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A remarkable insight into the workings of a medieval city

A remarkable insight  into the workings of a medieval city

The Great Parchment Book of Waterford: Liber Antiquissimus Civitatis Waterfordiae is a manuscript containing records of the city from 1356 to 1649. The book was made using 233 sheets of vellum or calf hide.

The earlier part of the book 1356-1470s is the product of the reordering of the city’s ancient records by the Mayor of Waterford James Rice, whose gruesome cadaver tomb is in the nearby Christ Church Cathedral and whose wine vault lies beneath this museum.

Did You Know?

The last entry captures a moment in time. It follows a pattern throughout the book where each year is recorded under the name of the elected mayor and the ruling monarch. When King Charles I was executed in 1649 his son Charles was cited as king when the scribe recorded the election of John Levitt as mayor. When the city fell to Cromwell’s army some months later the entry was seen as a serious insult to the English parliament who had executed Charles I and so it was rubbed out leaving the page defaced.

An illustrated statement of Faith 

The remarkable series of illustrations on the 1566 page is unprecedented in an Irish manuscript. The images are a statement of the deeply-held religious beliefs of the loyal citizens of Waterford during the reign of Queen Elizabeth when it found its loyalties divided between the pope in Rome and the queen who had made herself Head of the Church in England and Ireland.

The royal arms are above the walled port city which is named Port Láirge (Waterford), the only words in the Irish language in the book. The royal arms symbolise the city's loyalty to the English monarchs.

On the top right of the page is an image of God holding a sword and surrounded by the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, judging the souls in Purgatory on the last day. Banners in Latin proclaim the words judge wisely and remember death. This reference to Purgatory echoes the the decrees of the Council of Trent which ended in 1663 confirming the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory. Standing below and also awaiting judgement like any other mere mortal is Queen Elizabeth, who is uncrowned with perhaps the city of London and the heavenly Jerusalem in the background.

The Virgin Mary and the Virgin Queen 

Below again is an image of the Virgin Mary suckling the infant Jesus. This is a reference to the citizens' loyalty to Catholicism and their devotion to the Virgin Mary as well as their rejection of the cult of the Protestant Virgin Queen. It is only one of two manuscript depictions of the Virgin to survive in Ireland the other being preserved in the Book of Kells. 

The outdated symbol of the Green Man decorates the foot of the page. The Green Man is a pagan symbol evoking nature and the forests and the tendrils coming from his mouth which also show Tudor roses. This is perhaps a mesage from the loyal people of Waterford that the queen should return to the old religion and not bring paganism as they see it to England and Ireland.