An illuminated page of a manuscript with a main image in a cartouche at the top with five figures outside a castle, with writing and decoration below.
Books, Manuscripts

The Rhodes Missal

Illuminated manuscript
1504
LDOSJ: K100
353mm x 260mm x 75mm (closed)

‘Un missale belissimo e miniato’

The Rhodes Missal is one of the finest treasures of the Museum: an illuminated manuscript dating from 1504, given to the Church of St John at Rhodes by Charles Aleman de Rochechenard, a Knight of the Order of St John and Grand Prior of its Priory of Saint Gilles.

The Missal, of 108 folios, contains the words for the Mass, or service of the Eucharist. It consists of two main parts: the Ordinary, which is unchanging and contains the sacred words for the consecration of the bread and wine, and the Proper, which contains the variable wording appropriate for celebrating a particular season or saint’s day. The Missal is lavishly decorated throughout in vibrant colours and gold paint, with historiated initials and decorative borders of flowers, fruit, birds and heraldic beasts, and illuminated miniatures illustrating the major Feast Days, from the Nativity to the Annunciation.

The identity of the artists or artists working on the Missal is not known. It is thought to have been made in a commercial workshop in France and shows clear Renaissance influence in the use of classical architectural motifs in the framing of the miniatures. The compartmented side borders have been compared with the work of Jacques de Besançon or Jean Bourdichon and may indicate an artist trained in their workshops or familiar with their work.

By 1500, printed books were already being made in Europe and the demand for handwritten and illuminated books was steadily diminishing. However, wealthy and educated patrons still commissioned manuscripts made in the traditional way, as lavish presentation pieces to adorn the high altar of a church or to commemorate a special occasion. The incorporation of the De Rochechenard coat of arms into the decorative borders of the Missal is a reminder that such high status gifts also acknowledged the worldly importance and magnificence of the generous patron, as well as showing his religious piety.

In 1523, Rhodes fell to the Turks but the Knights, according to the honours of war, were allowed to take their treasures, including the Missal, with them. In 1929 the Order of St John was able to purchase the Missal for the Museum. It is now on display in the Museum’s Order Gallery.

 

Further reading: Alliott, E, The Rhodes Missal: A Commentary (London, 1980)

If you would like more information on the Rhodes Missal, or other objects in the Museum’s medieval collections, you can search for more on the Bearers of the Cross website.

Sponsors

The Museum of the Order of St John would like to thank all those who have supported and continue to support its work. In particular, the Museum would like to thank the following for their generosity: