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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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“Lent approaches with a slow and weary step”

Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) recorded a tale about an uneducated priest who got his parish out of tempo with the rest of Christendom. The priest realized his mistake when he chanced upon some priests making the preparations for Palm Sunday while visiting a neighboring town. He hastened home and, summoning his flock, explained why fasting and penitence would be brief this year:

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

12th century manuscript leaf showing calendar for the month of June.

“Know this,” he explained. “Lent was slow this year due to the bad weather, and could not make the difficult journey over these mountains. Therefore, Lent approaches with a slow and weary step so that he brings now nothing more than a single week with him, with the remnants left along the road. In the limited time in which he will remain with you, confess all, and perform penitence.”

Golden NumbersIt is easy to sympathize with the priest when you look at one of the medieval calendars from our collections. They feature a complicated grid that coordinates four Interlocking cycles, enabling clerics to know when to celebrate the many moveable feasts of the liturgical year. On the far left in dark brown pigment there is a column of roman numerals running from i-xix. These are called the golden numbers, and indicate where a year falls the nineteen-year Metonic cycle. The cycle was named for the fifth-century  Greek astronomer who discovered that the solar cycle has the same relationship to the lunar cycle every nineteenth year. The phases of the moon would occur on the same days in years with the same golden number.  Incidentally, if you want to know the golden number for any year, all you do is divide the year by 19.  The remainder + 1 gives you a year’s golden number. (The reason you need to add 1 is because the years are calculated from 1 BC.) The second column, with letters A-G, is used to find the dominical letter.  The dominical letter was determined by the first Sunday of the new year. If it fell on January 1, the dominical letter for that year would be “A.” If it fell on January 2, it would be a “B.” on down to January 7. Since Sunday was on January 4 this year, the dominical letter for 2015 is “D.” Once you determined the golden number and the dominical letter, you could figure out the date of Easter, which occurred on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Dominical Letters

The next column is the Julian calendar, which the Middle Ages inherited from Rome.  The roman numerals in the 3rd column indicate how many days before Kalends, Nones, or Ides a day falls. This information was less functional, and may be merely a relic from Roman calendars that outlasted their usefulness. It could have been used for the sanctorale, or cycle of Saints’ days, which fell on fixed dates and were not reckoned from the date of Easter.

Roman Calendar

Lastly the column on the far right records the records the feast day to be celebrated that day. Each phrase begins with a decorated initial, usually an “s” for sancti, meaning “of saint…” The color of the initial serves more than a decorative purpose. The common dark brown pigments was used for common feasts. Whereas red or blue indicated that the feast was to be accompanied by more fanfare. In the calendar below, from late twelfth-century England, you can see that the last day of the octave of Ascension, the feast day of Saint Barnabus, the apostle, the sun’s entrance into cancer, the feast day of St. Aethelthryth, and the commemoration of the Apostle Paul are all given special distinction. Most astronomical information is recorded in green pigment.

Feast Days

Feast Days

Book historians are particularly interested in this column because it can provide information about the community who made and/or used the book.  The addition or erasure of saints can also provide information about the dating of the manuscript.

The science of reckoning time, or computus, was a university subject in itself. Luckily for us, it resulted in some very attractive results. You can enjoy these calendar pages even if, like the hapless priest of Bracciolini’s story, you find computus all a bit of a bother.


A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June

A late 14th- or early 15th century calendar for the month of June


Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter

Mid-15th century calendar with notes on calculating the date for Easter


14th century Irish calendar for the month of December

14th century Irish calendar for the month of December


Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

Calendar for the month of may from an early 16th-century French book of hours

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Polybius and the Pre-digital Brain

Today we are featuring a manuscript draft made by Friedrich Otto Hultsch as he was editing Polybius’s Historiae. Hultsch (1833-1906) was a philologist of classical languages who published numerous critical editions throughout his career. He made the works of ancient mathematicians available to the scholarly world for the first time. He also wrote a monograph on ancient metrology that focused on Babylonian and Egyptian systems of weights and measures.

Hultsch-stackPolybius was a Greek historian who wrote in the second century B.C.E. His work was lost in the west until the fifteenth century. His work has continued to be of interest ever since as a witness of of Hellenistic Greek history and political theory and of the koine dialect of Greek.

To make the draft, Hultsch unbound the signatures of the previous edition of made by Emmanuel Bekker in 1844. He interleaved his own research notes, which included text from manuscripts not previously consulted. The draft is a monument to the resources of the human brain before computers.


The published edition came out in 1867 and is available in the open stacks. We are still researching the provenance of the draft. Perhaps one of his students or descendants immigrated to the United States and had some connection with the University of Missouri.



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An Aztec Remedy for Mental Stupor

For Mental Stupor:

He whose mind is in this condition should drink the juice of the tlahtlocotic root crushed in warm water so that he will vomit.  A few days later both the bark and roots of the flowers yolloxochitl and cacauaxochitl are to be crushed in water; he is to drink the juice before lunch…His forehead, moreover, is to be anointed with the brain of a stag and the feathers of a dove, crushed and put in water, and human hair. On his neck he shall carry the stone found in the stomach of the swallow.

Plate980001 Plate980001-copy

Plate 98 (left) and Plate 98, detail (right)

This remedy appears in a very special manuscript known as the Badianus Manuscript (Codex Barberini, Latin 241), now housed at the Vatican library. This manuscript was created in 1552 by two individuals of Aztec descent. One, Martinus de la Cruz,  was a physician; the other, Badianus, rendered the former’s pharmacological knowledge into Latin. The manuscript, decorated with pigments made of native materials,  is not only astoundingly beautiful, but an important witness to Aztec medicine at the time of the conquest. Special Collections owns a facsimile, edited by  Emily Emmart.


Plate 68

The Badianus Manuscript, Codex Barberini, Latin 241, Vatican Library: An Aztec Herbal of 1552

John Hopkins Press, 1940

Rare Folio RS169 .C7 1552a

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Monday Manuscript: Bertrand Russell tells you how to be a philosopher

The semester's last manuscript of the week is from philosopher Bertrand Russell, whose birthday is on the 18th.  These three original manuscripts contain the text of "How to become a philosopher," "How to become a logician," and "How to become a mathematician."  They were later published in one volume by Haldeman-Julius Publications as nos. 7, 8, and 9 of The How-to series in 1942.  E. Haldeman-Julius donated them to the Philosophy Section of the Missouri Academy of Science in March 1943. Find it in the MERLIN catalog.

russell2 russell1

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