Caxton's £465,000 prayer book goes on digital display at Cheshire's Lyme Park

By Culture24 Staff | 05 August 2009
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A picture of a man looking at a digital version of a book on a screen

Curator James Rothwell (above) with the 15th century Lyme Caxton Missal alongside its 21st century digital counterpart. Pic © National Trust and Emma Williams

The only surviving copy of a 15th century Priestly prayer book secured by The National Trust in a £465,000 deal last year has gone on display at Lyme Park in Cheshire.

Visitors will be able to use digital technology to read William Caxton's 1487 Sarum Missal, a black and red tome used at Mass, daily prayer, weddings and funerals which was one of the first books to be printed in two colours using woodcut printing.

A picture of the inside of a biblical manuscript on parchment

Caxton's publishing device found in the Lyme Caxton Missal. Pic © National Trust

"The Missal was the internet of its day for priests," said Park Curator James Rothwell. "Today's technology means we can hear the 15th century through listening to specially recorded passages from the Missal text being sung. It's not just a religious prayer book – it gives us a fascinating window across 500 years of English history."

A picture of a watercolour painting of the inside of a library

Watercolour artist's impression of Lyme Park Library when restoration is complete in Spring 2010. Pic © National Trust

Hand-coloured illustrations, notes and annotations in the page margins act as revelations into the life of the Legh family, who had to hide the Missal after it was banned under the reign of Edward VI in 1549.

The book was put on display in the library after being discovered by a visiting scholar in the late 19th century, and it returned to the restored room for the first time in 63 years when the Trust bought it in a joint bid with the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund.

A black and white picture of a library from the 19th century

The Library at Lyme Park (circa 1900). Pic © National Trust

Efforts to recreate the décor of the library to the period when the Missal went on display have included the creation of a plaster ceiling which looks like oak, new velvet upholstery fashioned by a specialist French textile company and original furniture and wall pattern designs based on the precedents of the period.

"The careful and painstaking work to restore the room to its 19th century appearance is still continuing and provides a fascinating insight into the Trust's work and the traditional techniques of its craftsmen," said Lyme Park General Manager David Morgan, who expects the renovations to be completed in time for the 2010 season.

A close-up picture of an illustration of a holy King from the inside of a biblical book

A close up of a woodcut from the pages of the Lyme Caxton Missal. Pic © National Trust

"The library is already a really welcoming place where visitors can sit down, read a book and enjoy the room.

"The return of the Missal to Lyme Park has not only re-united an historic book with its original setting, but has also ensured that both the book and the library are now accessible to the public in ways never before possible."

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