March 01, 2013
Debra Cashion

New Acquisition in the Vatican Film Library

The medieval manuscript contains the original text for a single mass and was designed to be used by Pope Alexander VI.

The Vatican Film Library in the Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections has acquired a new facsimile of an outstanding medieval manuscript, the Weihnachtsmissale Alexanders VI (or the Christmas Missal of Pope Alexander VI).

The original manuscript contains the text for a single mass and was specifically designed to be used by Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503) in celebrating the mass on Christmas Day.

The missal includes instructions on how the pope should prepare for the mass, the type of vestments he should wear, musical notation for the parts of the mass to be sung by the pope and rubrics (instructions in red) that direct the performance of the mass not only for the pope, but also for the deacon and subdeacon.

Pope Benedict XIV celebrating Christmas mass (photo: Belser).
Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Christmas mass. Photo by Belser

Alexander VI's Christmas missal belongs to the Vatican Library (shelfmark Borg. lat. 425) and is still used by the pope to celebrate Christmas mass, as shown in a recent photograph of Benedict XVI holding the original, taken at the cathedral of St. Peters in Rome (at right). The manuscript is of such importance as a religious, artistic, and historical artifact that the Vatican Library commissioned Belser Publishing Company to produce a finely crafted exact replica, or facsimile, of it. Printed in a limited edition of only 600 copies, Special Collections now owns no. 402.

This facsimile beautifully captures the manuscript's hand-painted decoration by the Milanese artist Antonio da Monza (active 1490-1528), an illuminator whose style resembles that of Leonardo da Vinci. The largest illustration in the book depicts the Crucifixion, an image traditionally located on the page opposite the beginning of the canon of the mass, Te igitur clementissime pater (Therefore most merciful Father) and thus often referred to as the Te igitur page (fig. 3).

Antonio da Monza also included a portrait of Pope Alexander VI himself on the page for the opening procession of the mass, which begins with the text Puer natus est nobis (To us a son is born). He also painted an elaborate historiated initial on a background of gold leaf that serves as a frame for a scene of the Nativity (fig. 4).

The purchase of this volume was made possible by funds generously provided by the Saint Louis University Library Associates. It represents an important addition to the teaching and research collections and will be used for future instruction about medieval and Renaissance liturgical manuscripts.

For more information about this new acquisition, contact Debra Cashion, assistant librarian in the Vatican Film Library, at

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