Deatil from Sale of Land document from the Abbey Museum Collection


Imagine walking into a real estate agent’s office and asking to buy an oxgang of land.  You would most likely receive some very strange looks and be sent packing. Or you might just be lucky enough to talk to a real estate agent who knew something about historical land measurements. They would then realise that you were using a unit of measurement that has been in vogue in England and Scotland since the early 16th century and under another name, a bovate, right back to the Vikings.

Medieval Measures

The Domesday Book refers to a bovata, which represents the amount of land which could be ploughed using one ox in a single annual season.  The Latin word for ox is Bos (from which we also get our descriptive word, bovine, meaning slightly slow and stupid).  Thus depending on the abilities of a ploughman, an oxgang could range between  15 and 20 acres.  A furlong (meaning furrow length) was the distance an ox- team could plough without resting. Pulling a plough through the heavy northern soils of the British Isles …

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Medieval Music Manuscript at the Abbey Museum

Medieval Manuscripts Reveal More History

As visitors wander through the Abbey Museum they come across the entrance to a side gallery. Dimly lit, a figure of an old monk sitting in the corner, silently scribing a biblical text, beckons the visitors in. As they near the doorway case lights flicker on to reveal a treasure room of medieval manuscripts. The oldest manuscripts include an antiphon fragment dating from the 1100 AD. It contains a musical response and text for the third nocturne of matins.

One of my favourite medieval manuscripts to share with visitors is a folio from a Book of Hours. Dated to 1450 AD, it is written in ink on vellum and illuminated in paint and gold leaf. What is so compelling about this piece is a tiny illustration of a bird feeding her chicks in the nest which is incorporated into one of the illuminated capital letters. There is also an example of the rules from a monastic order from Italy that dates to 1500 AD, and a …

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