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Rare medieval manuscript linked to Barking Abbey could be sold abroad

PUBLISHED: 12:00 15 January 2020

The 15th century manuscript for hermits which may be lost to the British public unless funds can be raised to prevent it being sold abroad. Picture: DCMS/PA Wire

The 15th century manuscript for hermits which may be lost to the British public unless funds can be raised to prevent it being sold abroad. Picture: DCMS/PA Wire

A rare 15th century manuscript linked to Barking Abbey may be lost to the British public unless funds can be raised to prevent it being sold abroad.

The manuscript is thought to be linked to Barking Abbey. Picture: Paul BennettThe manuscript is thought to be linked to Barking Abbey. Picture: Paul Bennett

Arts minister Helen Whately has placed a temporary export bar on The Myrowr Of Recluses in the hope that a buyer can be found who will enable the text to be studied by future generations.

The document is believed to have been written in the early 1400s in London by an unknown scribe as a guide for anchorites or hermits who were religious recluses that dedicated their life to prayer and contemplation.

Leslie Webster, part of the reviewing comittee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest, said that the text is "of great importance to our understanding of later medieval thought and society", adding: "It is a fascinating treasure that deserves to be saved.

"Almost certainly written for female anchorites, the text seems to be linked to the Benedictine nuns at Barking Abbey, a foundation dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, and in the 15th century, renowned as a house of educated women, inspired by its Abbess, Sybil de Felton."

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The text gives advice on the reasons, both virtuous and misguided, that people seek to become an anchorite and gives information about what the lifestyle entails.

The only other version of The Myrowr Of Recluses is an incomplete manuscript dating from the mid-15th century which is in the British Library. The document at risk of export has revealed previously unknown sections of text.

The minister's decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest and the manuscript has been valued at £168,750.

There were around 200 anchorites or hermits in England in the 13th century with more women than men choosing the lifestyle, according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Ms Whately said: "This beautiful decorated manuscript is a precious record of the life of hermits in 15th century England and it would be a sad loss if it was sold abroad."

The decision on the export licence application for the manuscript will be delayed until April 13 and could be extended until August if a serious intention to raise funds to buy it is made.


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