Wednesday 21 December 2022

Si deus fuerit mecum in via ista

 Here's Bridget Barbara with a prized possession:

It's a single vellum sheet from an antiphonal, hand-written in Italy, probably about 1470. She picked it up at [SLYT 15 mins] the New York Antiquarian Book Fair 5th-8th March 2020. Even from the [blob crap quality] picture it is clear that she is delirah with herself and her acquisition. It's nice that such items are not so crazy-rare that an ordinary New Yorker, with some $400? of disposable income, can have one to hold . . . forever. Well, actually, of course, young Bridget is going to hold this page for not more than 10% of its 550 year life so far.

This particular antiphonal is part of the liturgy for Dom. 2 Quadragesimae = 2nd Sunday of Lent: Si dominus deus meus fuerit mecum in via ista per quam ego ambulo et custodierit me et dederit mihi panem ad edendum et vestimentum quo operiar et revocaverit me cum salute erit mihi dominus in refugium et lapis iste in signum. Which is in turn from Genesis 28: 20-22:

20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

. . . just after the bold Jacob has finagled his older brother Esau out of Isaac's, their father's, blessing and is on his way to seek him a wife in a different land. While Esau was an hairy man, Jacob was a smooth operator. The stone mentioned in v.22 has just the night before served as Jacob's pillow and he has had a rough old night dreaming of god and his angels. Even after this vision of heaven, he's still bargaining with The Lord: there really is no stop to Isaac's hubris.

I like Bridget's enthusiasm for using artifacts to reflect on our place in history and how all of human history is a compressed microsecond in the scales of universal time. Bridget feels for the 15thC scribe whose finger-prints are being smudged by and mingled with her own . . . "Was he handsome?" she muses. My own brush with the finitude of history was much shorter "One evening she [my elderly relative in 1973] said that, as a young girl, she'd talked to an old man who used to cross the river by stepping-stones. That convenience was replaced by a bridge in 1815." pshaw only 160 years.

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