is written in elegant Cyrillic polu-ustav (semi-uncial, a minuscule) script, in a single hand, with characteristic overwriting, ligatures and abbreviations that are common in Cyrillic as well as Latin manuscripts, motivated mainly by two reasons : to distinguish sacred names and matters from ordinary ones, and to save space. Stresses are absent which is unusual for Slavonic service manuscripts. Small dots over the text suggest that it was chanted.


At the foot of the first ten leaves contemporary manuscript record of date, origin and scribe.


The inscription could be translated as: In the year 7132 of our Lord, in the month of October in 22nd day [has finished writing] this book Menaion [for the] month of June, for the Glory of the most pure Theotokos (Mother of God), in the Raifa monastery, in this same monastery tonsure monk Elder Barsonophius.

This inscription clearly indicates not only the name and position of the scribe – Elder Barsonophius, but gives us the place –Raifa monastery, and the date – 1624 (1623?).

The Raifa monastery (about 450 miles East from Moscow) dedicated to the Mother of God was established in 1613 by hieromonk Philaret. This secluded, beautiful place on the lake Sumka was surrounded by deep woods populated by wild animals.



At the very end of the manuscript, at the bottom of the last page, there is a mysterious inscription in Cyrillic characters:


The language is not Slavonic, and resists deciphering.

We assumed a possibility that our Fr. Barsonophius could have been a local man of Tatar or Cheremiss origin, and asked native speakers of those languages to look at the inscription. Alas, they failed to recognize anything familiar.

Any service book in the seventeenth century was regarded as a venerable, even sacred thing, thus the smallest mistake or a slip of the pen was considered a sin. It was customary for a scribe to finish a manuscript with a humble request to readers to correct mistakes if found. However it is only a conjecture. So far a language of this final inscription has remained an enigma for these researchers, who would be grateful for any clue.

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The Battle of Waterloo

map-2You, whose greatcoats were lithely streaming,
Reminiscent of broad sails,
Whose voice and spurs were gaily ringing
Like silver bells,

Whose eyes, like diamonds, were leaving
On hearts their delightful trace,–
The charming fops of vanished being
In time and space.
(Marina Tsvetaeva, To the Generals of 1812)

“The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday, 18 June 1815, near Waterloo in present-day Belgium, then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.”

Two hundred years ago two very ambitious generals met in the battlefield.

Napoleon Bonaparte, former Emperor of the French, and Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had a lot in common: both were forty-six years old, born only a few month apart; both had very little interest in education, but could make rapid and precise mental calculations; overconfident and dictatorial, both were unhappily married yet loved by many women. The difference between them was one — but a major one: Wellington was born noble, while Napoleon was not… That defined their characters: almost “supernaturally balanced” Wellington was not vain in any sense, treated everyone equally, with the same directness, from monarchs to soldiers; Napoleon admired pomp, power and attention; treated people as inferiors, including kings and princes. Wellington cared for his soldiers, never sacrificed his troops for a quick victory; Napoleon was his complete opposite, could not stand rivals and claimed all credits for victories for himself. He never learned from his failures, in which he usually blamed others.

The battle of Waterloo was one of the bloodiest at the time. More than fifty thousand men and countless horses were left dead on the field at the end of the day.

It seems that fate was not on Napoleon’s side this time. It had been raining the whole night before, and by the dawn the battlefield turned into a bog. Napoleon’s cannons got stuck in the heavy mud up to the axles; Wellington’s smaller troops were positioned uphill, so Napoleon’s cavalry could not effectively attack; while Wellington was athletic and exceptionally fit, Napoleon’s suffering from hemorrhoids that day was also seen by historians as the reason for his failure; both sides were exhausted in the five hours of fighting, when Blucher with his Prussian troops arrived and decided the outcome of the battle in favor of the Allies. This ended Napoleon’s military career and the war which was going on and off since 1805.

big-book2Here in Special Collections we have a very beautiful book, A Summary of the Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington: from His First Achievements to the Decisive Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815, by Robert Southey.

Known mostly as one of the finest poets of the so called “Lake School”, Robert Southey (1774-1843) was also known to his contemporaries as a biographer of John Wesley and Lord Nelson, and to the majority of us as the author of “The Three Bears”.

The book in our collection is bound in a crimson morocco leather with gold tooled borders. But the most delightful secret lurks in its fore-edge paining. Practically unnoticeable to the unsuspecting reader, it suddenly reveals a battlefield when edges are squeezed properly. You can then see charging soldiers, explosions… And if you look long enough you might even hear a distant rumble of cannons!



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Posted in Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

Shells, Snails, and Peacocks

A selection of decorated papers from Ellis Library Special collections is now on display now in Ellis 401.Decorated paper must be one of the most visually striking elements of rare books. They are found as endpapers, pastedowns, and on the covers of books produced in Europe from the 17th century onward. With a little background you can begin to appreciate their textures and patterns, and to identify the papers found in our collection and beyond.

El sacrosanto y ecuménico concilio de Trento Translated by Don Ignacio López de Ayala published in Madrid in 1785  Rare BX830 1545.A4 A7

El sacrosanto y ecuménico concilio de Trento
Translated by Don Ignacio López de Ayala
published in Madrid in 1785
Rare BX830 1545.A4 A7

Of the many kinds of decorated papers, marbled papers are the best represented in our collections. The art of marbling paper was invented in Japan and spread to Europe by the early 17th century. Though no two sheets are alike, certain designs became traditional. These designs are sometimes named after a formal resemblance, such as the “peacock,” sometimes after the country of origin, as the “Turkish” pattern, or both, such as the “French curl.”

Histoire naturelle : générale et particulière Volume 12 by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon published in 1749 in Paris by l'Imprimerie royal  Rare QH45 .B78

Histoire naturelle : générale et particulière
Volume 12
by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
published in 1749 in Paris by l’Imprimerie royal
Rare QH45 .B78

Traditional artisans create these designs in oil-based pigments that float on the surface of water. In a carefully orchestrated sequence, they rake and comb the pigments to rake to achieve a design whose swirls and veins resemble those observed in polished marble. The design “lifts” as paper absorbs the pigment.

Marbled papers are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Artists such as Ann Muir create traditional as well as original designs. In a surprising twist, new technology has created a new demand for decorated papers; luxury cases for mobile devices sometimes incorporate them to create a book-like effect.

Vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra by Martín Fernández de Navarrete  published in Madrid by la Imprenta Real in 1819 Rare PQ6337 .N27

Vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
by Martín Fernández de Navarrete
published in Madrid by la Imprenta Real in 1819
Rare PQ6337 .N27

These and many other examples of decorated papers from our collections are on display now in 401 Ellis and can be viewed between 9-5.

Further Reading
Link to an article by Joel Silver with a bibliography:
Link to a guide at Washington University

Apotelesmata astrologiae Christianae, by Pedro Ciruelo. Published  in Madrid, by Arnaldi guillelmi Brocarij, 1521 RARE QB26 C5

Apotelesmata astrologiae Christianae, by Pedro Ciruelo. Published in Madrid, by Arnaldi guillelmi Brocarij, 1521

Posted in Exhibits, Rare Book Collection, Special Collections

William Osler, W. J. Calvert, and MU’s Vesalius

This post is by Amanda Sprochi, Health Sciences Cataloger at the J. Otto Lottes Health Sciences Library.

Often called “the Father of Modern Medicine,” William Osler was a Canadian physician, pathologist, and internist who established the programs of clinical clerkship and medical residency still in use in medical schools today. One of the four founders of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, he continued his career as the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University and later was conferred a baronetcy and knighted.

Osler was from an early age a lover of books, and as his career advanced (and his salary along with it) he became a collector of rare medical volumes, such as the De Humani Corporis Fabrica he donated to the University of Missouri Medical School. He was known to buy works for libraries whose collections were lacking particular volumes, or to encourage other philanthropists to donate them. His own library eventually numbered 8,000 volumes, which he detailed in an extensive bibliography called the Bibliotheca Osleriana. Osler’s collection was donated to McGill University upon his death where it forms the core of the Osler Library of the History of Medicine.

Sir William Osler donated a copy of Vesalius’ seminal work, De Humani Corporis Fabrica, to the University of Missouri Medical School Library in 1909. In his entry on Vesalius in the Bibliotheca Osleriana, he mentions donating a copy to the University of Missouri “to my old student and friend Calvert, at that time Professor of Anatomy.” He indicates in the Bibliotheca that at the time, copies of the Fabrica were “numerous and very often appear in sale catalogues at prices ranging from 10 to 20 varying with the condition.” It is safe to say that the days of buying a first edition of Vesalius’ work for $30-$40 are long over.

There is a bit of mystery involved with the MU Fabrica. In his original letter to the Medical Faculty, Osler mentions that he is sending a first edition, published 1543. In fact, the volume he sent was a second edition, published in 1555, as evidenced by the frontispiece and the number of lines per page. The 1543 edition has 57 lines per page; the 1555 has 49. There are also differences in the frontispiece between the first and second editions, the most notable being the staff held by the skeleton in the center of the image, which changes from a pole to a scythe, as well as content differences between the two editions. The MU Fabrica was rebound sometime in the 18th or 19th century, however, and the spine was stamped 1543 in Roman numerals. Whether this was a mistake or was done to fool unwary buyers is unknown.

Osler purchased a number of Fabricas in his lifetime, and was a well-known and expert collector of rare medical texts. It is unlikely that he would not have known the difference between the 1543 and 1555 editions of the book. It is equally unlikely that he would have deliberately sent one volume masquerading as the other. Perhaps he simply grabbed and sent the wrong one. At any rate, the gift was a priceless one in honor of a much-favored student and friend, and is a wonderful addition to the MU Library collection.


Dr. Osler’s letter of donation to the University of Missouri Medical School, pasted onto the front board of the book’s nineteenth-century binding.


The binding in which the MU Libraries received the copy of the Fabrica from Dr. Osler.


The volume in its current conservation binding by Jim Downey at Legacy Bookbindery.

IMG_0205 IMG_0207 IMG_0206

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Johannes de Sacrobosco and the sphere of the universe

Contrary to what you may have learned in school, people in the Middle Ages knew quite well that the world was round.  Johannes de Sacrobosco made sure of that fact.

Sacrobosco was one of the leading astronomers, educators, and science communicators of the Middle Ages.  We don’t know very much about his life: he wrote during the early thirteenth century, might have been English, and likely spent his career at the University of Paris.  Even with this lack of personal information, Sacrobosco was a household name among scholars.  Everybody who studied astronomy from the thirteenth century through the seventeenth century started out by reading his books.  You might think of him as the medieval equivalent of Carl Sagan – but with much more staying power.


Using compelling visuals and simple language, Sphaera was a beginning astronomy textbook that taught generations of people to think about the basic math and science that underlay their experience of the natural world.  The text was so popular that it still exists in hundreds of medieval manuscript copies, and it may have been the very first astronomical work to be printed.  Between 1472 and 1673, over two hundred printed editions were published, keeping it continuously in print for two centuries, a record unmatched by any other text on astronomy.  Even after it was superseded by newer knowledge, publishers issued the book with commentaries to keep it up-to-date.

Sphaera has four chapters dealing with spherical nature of the universe, spheres in the heavens, the heavens as observed from various geographic points on Earth (which illustrates that the Earth itself is a sphere), and an explanation of Ptolemy’s theory of planetary motion and eclipses.   Printed editions of Sphaera included numerous images: geometric diagrams, naturalistic images, pictures of armillary spheres and other instruments.  One common diagram illustrates a ship and a tower to demonstrate the idea that the earth is spherical; the curvature of the ocean obstructs the view of the tower for the observer on the deck of the ship, while the observer on the mast is able to see it above the bulge of the water.


In a recent article in the journal Isis, Kathleen Crowther and Peter Barker argued that the images in Sphaera are meant to train the inner eye and help the reader develop his own mental model of the cosmos.  Some editions had volvelles that could be turned with the fingers, but in most printings of Sphaera, the reader was expected to manipulate the images mentally.  We decided to help ourselves (and you all) by turning some of the diagrams from the 1569 edition into gifs that move on their own. Watch the universe spin!

compendium2 compendium1

Spinning gifs aside, Sacrobosco’s work was an important introduction to Ptolemaic astronomy, and the diagrams and other illustrations were important because they helped readers visualize his ideas.  Sacrobosco’s text provided a basis for later work by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler.  In some sense, our own understanding of the cosmos adds to or corrects the mental models he started building over seven centuries ago.



We have two editions of Sphaera in Special Collections: one published in Paris in 1572, and another published in Venice in 1569 (that’s the one we’re showing here). Both were edited and augmented by the French mathematician and historian Elie Vinet. The 1569 Venice edition was reprinted from the Paris edition of the same year (the note “Ex postrema impressione Lutetiae” means “From the final Paris impression”). While many editions of Sphaera can be found in rare book libraries throughout the United States and Europe, the 1569 Venice edition seems to be a bit scarcer than most. A quick check of WorldCat reveals only three copies in research libraries in the United States; the bibliography and census of Sacrobosco editions maintained Roberto de Andrade Martins at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveals two additional copies, for a total of five.

Want to know more about Sacrobosco?  Check out these resources.

  • Roberto de Andrade Martins. Johannes de Sacrobosco: Editions of the Tractatus de Sphaera. University of São Paulo, Brazil, n.d.
  • Kathleen M. Crowther and Peter Barker. “Training the Intelligent Eye: Understanding Illustrations in Early Modern Astronomy Texts.” Isis 104 (September 2013), pp. 429-470. doi:10.1086/673269
  • Adam Mosley, Johannes de Sacrobosco, University of Cambridge, 1999.
  • Olaf Pedersen, “In Quest of Sacrobosco.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 16 (1985), pp. 175-221.
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